Outdated Accounting Platforms Are A Hazard — Woodbine

Tom Groenfeldt

Accounting platforms, the Rodney Dangerfields of financial technology when it comes to getting respect, are at least getting some attention. Whether it leads to any action will be quite another question.

“Weakness in outdated accounting platforms compromises a buy-side firm’s ability to be competitive and leads to human error, compliance breaches, failure to detect fraud and incorrect valuation of portfolios,” according to a new report by Woodbine Associates.

Entitled “Accounting Solutions: Backbone of Investment Management,” it was prepared for SimCorp, a provider of investment management software. The report calls for immediate action on accounting systems.

“Investment management executives must take the opportunity now to ensure their firm’s operations are supported by a state-of-the-art platform, before it becomes more difficult,” it says.

A recent SimCorp poll showed that 56 percent of the buy-side concede they are not confident in the accuracy of their present accounting systems, and 30 percent state they cannot calculate exposure in real-time, said David Kubersky, managing director for SimCorp North America.

“This paper challenges the status quo where supporting accounting and back-office operations is an afterthought. It is our hope to illuminate the importance of investment accounting and illustrate the dangers outdated record-keeping systems pose to the buy-side firm, its counterparties and the industry at large.”

Good luck with that. Pamela Pecs Cytron, CEO of Pendo Systems, another provider of investment accounting software (See story below) said the call for modernized accounting systems has been a familiar refrain for several years. Wall Street & Technology predicted in its January issue that this would be the year for investment in the back office. Then again, it predicted much the same thing in 2010.

Sean Owen, director for fixed income at Woodbine and a co-author of the paper, thinks this really could be the year that makes a difference within buy-side back offices.

“A tipping point is regulation. Typically what regulators want, people at firms push to the forefront.”

He expects IT departments and back office administrators will use regulatory demand to  persuade senior executives that it is finally time to invest in new accounting systems, something many people in operations have wanted for years.

“A lot of firms have been too slow to upgrade their legacy accounting system,” Own added. They could be more focused on the front office trading and risk systems or just reluctant to integrate a variety of back office systems that have been acquired through mergers and acquisitions.

“I tend to think this year may be the year, given the changes going through the markets and changes in market structure such as the OTC derivative market.

“You are completely changing the way people do business there. Replacing the legacy systems with a more optimal accounting system and platform it can help a firm in areas that go well beyond accounting.” It can help a firm evaluate its trades, facilitate risk management, and meet new business requirements in clearing where firms will need to manage their positions on a real-time basis.

“Centralized record keeping and centralized data that is achievable with some of the current accounting platforms will help firms with collateral management,” Owen said.  “Firms are looking to manage collateral less on a siloed basis and more on an enterprise-wide basis.”

The key regulatory changes in the U.S. come from Dodd Frank and FATCA (Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act) will require firms to upgrade their compliance function, Owen said.

“We advise firms to look at their systems holistically and look for solutions that can cover a large footprint,” Owen said. “In some cases, a different accounting platform or trading platform can offer benefits to other functional areas. Rather than individual point applications, firms might be able to get an aggregated platform that can meet a lot of their needs in a cost-effective manner.”

Pointing towards the collapse of Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns, the Woodbine paper argues that legacy accounting systems are ill-equipped to recognize risky exposures and incorrect valuations. As a result, investment managers may not be able to adjust positions expediently and accurately in response to today’s volatile markets.

Legacy accounting systems can also delay the rollout of new products, said Matt Samelson, principal of Woodbine Associates and another co-author of the paper:

“Investment managers will not wait 4-6 weeks for the back-office to support a new fund or security type. Neither will the firm’s senior management tolerate delays in entering new markets if system limitations prevent support of local accounting frameworks, financial instruments, currencies and regulations. Furthermore, investors have become hypersensitive about operational risk and cost matters to business processes and technology that could result in catastrophic loss.”

The report notes that international operations or trading make the business more complex.

“Usually, a designated team within the firm’s core operations group is responsible for accurately recording on the accounting platform each asset’s location, type of registration and the specific asset positions for each portfolio and customer account. The complexity of these processes is magnified considerably for investment firms that trade internationally due to different practices, regulations, taxes, settlement cycles, etc.”

