For more than 175 years Queens University in Kingston, Ontario has gained and maintained a reputation for excellence. Educating thousands of scholars and researchers including 2015 Nobel Prize winner Arthur B. McDonald. The University services more than 25,000 students and as of April 30th, 2019 its endowment was valued at more than $1 billion.
Queen's University wanted to reduce the time it took to prepare their annual financial statements while increasing their confidence in the data. We interviewed Peter Viveiros, the Associate Director of Financial Analysis and Reporting in Financial Services, to discuss their experiences in overcoming these challenges.
1 What was your business process to tackle the Annual Financial Statements previously, and how much time did it take? What product were you using before and why did you want to switch?
Our previous business process was done through the use of Microsoft Excel and Word after pulling a trial balance from our accounting system. We had a set of multiple spreadsheets to allow us to map our accounting system trial balance into various financial reports like the statement of financial position, statement of operations, statement of operations by fund, statement of operations by consolidated entities and various tables to feed the notes to the financial statements. We also had spreadsheets to produce tax related financial reports. This mapping adventure took us approximately a week, and was usually delayed until we had confirmation that the numbers were close to final to avoid the risk of having to update the spreadsheets several times over. In addition to the time spent updating these spreadsheets, numerous hours were also spent in the review process to ensure that the numbers tied in and that subtotal and totals added correctly; not to mention rounding! A few members of our Financial Reporting team had previously used CaseWare, so that switch was a no brainer to eliminate the amount of time spent on updating spreadsheets and reviewing the numbers over and over again.
2What other solutions did you consider? How did you hear about FHB, and what was the key factor(s) in choosing our solution?
As mentioned, a few members of our Financial Reporting team had previously used CaseWare, so we did not bother seeking other solutions. In addition, our auditors confirmed with us that CaseWare would definitely compliment their audit process. We first heard of FHB at a Canada-wide conference that our Controller attended. The key factors in selecting FHB was the ability to contract out the implementation process as opposed to self-implementation; and FHB’s experience in implementing CaseWare for other higher education institutions.
3 Were you concerned about working with someone other than the software vendor for implementation? Or working remotely?
We were not concerned about working with a consultant. We had expectations of what we were looking for with implementing CaseWare, and FHB was able to demonstrate from the very beginning that they were more than able to meet our expectations and did so throughout the entire process. We had no concerns with working remotely. In fact, working remotely was key in us gaining approval to proceed with implementing CaseWare as it kept the implementation costs down.
4 What process did you follow to implement CaseWare?
We chose to outsource the implementation to FHB as oppose to self-implement. They reconciled our numbers, which allowed us to continue with our day to day responsibilities while FHB was in the background setting up our account structure in Caseware, including the financial statements. With the exception of touch base meetings to discuss the progress and questions from the FHB team during the implementation, the process was very hands-free for our team. I would recommend to anyone considering implementing CaseWare to really consider the delegated implementation route. Our decision was based on the fact that we had limited internal resources to commit to a successful self-implementation and felt that we would be better served by having FHB perform the implementation given the size and complexity of our financial reporting requirements. The implementation process consisted of regular meetings with our FHB consultants to ensure that we were on the same page, which included hands-on illustrations of our file as the implementation progressed. There was also review steps throughout the process to ensure that the end product met our expectations. Our staff attended formal training provided by FHB to ensure that we were well equipped to take on the software once it was ready to be moved into production.
5 From your perspective, how is the University in a better position now as compared to with your old solution? Is the process faster? Could you estimate the time savings, or provide any examples?
CaseWare has tremendously enhanced the University’s ability to produce its set of financial statements for both annual and interim requirements as well as tax filing requirements. We are now rolling into our third year of using CaseWare and have definitely gained efficiencies in our financial and tax reporting processes. We have also gained comfort on the accuracy of mapping our figures from one financial report to another; not to mention a decrease in the number of hours committed to reviewing the figures. Our week long process in moving from our accounting system’s trial balance to our financial statements now takes a few hours to complete, and we can also begin this process the minute we import the numbers into Caseware (we used to wait until the numbers were close to final!). If we had to put a number to it, I would say we saved a week or so (down from six weeks to five) in regards to the direct switch from the manual process of mapping the numbers to the automation provided by CaseWare.
6 What are the biggest benefits of the CaseWare Tool vs. your old system?
For all the reasons that have been stated in the answers above, but one of the biggest benefits is the automation that takes place once the trial balance is imported…we have a set of financial statements shortly after that!
In our opinion, FHB is an expert on the use and capabilities of CaseWare. We were impressed with their ability to setup the software to meet our reporting needs with minimal intervention required from our team.
8What is our client service like? Did you feel that we carefully managed your project? Did you feel like you were well taken care of by your consultants, that your concerns were heard, and your questions answered?
The client service received by FHB was super. The implementation deadline was met; allowing us to use it for our fiscal 2018 year-end process as planned. Our consultants, Tricia Fraser and Noreen Vavrek, were extremely helpful throughout the process and did a great job in keeping us on schedule while ensuring that all our questions and concerns were adequately addressed.
9 Is there anything you wish you knew at the beginning of this process that you know now? Advice for others considering a similar automation project?
Have a clear understanding of what other types of reports you might want to prepare using the automation capabilities that CaseWare offers; so that the initial implementation incorporates these needs upfront as opposed to revisiting it afterwards. Although not a deal breaker, but something that would have saved us time during the implementation.
10 Would you recommend FHB and specifically the CaseWare solution to other finance departments and why?
Yes, we would definitely recommend FHB and the CaseWare solution to others. The time savings that are gained from the automation capabilities more than outweigh the annual costs associated with maintaining the software. Not to mention the inherent comfort that it provides knowing that it reduces the risk of errors and increases the consistency of the financial reports.