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How Achmea Dumped Legacy Closing Processes

Pan-European insurer Achmea streamlines quarterly financial closing by adopting SAP-endorsed BlackLine.

As with many 200-year-old insurers, The Netherlands' Achmea struggled with legacy processes in its Finance Division. Specifically, quarterly financial closings were largely manual and based on complex spreadsheets. "Every team had a different methodology and different spreadsheet files," explains José Hulshof, manager of development, coordination and control in the finance division for the pan-European insurer and reinsurer. "We needed a single, centralized solution that everyone could use."

In 2009 Achmea ($130 billion in total assets) officials set out to find a better way. Among their requirements was integration with the insurer's SAP (Weinheim, Germany) database environment. After three options were identified, an extensive due diligence process identified the BlackLine (Woodland Hills, Calif.) solution, BlackLine Financial Close Suite for SAP as the best fit.

"In addition to meeting our other requirements, BlackLine enabled business users to develop and maintain the tool," says Hulshof. "This provided us with a unified closing technology with automated workflows that also minimized burdens on our corporate IT staff." BlackLine was also one of only 40 solutions, worldwide, to be an SAP-endorsed solution.

José Hulshof, Achmea
José Hulshof, Achmea

Still, deploying a SaaS-based solution was new terrain for Achmea, which called for a conservative approach. "At that time, BlackLine stored data in the U.S.," recalls Hulshof. "For security, we required data to be stored in Europe." This resulted in a delay until BlackLine established an appropriate Amsterdam location in late 2012.

In March 2013 the adoption project kicked off. Early in development a BlackLine representative spent a week at Achmea to assist with building and using the tool's features. By August the tool was ready to pilot by one team using second quarter closing figures.

"The pilot team closed with their existing method and BlackLine," says Hulshof. "When the team was first selected to pilot, they were resistant. But, when they began using BlackLine, they were excited by how easy and intuitive the tool is."

Unsurprisingly, the pilot revealed some areas for improvement, which the team completed. "The team was not only closing with the tool, but developing it simultaneously," Hulshof says. Despite all of this, the team still closed the quarter faster with BlackLine than their existing processes."

The positive pilot resulted in a final go ahead to deploy BlackLine division-wide. For the third quarter closing another two teams were added to the tool. Training for all teams was undertaken, largely via BlackLine's web-based tools and by nominating one member of each team to become the BlackLine "expert" and assist other members of the team.

For the final quarter of 2013, all seven teams used the tool to complete their year-end closing of Achmea's approximately 40 balance sheets. A total of 110 individuals successfully leveraged BlackLine to close the quarter more efficiently than before. "Even for first-time users, BlackLine was faster than previous processes," Hulshof reports.

Today, approximately 40% of Achmea's account reconciliations are automatically certified by BlackLine on a monthly basis using three rules-based policies. This not only saves time for the finance division, but also permits them to focus on accounts that require more attention.

"In addition," says Hulshof, "auto-certification drives efficiencies that shorten the reconciliation process, improves the quality and completeness of reconciliations. With BlackLine, awareness of issues is raised earlier than with previous manual processes, enabling us to address and resolve them more effectively."

Anne Rawland Gabriel is a technology writer and marketing communications consultant based in the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area. Among other projects, she's a regular contributor to UBM Tech's Bank Systems & Technology, Insurance & Technology and Wall Street & Technology ... View Full Bio

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Anne R. Gabriel
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Anne R. Gabriel,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/6/2014 | 12:08:21 AM
re: How Achmea Dumped Legacy Closing Processes
That's my experience as well, Kelly, as traditional insurers work to pivot and become more agile. With so many solid cloud-enabled technologies available to solve specific business-unit functions, it's no longer the case that technology is the bottleneck by default nor that every project requires multiple years to implement, giving employees time to "get used" to the idea of the coming change. With SaaS-based options, deployments are streamlined and it's the change management that's the hurdle. It's to Achmea's credit that it figured out how to bring employees along so that user adoption was smooth and resistance relatively low.
Anne R. Gabriel
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Anne R. Gabriel,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/6/2014 | 12:02:10 AM
re: How Achmea Dumped Legacy Closing Processes
Great observations, Kathy. I definitely had the sense that user resistance, rather than technology implementation, was the most challenging hurdle to overcome. Indeed, venerable companies such as Achmea are to be commended when they take the time and steps needed to bring employees along.
Kelly22
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Kelly22,
User Rank: Author
8/5/2014 | 3:20:21 PM
re: How Achmea Dumped Legacy Closing Processes
The cultural shift definitely deserves recognition. I've heard from quite a few people that new technologies are frequently met with resistance from employees who have been in the industry a while. While it was successful in this case, that couldn't have been easy for an old company like Achmea.
Anne R. Gabriel
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Anne R. Gabriel,
User Rank: Apprentice
8/4/2014 | 11:17:24 PM
re: How Achmea Dumped Legacy Closing Processes
Great observations, Kathy. I definitely had the sense that user resistance, rather than technology implementation, was the most challenging hurdle to overcome. Indeed, venerable companies such as Achmea are to be commended when they take the time and steps needed to bring employees along.
KBurger
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KBurger,
User Rank: Author
8/1/2014 | 7:18:28 PM
re: How Achmea Dumped Legacy Closing Processes
I'm sure that for an old company like this, it wasn't just a challenge to replace the legacy systems, but also culturally to change work processes. As Hulshof says, the pilot team was at first resistant, but then saw the benefits and embraced the new technology. That kind of acceptance cannot be assumed as a given, however.So Achmea really deserves some credit for pulling this off.
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