Just as Cytron pointed out that many firms running legacy systems have several instances of them to overcome capacity and  operational issues, Woodbine concluded that “It is essential that these systems run on a single operating platform that can be deployed for firm-wide processing. The storage and retrieval of securities and holdings data to each functional area needs to be seamlessly integrated and managed.”

It added that “Best-in-class accounting systems consolidate data storage to and retrieval from a single centralized database. This database is the repository for recording the organization’s financial holdings and positions; it serves as the ‘golden record’ for the firm. It connects to the general ledger and is the single point of record for all financial positions and holdings.”

Woodbine pressed its argument in the closing sections of the report.

“Investment firms running on legacy systems should give grave thought to: why? As technology and the markets have advanced astoundingly in the past decade, top systems should provide multiple updates annually. Using legacy systems, which are as much as a decade old, is akin to typing on an IBM Selectric.”

Woodbine concluded: “The time to act is now. Legacy systems present too great of a risk to a firm and its profitability to be ignored.”


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13 Scary Statistics On Employee Engagement [INFOGRAPHIC]

Jacob Shriar

There is a serious problem with the way we work.

Most employees are disengaged and not passionate about the work they do. This is costing companies a ton of money in lost productivity, absenteeism, and turnover. It’s also harmful to employees, because they’re more stressed out than ever.

The thing that bothers me the most about it, is that it’s all so easy to fix. I can’t figure out why managers aren’t more proactive about this. Besides the human element of caring for our employees, it’s costing them money, so they should care more about fixing it. Something as simple as saying thank you to your employees can have a huge effect on their engagement, not to mention it’s good for your level of happiness.

The infographic that we put together has some pretty shocking statistics in it, but there are a few common themes. Employees feel overworked, overwhelmed, and they don’t like what they do. Companies are noticing it, with 75% of them saying they can’t attract the right talent, and 83% of them feeling that their employer brand isn’t compelling. Companies that want to fix this need to be smart, and patient. This doesn’t happen overnight, but like I mentioned, it’s easy to do. Being patient might be the hardest thing for companies, and I understand how frustrating it can be not to see results right away, but it’s important that you invest in this, because the ROI of employee engagement is huge.

Here are 4 simple (and free) things you can do to get that passion back into employees. These are all based on research from Deloitte.

1.  Encourage side projects

Employees feel overworked and underappreciated, so as leaders, we need to stop overloading them to the point where they can’t handle the workload. Let them explore their own passions and interests, and work on side projects. Ideally, they wouldn’t have to be related to the company, but if you’re worried about them wasting time, you can set that boundary that it has to be related to the company. What this does, is give them autonomy, and let them improve on their skills (mastery), two of the biggest motivators for work.

Employees feel overworked and underappreciated, so as leaders, we need to stop overloading them to the point where they can’t handle the workload.

2.  Encourage workers to engage with customers

At Wistia, a video hosting company, they make everyone in the company do customer support during their onboarding, and they often rotate people into customer support. When I asked Chris, their CEO, why they do this, he mentioned to me that it’s so every single person in the company understands how their customers are using their product. What pains they’re having, what they like about it, it gets everyone on the same page. It keeps all employees in the loop, and can really motivate you to work when you’re talking directly with customers.

3.  Encourage workers to work cross-functionally

Both Apple and Google have created common areas in their offices, specifically and strategically located, so that different workers that don’t normally interact with each other can have a chance to chat.

This isn’t a coincidence. It’s meant for that collaborative learning, and building those relationships with your colleagues.

4.  Encourage networking in their industry

This is similar to number 2 on the list, but it’s important for employees to grow and learn more about what they do. It helps them build that passion for their industry. It’s important to go to networking events, and encourage your employees to participate in these things. Websites like Eventbrite or Meetup have lots of great resources, and most of the events on there are free.

13 Disturbing Facts About Employee Engagement [Infographic]

What do you do to increase employee engagement? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Did you like today’s post? If so you’ll love our frequent newsletter! Sign up here and receive The Switch and Shift Change Playbook, by Shawn Murphy, as our thanks to you!

