For many businesses, the role of the finance function is changing fast. It’s shifting away from an emphasis on reporting what’s already happened to one centered around forward-looking analytical and planning activities.
This is certainly the case at rural and farming insurance business NFU Mutual, where Nigel Bryan is head of financial control. According to Bryan, “Increasingly, our focus is on adding insight and value to the business in the world of data analytics, machine learning, and AI.”
Committed to adding insights and value to the business.
Until some two years ago, however, NFU Mutual was far from being in this position. “We needed agility, flexibility, and insight,” Bryan says. “But many of our foundational tools were very out of date and out of support.”
A new solution was clearly needed, initially in the areas of general ledger and procurement, and research was done quickly. “We chose Workday, as it’s intuitive, and has a straightforward interface. The design of a cloud-based solution was also incredibly appealing,” says Bryan. “Now we’re in a place where we will always be evergreen on a modern, up-to-date platform, so no need for further upgrades.”
Workday Prism Analytics and Workday Accounting Center have enabled us to completely transform the way that we get our data into our general ledger.
Nigel Bryan, Head of Financial Control
Creating a foundational finance platform.
With its initial focus on general ledger and procurement, NFU Mutual’s initial Workday investments were in the Workday Prism Analytics and Workday Accounting Center products. And, as Nigel Bryan explains, the shift has already transformed the way that data is imported into the general ledger.
“We are no longer dependent on old technology,” Bryan says. “We’ve removed oodles of spreadsheets from our processes. We reduced our close window in terms of closing our ledger each month, automating a lot of the processes involved and removing some key-person dependencies en route.”
During the process, Bryan and colleagues rigorously followed an “adopt, not adapt” methodology to implementation, committing to best practices and resisting any temptation to replicate the structure already in place. As Bryan says, “For the sake of sustainability into the future, we were determined to do everything in the way it should be done, and Workday Prism Analytics and Workday Accounting Center have enabled us to do that.
“Today, Workday is our foundational finance platform, the bedrock of what we do and use as a tool,” Bryan continues. “And, as we build on that and put Workday Adaptive Planning into action, I believe it will become a really critical and key supporting tool to help shape and drive the business going forward.”
Keeping up with regulatory demand.
The team’s commitment to “adopt, not adapt” has already seen them through two new releases since initial go-live, ensuring their finance software is up to date.
For Bryan, this is mission critical. “Being a regulated financial services organization adds extra pressure. We have to pass external audit scrutiny, and that bar is being raised all the time—both in terms of what is expected and which controls we need to have in place.”
With Workday up and running, and with the support of implementation partner KPMG, Bryan and team know that development to keep up with changing regulatory demand is continuous. Bryan also emphasizes two further benefits of being part of the Workday ecosystem.
“First, there is the sandbox environment, which enables you to test new things out in a like-for-like copy of a production environment. The team just loves it, using it as a testing, familiarization, and validation tool. And then there is the whole Workday community, which the team also finds great for self-serving solutions to problems and finding out answers to any challenges they’re facing.”
We’re putting in Workday Adaptive Planning to remove some of our existing spreadsheet monsters and gain from a more agile and focused tool.
Nigel Bryan, Head of Financial Control
More agile, more flexible, more responsive.
Much of Bryan’s attention is now on the adoption of Workday Adaptive Planning, which Bryan believes is central to the continuing transformation of NFU Mutual’s finance function.
“With Workday Adaptive Planning, we’re aiming to achieve more agility and flexibility, and be more responsive to the needs of the business and wider environment in which we operate,” Bryan says.
“We currently use a series of very detailed spreadsheet models, and to change an assumption and flow it through these models is time-consuming and not without risk. This will be significantly simpler with Workday Adaptive Planning. All the models will be integrated and linked together, so when you change something in one model, that change will flow through to the others. It will be transformational, enabling us to spend far more time on considering what information actually means, rather than calculating the numbers.”
Overall, Bryan is delighted with the progress to date. “The enthusiasm for the system has been really positive, and people can see the potential for doing even more, whether that’s further automation, greater speed of reporting, improving controls, or feeding through data for better reporting, management information, and analysis. If we can continue to harness this positive energy and ongoing improvement, I think we’ll see all our objectives as a business case continue to be delivered—not just this year, but for years to come.”