Faced with a geographically dispersed business and decentralised financial processes, Ruralco turned to automation to gain better visibility and simpler workflows.
If you’re involved in farming in Australia, the chances are you’ve dealt with Ruralco. The listed agribusiness group has some 40 different specialist operations covering everything from merchandise, fertiliser and livestock to real estate and financial services.
The company has approximately 1900 employees and more than 500 retail outlets across the country. Key brands include CRT, Rodwells, Roberts and Total Eden.
Ruralco has expanded through acquisition and entering into joint venture agreements with specialist businesses. Since its establishment in 1989, it has grown to have an annual turnover of more than $1.8 billion.
The challenge of decentralisation
With operations throughout Australia, Ruralco faced challenges when it came to managing its decentralised financial processes. Each business operates as a separate entity but is required to report back to the central finance department within Ruralco’s Sydney headquarters.
As operations grew, this process had become increasingly cumbersome and was particularly problematic when it came to the reconciliation of transactions. “We lacked visibility about what was happening at each of our locations,” says Patrick Eustace, Ruralco finance transformation manager. “It was difficult to have a clear picture of our overall reconciliation position.”
Reconciliations were either being completed manually on paper or by using Excel spreadsheets. Detailed reconciliations were manually captured in SAP and then emailed to the central finance office where they were reviewed and manually approved.
“There was no structure in place and the process was overly time consuming,” says Eustace. “The double handling of information also meant there was the potential for errors and omissions.”
About 18 months ago, the Ruralco finance team realised changes had to be made to the existing reconciliation processes. The team first reviewed and implemented some simple automation within SAP and then sought a tool to standardise the way in which reconciliations were completed and information was collected from each business unit.
Eustace says he had been familiar with BlackLine from a previous position and felt it would be a good fit for Ruralco. After a thorough evaluation, a decision was made to implement the BlackLine Reconciliation Management and Task Management modules with a direct link to the SAP platform.
BlackLine’s Reconciliation Management and Task Management solutions are key components of the BlackLine Finance Controls & Automation Platform. The BlackLine platform is a cloud-based solution that centralises and streamlines financial close operations and other key finance and accounting processes for midsize and large organisations. The solution is designed to increase operational efficiency, real-time visibility, control and compliance to ensure end-to-end financial close management.
“BlackLine assisted us with the deployment and we went live across the company in September 2015,” he says. “It wasn’t long before we were enjoying some significant benefits.”
Finance staff found the BlackLine reconciliation and task management tools intuitive to use and, after some online training and a hosted webinar, they were up and running. The team can easily track what reconciliations have been prepared and approved across the company and preparation times have been slashed.
“We can now view our key accounts and have certainty about what is flowing through to the P&L,” says Eustace. “Previously, the delays with completing reconciliations made this process slow and challenging. Having a real-time view was impossible.”
The BlackLine tools have also helped with workflows and approvals. In addition, Tasks can be assigned to individuals and their progress monitored. This means that, should a staff member be away or leave, the company, tasks can be easily reassigned.
All manual processing of reconciliations has now been removed and workflows streamlined across the group. Data is collected in a standard format and stored within a single centralised database.
As a result, visibility for the Chief Financial Officer and other senior managers has significantly improved. Internal and external auditors can now also access the information they require easily and from any location.
“The most significant benefit for us from the BlackLine deployment has been around the areas of governance and visibility,” says Adrian Gratwicke (Ruralco CFO) who went on to elaborate that “this was more important than the time and workflow savings that we have achieved. Having certainty that reconciliations have been completed gives me real comfort”.
BlackLine is scalable and with the tools now functional, any new business acquired by Ruralco can quickly be brought online, ensuring overall financial visibility is maintained.
“BlackLine’s experience and understanding of our business has been invaluable,” says Eustace. “They have helped us to overcome a significant challenge and ensure key financial controls are in place with a modern online real time system.”