This infographic was crafted with love by Officevibe, the employee survey tool that helps companies improve their corporate wellness, and have a better organizational culture.


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Supply Chain Fraud: The Threat from Within

Lindsey LaManna

Supply chain fraud – whether perpetrated by suppliers, subcontractors, employees, or some combination of those – can take many forms. Among the most common are:

  • Falsified labor
  • Inflated bills or expense accounts
  • Bribery and corruption
  • Phantom vendor accounts or invoices
  • Bid rigging
  • Grey markets (counterfeit or knockoff products)
  • Failure to meet specifications (resulting in substandard or dangerous goods)
  • Unauthorized disbursements

LSAP_Smart Supply Chains_graphics_briefook inside

Perhaps the most damaging sources of supply chain fraud are internal, especially collusion between an employee and a supplier. Such partnerships help fraudsters evade independent checks and other controls, enabling them to steal larger amounts. The median loss from fraud committed
by a single thief was US$80,000, according to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE).

Costs increase along with the number of perpetrators involved. Fraud involving two thieves had a median loss of US$200,000; fraud involving three people had a median loss of US$355,000; and fraud with four or more had a median loss of more than US$500,000, according to ACFE.

Build a culture to fight fraud

The most effective method to fight internal supply chain theft is to create a culture dedicated to fighting it. Here are a few ways to do it:

  • Make sure the board and C-level executives understand the critical nature of the supply chain and the risk of fraud throughout the procurement lifecycle.
  • Market the organization’s supply chain policies internally and among contractors.
  • Institute policies that prohibit conflicts of interest, and cross-check employee and supplier data to uncover potential conflicts.
  • Define the rules for accepting gifts from suppliers and insist that all gifts be documented.
  • Require two employees to sign off on any proposed changes to suppliers.
  • Watch for staff defections to suppliers, and pay close attention to any supplier that has recently poached an employee.

About Lindsey LaManna

Lindsey LaManna is Social and Reporting Manager for the Digitalist Magazine by SAP Global Marketing. Follow @LindseyLaManna on Twitter, on LinkedIn or Google+.


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The Future Of Supplier Collaboration: 9 Things CPOs Want Their Managers To Know Now

Sundar Kamak

As a sourcing or procurement manager, you may think there’s nothing new about supplier collaboration. Your chief procurement officer (CPO) most likely disagrees.
Forward-thinking CPOs acknowledge the benefit of supplier partnerships. They not only value collaboration, but require a revolution in how their buying organization conducts its business and operations. “Procurement must start looking to suppliers for inspiration and new capability, stop prescribing specifications and start tapping into the expertise of suppliers,” writes David Rae in Procurement Leaders. The CEO expects it of your CPO, and your CPO expects it of you. For sourcing managers, this can be a lot of pressure.

Here are nine things your CPO wants you to know about how supplier collaboration is changing – and why it matters to your company’s future and your own future.

1. The need for supplier collaboration in procurement is greater than ever

Over half (65%) of procurement practitioners say procurement at their company is becoming more collaborative with suppliers, according to The Future of Procurement, Making Collaboration Pay Off, by Oxford Economics. Why? Because the pace of business has increased exponentially, and businesses must be able to respond to new market demands with agility and innovation. In this climate, buyers are relying on suppliers more than ever before. And buyers aren’t collaborating with suppliers merely as providers of materials and goods, but as strategic partners that can help create products that are competitive differentiators.

Supplier collaboration itself isn’t new. What’s new is that it’s taken on a much greater urgency and importance.

2. You’re probably not realizing the full collective power of your supplier relationships

Supplier collaboration has always been a function of maintaining a delicate balance between demand and supply. For the most part, the primary focus of the supplier relationship is ensuring the right materials are available at the right time and location. However, sourcing managers with a narrow focus on delivery are missing out on one of the greatest advantages of forging collaborative supplier partnerships: an opportunity to drive synergies that are otherwise perceived as impossible within the confines of the business. The game-changer is when you drive those synergies with thousands, not hundreds of suppliers. Look at the Apple Store as a prime example of collaboration en masse. Without the apps, the iPhone is just another ordinary phone!

