Step 1: Plan
Having anticipated that pandemic-related restrictions would come into force in March, we worked with our clients to invoke partial business continuity plans (BCPs) for the February month-end close to train the team for a virtual close.
As part of close planning, we extended the cycle time by one-to-three days and revised the close calendar. We also jointly sketched out the backup plan with clients to identify the fundamental activities they needed to complete, and alternative resources, should the need arise.
To help companies keep finance moving, we designed remote-governance policies using collaboration tools that addressed day-to-day challenges, such as IT issues and backup tasks. We also assessed their technology and data infrastructure and outlined risk-mitigation plans.
Getting critical personnel ready for remote work called for more than simply shipping laptops and monitors to people's homes. Along with creating a digitally enabled virtual world of work, maintaining the company culture and keeping employees motivated were important too.
Step 2: Prioritize close activities
We prioritized activities critical to external reporting and resequenced activities based on how crucial they were. For example, we brought forward journals, reconciliations, and intercompany settlement to create additional bandwidth during critical close cycle times.
Regular cadences for day-to-day activities like processing journals, fixed-asset transactions, or reconciliations helped identify backlogs and any missed tasks so that resources could be realigned to key activities. We tracked daily KPIs, such as requests received versus requests processed, and monitored open items by aging. It was important to get client support for newly transitioned activities or where we needed additional governance and regular touchpoints.
Step 3: Adjust processes and policies
New procedures demand clear policies. We increased the materiality thresholds for journals, performing reconciliations, recording intercompany transactions, and capitalizing fixed assets.
We paused some usual practices and relaxed controls for reconciliations and journal approvals, as well as the turnaround time for exception approvals. And we did away with non-critical events, such as multiple close deadlines, soft close, and non-critical controls. Given that people were working remotely, we used systems of engagement and workflows for seamless reviews and approvals.
We modified policies, too. For example, intercompany discrepancies can delay closure. So, defining dispute thresholds in the current situation helped to keep the challenges from dragging teams down.
Step 4: Check to see if infrastructure is up to speed
We helped clients source extra computers so that the accounting teams could quickly work from home using their own devices or the devices we'd delivered to them. We enhanced their internet bandwidth and provided VPNs, Wi-Fi, and/or dongles when needed. And because many organizations only allow a limited number of logins from remote locations, we had to address latency issues due to extra logins. Finance executives also had 24/7 access to IT support.
Step 5: Keep things moving
We set up daily huddles and leadership reviews to identify – and address – bottlenecks in key tasks and third-party dependencies. These extended to the impact of upstream process challenges as well. They were integral to a successful virtual close.
To get near-real-time visibility into the close process, we updated the governance tool with the revised plans and task assignments.
Step 6: Don't stop collaborating
Without the consistent use of collaboration tools like Microsoft Teams, Skype, and Zoom across Genpact and with our clients, many of these steps would have been nearly impossible. But we set up mandatory training in how to get the best use of these tools, too.
From creating breakout rooms for teams to address clarifications to using SharePoint for co-authoring, these platforms were crucial. They also acted as a repository in the absence of a reconciliation solution or a workflow.
Finally, clear, concise communication and discussion fast-tracked the journey toward accurate, timely closing, consolidation, and reporting.