Finance Leaders on COVID-19’s Impact on Month-end Close, Business Processes

Barney Beal, Former Content Director

April 29, 2020

About four months before COVID-19 arrived in the U.S., Mann Lake Ltd., a Woodland, Calif.-based maker of beekeeping equipment, decided to adopt NetSuite as its financial system of record. As the weeks rolled by and social distancing became the norm, the company was moving closer to deployment.

But what would that deployment look like if people couldn’t work in close proximity to one another or even come to work at all?

Turns out, it looked just fine.

“We made it work with Zoom calls,” CFO Shana Rowlette said during a recent NetSuite webinar. “You just find ways to make it work. We did the full conversion remotely.”

A trio of finance executives who shared their stories made it clear that they’ve learned their own lessons over the past couple of months.

For instance, Ansen Hatch, director of finance for do-it-yourself home décor firm Chalk Couture, said the company’s relationships with overseas suppliers have completely changed. Not only has the Draper, Utah-based company had to shift from having employees verify shipments in person to doing so digitally, but it also has partnered with Hyperwallet so that it could abandon writing checks in favor of making digital payments.

These changes have proved to be serious eye-openers.

“We probably won’t go back to the old ways,” said Hatch. “We’ll just use what we’ve adapted to now.”

Ubertest for Remote Business

It’s likely a lot more business is going to be conducted remotely. Prior to COVID-19, running critical parts of a business remotely was largely experimental; companies did it where it made sense, mostly for low-risk activities. But these past weeks have provided a petri dish in which to test the ability to manage businesses remotely.

Paul Henderson, global controller for NetSuite partner Tipalti, a San Mateo, Calif.-based maker of accounts payable automation software, said that in recent weeks he’s drawn upon his experience managing remote teams over the last 20 years. Remote workers, Henderson said, require more flexibility as they juggle home and work life in a way that works for them.

That means communicating consistently, and using all the tools available to remain in touch and on task, but also understanding that people working at home have other demands on them, and that they need time for breaks, exercise or tending to children.

“We don’t have that natural break between home and office anymore,” said Henderson. “It’s important for employees to know it’s okay for them to take care of the things they need to take care of.”

Culture Change Abounds

Hatch said Chalk Couture’s culture has always been office focused, with lots of in-person access. Keeping up that kind of intimate connection in a COVID-19 world has forced it to adopt a completely different mode in which the staff relies more on the phone and conferencing platforms like Zoom.

The pandemic has also forced Chalk Couture to quickly shift from a call center model for customer support to a remote model. That forced the company to shore up home-based Internet connections for support staff, as well using chat as a support channel for the first time.

“We had to adapt and move on the fly,” Hatch said.

Like Chalk Couture, Mann Lake had limited experience with conducting business remotely. Four years ago, its in-house file server was hit with a virus (the digital kind) that took down the entire system. The company subsequently outsourced its servers and security to a third-party cloud provider, its introduction to remote access.

Now, Rowlette sees that embracing remote work is critical to the agricultural company’s future workforce development efforts. She said Mann Lake needs to invest in providing adequate Internet connectivity to employees in rural locations.

“It’s a big culture change,” said Rowlette.

The Road to Remote Closings

All of these changes are leading to a potentially huge payoff: the ability to perform monthly and quarterly closings remotely. To that end, 43% of those who attended the webinar said they’re able to close remotely, but that their companies’ cultures are holding back further advances. That’s not stopping them from pushing, however, as nearly two-thirds (65%) of the attendees said they’re planning to perfect remote closings once COVID-19 passes.

Perfecting remote closings requires a lot of technology-enabled change, and each of the panelists’ companies have turned to NetSuite and other tools to help with their transitions.

Tipalti, for instance, has shifted from the use of Excel or screen sharing tools to group-editing tools like Google Docs. It’s also been using its own software to manage payments to vendor partners.

Mann Lake has relied heavily on NetSuite, creating feeds to remotely monitor all of its 19 checking accounts, each of which services a different part of the business. In doing so, Rowlette said the company has slashed many of the hours employees used to spend doing this.

Rowlette also said the company has found NetSuite’s task list and its integration with Smartsheets to be helpful in tracking tasks, especially in conjunction with the growing assortment of shared documents and drives Mann Lake is now using.

Rowlette has even given board members “view only” credentials into NetSuite, which has resulted in her hearing a lot more from them, but also has made them more informed.

Hatch, meanwhile, said Chalk Couture has changed the way it validates revenue because of the obstacles COVID-19 has presented in regards to getting products shipped. The company simply can’t get as many packages out, so it needs to keep a closer eye on what’s shipped and what hasn’t.

Work Won’t Look the Same

All of the panelists agreed that it was unlikely they would go back to doing business as they had before COVID-19. And it seems inevitable that meetings, water cooler conversations and cubicle visits will be less frequent.

“Will we be as reliant on the office as we have been in the past?” asked Hatch. It’s a question we should get an answer to in the coming months.”

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