3. Collaboration comes in more than one flavor

Suppliers don’t just collaborate with you to provide a critical component or service. They also work with your engineers to help ensure costs are optimized from the buyer’s perspective as well as the supplier’s side. They may even take over the provisioning of an entire end-to-end solution. Or co-design with your R&D team through joint research and development. These forms of collaboration aren’t new, but they are becoming more common and more critical. And they are becoming more impactful, because once you start extending any of these collaboration models to more and more suppliers, your capabilities as a business increase by orders of magnitude. If one good supplier can enable your company to build its brand, expand its reach, and establish its position as a market leader – imagine what’s possible when you work collaboratively with hundreds or thousands of suppliers.

4. Keeping product sustainability top of mind pays off

Facing increasing demand for sustainable products and production, companies are relying on suppliers to answer this new market requirement.

As a sourcing manager, you may need to go outside your comfort zone to think about new, innovative ways to collaborate for achieving sustainability. Recently, I heard from an acquaintance who is a CPO of a leading services company. His organization is currently collaborating with one of the largest suppliers in the world to adhere to regulatory mandates and consumer demand for “lean and green” lightbulbs. Although this approach was interesting to me, what really struck me was his observation on how this co-innovation with the supplier is spawning cost and resource optimization and the delivery of competitive products. As reported by Andrew Winston in The Harvard Business Review, Target and Walmart partnered to launch the Personal Care Sustainability Summit last year. So even competitors are collaborating with each other and with their suppliers in the name of sustainability.

5. Co-marketing is a win-win

Look at your list of suppliers. Does anyone have a brand that is bigger than your company’s? Believe it or not, almost all of us do. So why not seize the opportunity to raise your and your supplier’s brand profile in the marketplace?

Take Intel, for example. The laptop you’re working on right now may very well have an “Intel inside” sticker on it. That’s co-marketing at work. Consistently ranked as one of the world’s top 100 most valuable brands by Millward Brown Optimor, this largest supplier of microprocessors is world-renowned for its technology and innovation. For many companies that buy supplies from Intel, the decision to co-market is a strategic approach to convey that the product is reliable and provides real value for their computing needs.

6. Suppliers get to choose their customers, too

Increased competition for high-performing suppliers is changing the way procurement operates, say 58% of procurement executives in the Oxford Economics study. Buyers have a responsibility to the supplier – and to their CEO – to be a customer of choice. When the economy is going well, you might be able to dictate the supplier’s goods and services – and sometimes even the service delivery model. When times get tough (and they can very quickly), suppliers will typically reevaluate your organization’s needs to see whether they can continue service in a fiscally responsible manner. To secure suppliers’ attention in favorable and challenging economic conditions, your organization should establish collaborative and mutually productive partnerships with them.

7. Suppliers can help simplify operations

Cost optimization will always be one of your performance metrics; however, that is only one small part of the entire puzzle. What will help your organization get noticed is leveraging the supplier relationship to innovate new and better ways of managing the product line and operating the business while balancing risk and cost optimization. Ask yourself: Which functions are no longer needed? Can they be outsourced to a supplier that can perform them better? What can be automated?

8. Suppliers have a better grasp of your sourcing categories than you do

Understand your category like never before so that your organization can realize the full potential of its supplier investments while delivering products that are consistent and of high quality. How? By leveraging the wisdom of your suppliers. To be blunt: they know more than you do. Tap into that knowledge to gain a solid understanding of the product, market category, suppliers’ capabilities, and shifting dynamics in the industry, If a buyer does not understand these areas deeply, no amount of collaboration will empower a supplier to help your company innovate as well as optimize costs and resources.

9. Remember that there’s something in it for you as well

All of us want to do strategic, impactful work. Sourcing managers with aspirations of becoming CPOs should move beyond writing contracts and pushing PO requests by building strategic procurement skill sets. For example, a working knowledge in analytics allows you to choose suppliers that can shape the market and help a product succeed – and can catch the eye of the senior leadership team.

