Planful

Hilb Group Simplifies Financial Consolidations with Planful

The Hilb Group isn’t yet in the company of its global peers, but an aggressive acquisition strategy could change that within a few years. Integrating and gleaning value from each buyout used to be a Herculean task. Upgrading to Planful has changed that.

Challenges

Every one of Hilb’s 28 acquired agencies would come with its own set of processes and a distinct chart of accounts. Pulling data from these enterprises into Excel and then normalizing it so that executives and investors could judge their impact on the overall business in a consolidated fashion would take fine-tuning and a custom-designed database that Rob Blanton, the Hilb Group’s SVP and Controller, had hired a consultant to build.

Once all the numbers were in, they would run four core reports against the database, outputting the results as Excel spreadsheets. Excel in, Excel out, with a lot of misery and translation stuck between the front and back ends of the process.

“We were getting so much data in that Excel was starting to crash our systems. Our Chief Operating Officer would ask for his reports and I would say that I had to do it again because Excel was crashing”, Blanton said.

When Excel finally “broke” COO David Hobbs demanded that finance find an alternative that could scale with his business as it grew. Within weeks they were evaluating Planful and immediately liked what they saw.

Solution

“I was the Hyperion Enterprise administrator for [Hilb Group predecessor] HRH in 1993 and I supported and managed it until I left in 2006. I grew it from about 60 entities in 1993 to over 200 entities in 2006,” Blanton says. “Planful appealed to me because it was very similar to Hyperion Enterprise.” Familiarity may have been an initial selling point, but it wasn’t the only factor.

“Planful has good technology and a robust platform for capturing, consolidating and analyzing data,” Blanton says. Brightpoint Consulting helped implement the full Planful platform.

Challenges

“We’ve been in this crawl, walk, run mentality. Right now, we’re starting to walk,” says Tori Best, Senior Financial Analyst.

“Agencies that once submitted Excel spreadsheets with trial balances that had to be scrubbed and normalized in our custom database are now fed directly into Planful using a standard template.”

Other benefits include:

• Cloud access, which keeps the software fresh while eliminating the need for scheduled maintenance or downtime.

• Accuracy at scale. With Excel, every new deal added more data to track in an ever-expanding collection of workbooks to be inspected by a specialist to ensure accuracy in reports.

• Built-in flexibility for analysis. Because Planful is built for handling data sets as dimensions that interrelate and build on each other, it’s easier to run analyses that would be either difficult or impossible in Excel.

• Standardization. Every agency is different at the moment of acquisition. Blanton addresses this by deploying a team that analyzes the existing chart of accounts and maps it to Hilb’s format.

Both Blanton and Best say that simplifying and streamlining analysis should lead to better, more profitable decision making over the long term. In the meantime, there’s tangible value to cutting costs by simplifying financial consolidation, analysis and reporting.

"Excel is great when it’s five workbooks, great when it’s 10 workbooks, but when I start getting to 20 workbooks it starts to get shaky. I was looking for a robust platform in which to report that also didn’t have the inherent risk of Excel errors."

Rob Blanton, SVP and Controller

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