The Briefing: How to cut your monthly close time in half
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Receiving financial information in a timely manner is extremely important for management for a number of reasons: it enables us to deliver expedited information to our teams and execs, allowing them to make quicker and more informed decisions; provides more time to work on improving our processes and controls or building new accounting tools/reports; and allows us to begin reviewing monthly/quarterly trends earlier and preparing insightful analyses.
As our finance team continues to grow, we’re constantly reviewing our processes and seeing where we can iterate and improve. One of our key priorities has been to streamline and expedite our monthly close time. In this article, I’ll review what our prior process was like and how our team reduced it by 67%.
P.S. I hosted a webinar on this topic with Equip's finance manager, Christina Moore - watch the replay:
Issues with our pre-existing process
When I joined Ramp in March of 2021, the close process was non-existent and our team solely consisted of our Head of Finance. I was the second member of the team and the first professional accountant. The accounting functions were transitioning to Facta, an outsourced accounting and technology company.
From the first days, my long term goal is to do a daily accounting close. This was a far reaching objective, since the close process was bare-bones, with a heavy emphasis on the income statement and receipt of reports and invoices from our third-party partners. We received invoices from our processing partner and used them to recognize revenue and certain COGS elements. It took approximately 30 days to receive and record all the relevant documents as there was no process for reviewing financials.
Because we didn’t have someone internally at Ramp with the right expertise to own the process, we were lacking both accountability and oversight.
Phase 1: How we improved our process and reduced our close time by 15 days
1. Cleaned up our financial records
When I started as controller, my top priority in the first 100 days was to clean up our financial statements, starting from day zero—when Ramp was founded in 2019. I reviewed and cleaned up all the cash, equity, and operating transactions, and supplemented them with supporting details and confirmation from our processing partner.
2. Created accountability with team and external providers
I made it a priority to strengthen our relationship with Facta, which consisted of giving them a timeline, making sure they received all reports on time, and ensuring that whatever entries they were making were properly booked and reviewed. I also made sure that the financial operations, which included cash, disbursements, payroll entries, and accounts payable, were recorded and reconciled in a timely fashion. In addition, I reached out to our partners and agreed upon an expedited timeline for them to send us the required reports and invoices for our monthly close.
3. Built up the first full set of financial statements
I built the first full set of financial statements, including the first full balance sheet and income statement. After discussing with management and reviewing other comparable companies’ financial statements, I structured and categorized the financial statements to be compliant with US GAAP and our operating flows.
4. Built internal team and resources
Within the first four months, I created a plan to fully bring our accounting process internally in addition to hiring a senior accountant. As our team is more informed about the business and has more direct access to supporting data than our external accountants, we were able to record some of the key transactions, add more controls, and reduce errors in our work. We also started to strengthen our accrual process.
Additionally, I started to engage with our engineering team to earmark engineering resources and ensure that the required accounting and financial reports were in their roadmap. We needed automation and I gave them a basic list of reports with specifications—these reports were also important to our initial audits.
5. Created a financial statement close checklist
One of the last steps was implementing a close checklist. It allowed us to assign responsibilities between our internal team and Facta, identify task dependencies, prioritize material accounts, and establish needed timelines. This significantly helped streamline the process, meet deadlines, and increase accountability. A catalyst of creating and adhering to this checklist was our reporting requirement with Goldman Sachs, as we are required to send them a financial statement package by the 15th of every month.
Our checklist best practices include:
● A list of principal tasks and owners (preparers and reviewers)
● Dependencies and realistic deadlines
● Prioritization of material accounts over immaterial ones (e.g. reliable + timely financials > perfect + late financials)
● Documentation of processes and standardization of workpapers
Time saved with the above processes combined: 15 days. We went from a 30 to 15-day close and were able to meet our lender’s timeline three months after I started at Ramp.
Phase 2: How we reduced our close time by an additional 5 days
1. Invested in tools with high ROI
We realized that a more advanced ERP would help us shorten our close timeline, improve our accounting consolidation, and add more controls to our close process, including role provisioning and journal entries review. As a result, we started assessing other solutions and decided to transition to NetSuite.
2. Invested in specialized skills
I also made a push to management for additional headcounts with specialized expertise. As the company grew and we added more subsidiaries and products, we also had more transactions and accounts to manage. Over the last eight months, we added a payroll accountant to support our payroll transition, as well as two accounting managers: one to manage the growing needs of the corporate accounting function and lead our NetSuite implementation, and another to focus on product accounting. Most recently, we hired a staff accountant to support our cash disbursement process.
3. Increased automation
In the meantime, I worked extensively with the engineering team and our finance partner to automate reports that could streamline our accounting and decrease our dependence on third parties. Such reports include a revenue transactions ledger, an accounts receivable listing, and cashback reports. In the past 3 months, with the help of our new accounting manager’s knowledge of SQL, Python, and scripting, we were able to make a bigger push into automation. We were able to rely on our internal accounting ledgers and automate tedious and repetitive data manipulation. This automation has made a significant impact and we are now able to book all our product accounting entries within 10 days of month end.
4. Focused on culture
While not as obvious a factor as the first two listed, improved corporate culture and communications were crucial for bettering the monthly close process. You must have the support of senior leadership, finance, and engineering teams for a successful close. Management needs our financial statements timely to make decisions and we need their support and feedback to improve these statements. At Ramp, I received the full support of the executive team to make the financial investments needed in human resources, engineering, and technology resources.
Alignment is also needed to ensure that the FP&A team and management are understanding of and comfortable with the use of estimates and how certain accounts should be interpreted. With a fast close, the numbers are never going to be 100% accurate and the accounting is never complete (e.g., we are currently recording IP capitalization entries annually and not monthly).
Time saved after improving the above factors: 5 days, from a 15 to 10-day close
Our future goals for our year-end close
Our next goal is to achieve a 5-day close by the end of Q2 2023. My team is currently implementing close software, actively reviewing our processes, and building automated reports to make it a reality. Stay tuned for updates on our progress!