Sundar Kamak is global vice president of solutions marketing at Ariba, an SAP company.

For more on supplier collaboration, read Making Collaboration Pay Off, part of a series on the Future of Procurement, by Oxford Economics.


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Create A Culture That Doesn’t Fear Failure

JP George

A fear of failure could be holding back your business.

If the people on your team are worrying about being ridiculed or blamed for independent creativity or the downfall of an entire project, they are likely to hold back their ideas and stick to completing projects in the same way over and over again. In comparison, people who work in an office culture with no fear of failure feel free to bounce ideas around, which helps generate new practices, keep up with the times, push projects along, and can “wow” customers with innovation.

Changing the way your office works won’t happen overnight, but these five tips could begin to implement positive changes to help steer your team toward a working environment that is good for the staff and good for the business.

1. Recognize and reward

Employee recognition is the key to not fearing failure. When an employee or team member goes above and beyond; make sure they know that their hard work is appreciated and that an efficient system for providing employee recognition awards is in place. Even small things like suggesting a new way to carry out a particular process should be celebrated. If an employee, colleague, or team member has a suggestion that isn’t quite on-point, find the positive; for example, you might say, “You’re on the right lines, your idea will help speed the process up, but…” Always make sure to offer positive feedback first, then mention the thing that needs changing, and end with encouragement: “Once that’s ironed out, we can implement this — great work!”

2. Adopt a team mentality

Seems straightforward and fairly obvious for a first step, but so many companies do not know how to really generate a feeling of teamwork and inclusivity, and instead put up a front of “togetherness” while retaining the bad practices that divide a workforce. Start by calling a team meeting and setting some ground rules together. Yes, it’s a basic ice-breaking activity in almost all training sessions, but it also helps each person to display respect and hear the opinions of other members of the group. Suggest from the start that the team use “we” rather than individual pronouns when discussing projects, as it helps to dispel blame culture and reminds each person that they are all responsible for any successes and downfalls of the team.

3. Say “yes” more

When staff members and colleagues approach you with ideas and innovation, are you more likely to think “straying from the status quo is dangerous,” or are you willing to hear the person out and let their creative juices flow? Even if the first suggestion they offer is horrible, try not to say “no” outright or make the person feel bad for sharing. Try to find a way in which their idea can be incorporated, even if it has to be altered to fit the project. Saying “yes” to the inspiration and thoughts generated by staff and colleagues means that they will be likely to offer more ideas in the future, and without that openness, you might miss the next great innovation in your industry.

4. Blame less

Similarly, try to incorporate policies that encourage employee recognition rather than shame for sharing concepts. If failure does occur, do not publicly belittle the person deemed responsible, even in jest. This creates tension within the office or team and can make the person receiving the blame less likely to contribute in the future, and may even affect their personal well-being. Instead of blaming and shaming, discuss what went wrong as a group, and try to enforce the group mentality of “we could have done…” rather than “I/they/she/he did…”

5. Look for the positives

If, for any reason, your team does experience failure—and you should, otherwise you’re just not aiming high enough—try to see the positives, and discuss the issue as a group — not in cliques of us vs. them, but together discuss what the group could have done better. If a majority insist on blaming one or two people, move onto analyzing how communication channels could be opened up and ask members how inclusivity could be improved. After all, if only a few people are responsible for a project failing, the responsibility was obviously not being shared in an equal manner while the project was underway. There are positives to every situation, even if it is just the ability to improve your team dynamic.

The changes won’t happen immediately, but once the systems are in place and your staff, colleagues, and team members start to understand the goals within both the office and working environment as a whole, your employees’ creativity should start flowing and you will start hearing new suggestions regularly. Even if some don’t work well, remember to recognize employees and enjoy the rewards of your newly open and trusting workforce.

Want more employee engagement tips? See Boost Productivity With These 4 Brain Breaks.


About JP George

JP George grew up in a small town in Washington. After receiving a Master's degree in Public Relations, JP has worked in a variety of positions, from agencies to corporations all across the globe. Experience has made JP an expert in topics relating to leadership, talent management, and organizational business.

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