Transformative partnership forged with BlackLine & Pepperstone

Online brokerage Pepperstone has leveraged BlackLine’s capabilities as a cloud-based software platform to transform its finance functions. Pepperstone’s Financial Controller, Ryan Ervine, joined BlackLine’s commercial business sales lead, Leroy Daniel, for a fireside chat to reflect on the transformation process.

When BlackLine commissioned independent research last year surveying approximately 1500 C-suite and finance and accounting professionals across medium and large organisations, one of their top concerns was the ongoing economic uncertainty within the macro-economic environment. 

For CEOs and CFOs, the ability to steer a business through turbulent periods rests on the quality of its data analytics to produce accurate financial forecasting and modelling.

“Having real-time visibility over financial data is a must for businesses to survive, especially during the uncertainty that will likely characterise the next three to 12 months,” said Pepperstone’s Financial Controller, Ryan Ervine, during a fireside chat attended by CFO Magazine.

“What is the opportunity cost for not investing?…..Or in other words, what additional heavy lifting will we need to do by not taking on particular digital investment?”

Ryan Ervine, Financial Controller | Pepperstone

Data must increasingly be structured in a way that allows for a CFO to make better decisions more quickly.

“A CFO needs to be able to extract the relevant data in order to tell the story to the rest of the business about how it will be guided through the next 12 months,” explains BlackLine’s commercial business sales lead, Leroy Daniel.

A transformation begins

Pepperstone approached BlackLine in mid-2022 about implementing its cloud-based software platform to transform its existing finance capabilities. By the start of December, it had gone live.

Leroy Daniel | BlackLine

Although the businesses that Ervine has worked at in the past have had different levels of organisational maturity, he has found that automation technology has nonetheless had a profound effect on every finance team. It was with this mindset that he approached internal conversations about the potential digital investment.

Determining whether a particular digital investment will be worthwhile comes down to how success is measured. This can be done in a variety of ways – if it transforms mindsets to enable problems to be solved in new and innovative ways to produce better or faster outcomes, that is undoubtedly a significant gain.

Daniel says determining whether an investment is right depends on weighing up what is lost by failing to act.

“What is the opportunity cost for not investing?” he says. “Or in other words, what additional heavy lifting will we need to do by not taking on particular digital investment?”

The human dimension

Pepperstone has experienced significant growth in recent years and some staff lacked experience in adopting automated processes. To avoid a sense of overwhelm setting in, Ervine looked for quick wins based on his knowledge of using BlackLine’s solutions at previous companies.

“We adopted the Account Reconciliation module in BlackLine, which quickly gave us a pleasing consistency in some of those less complex aspects of the system of the reconciliation process,” says Ervine. “By identifying the low hanging fruit, it allowed us to move onto some of the more challenging tasks.”

Equally important was building trust within teams long before some of the more significant changes were undertaken.

“We also created safe spaces for employees to raise any concerns and provide feedback about how these changes might impact their day-to-day lives,” says Ervine.

In a project as inherently complex as an implementation, communication is critical.

“Communications is paramount – especially when things don’t quite go to plan,” says Ervine. “If there’s a change in scope or a significant roadblock encountered, it’s important to make sure that you link back in with the relevant stakeholders and let them know what’s happening.”

It may turn out that the project remains on track by moving things around, or new circumstances transpire – but regardless, ensuring adequate communication occurs in a timely way is key to maintaining trust with different stakeholders.

Multiple benefits

In the six months since the implementation was completed, finance teams at Pepperstone have had a mindset shift that has translated to other areas of the finance function that were ripe for automation. Certain spreadsheets and processes have been eliminated, and there is a reduced reliance on Excel more broadly.

Increased automation in day-to-day processes has improved the employee experience and helps to retain talent. It also helps with consistency across outcomes. Pepperstone’s teams are distributed across the world and its existing solutions made achieving consistency an ongoing challenge.

“Implementing automation and new technology into our teams has enabled our teams to work in a more rewarding way. This is often mentioned by our employees in annual reviews,” says Ervine.

Future features

Pepperstone has a long list of possible next steps and it is currently in the process of identifying which will be the top priority. One potential area could be addressing the transaction matching issue it has as a result of receiving a high volume of invoices from different data sources. Ervine predicts that adopting BlackLine’s transaction matching module could be “an absolute game changer.”

A post-implementation review with BlackLine as its implementation partners has been beneficial. A consolidation is also likely to be on the cards and may produce additional quick wins.

“Now that we’ve matured a bit more on our journey, we can start to switch on different features that will have a significant impact for the team and for the broader business,” says Ervine.

Three tips for executing a finance transformation

  1. Build in a buffer

The complexity of a transformation is often underestimated, sending project plans out the window.

“Build buffers into your timeline. You will likely have some upskilling to do on basic accounting functions for some team members. Do that early, and build in time for it,” says Ervine.

2. Choose the right time

In hindsight, Ervine would have delayed the implementation until the start of the next financial year.

“We were probably overambitious in the planning phase,” he said. “If I were to do it again, I would choose a quieter time of year that would give us the headspace to focus on it intently.”

3. Be courageous

Executing an implementation is a test of leadership and it requires others to come along with you.

“Be courageous, despite all the challenges that come with implementing a project. For the project leaders out there, I’d say how important it is to inspire change within your team. Sometimes they just need a person that they can look to who will tell them that the outcome and benefits will be worth it.”