Virtual Financial Close- Why and How?

Remote work has been a challenge for many. For the finance function, among the many implications is a newly remote financial close process.

A challenge in executing a virtual close is establishing a coordinated and aligned team, regardless of the distance between its members. That effort starts with sharing the plans for a virtual close beyond the core team, including partners in risk, operations, IT, and lines of business.

The foundational framework of a virtual close ought to include the following steps:

Establish a virtual command center.

Such a team can consist of professionals who thoroughly grasp how to organize and oversee all the activities involved in effectively executing a close. In addition to understanding the resources that need to be in place, this group serves as the first line of troubleshooting when functional problems occur. The command center can also have access to a dedicated technical support desk, with IT professionals who can be called upon quickly to address issues involving system access privileges, VPN, and other connectivity problems.

Create avenues for visibility.

The close team can benefit from a clear view into all close activities. Tracking tools can be accessible across all aspects of the close process. For maximal visibility, finance teams should adopt financial analytics software that can assist in the close process.

Draw up a playbook based on resource availability.

A virtual close playbook can serve as a day-to-day guide for the command center, analyzing and resolving accounting resource needs and identifying any significant capacity constraints. If a particular function suddenly finds itself stretched in terms of staffing, close leaders can turn to the playbook to find options for reallocating work or adding extra capacity by, for instance, tapping into its network of contractors and consultants.

Review close-related tasks and sequencing.

Create a robust and granular calendar, assigning clear roles and responsibilities for each task as well as continually updating deadlines for completion. Reprioritize tasks, ranking them according to those most vulnerable to delays because of a remote workforce. Reroute workflows to account for changes in approvals, staffing, and system access. Designate backups for each approver in the workflow. Also, determine whether any quarter-close tasks can be accelerated or delayed to reduce the team’s burden.

Routinely test all access privileges to key data and other systems.

Make sure all team members can access required systems and data remotely to execute closing tasks. Identify any data breaks related to the lack of remote system or application access. For close tasks that require access by all team members, such as journal entries and reconciliations, consider leveraging cloud systems.

Going forward, CFOs will need to embrace automation.

Finance organizations should consider cloud-based software such as DataRails that automate reporting. They may also require a digital collaboration tool that enables far-flung employees to feel tightly connected. An IT infrastructure can allow home-based staff to connect with the data systems they need to begin to perform normal and necessary processes, including external rep