Controllers Council recently held a panel discussion on 6 Steps to a Faster Year-End Close, sponsored by BILL.

BILL is a leading financial operations platform for small and midsize businesses (SMBs). As a champion of SMBs, BILL automates the future of finance so businesses can thrive. BILL’s integrated platform helps businesses to be more efficiently, control payables, receivables spend, and expense management.

Our expert panelists were Philip Peck and Joe Fleischer. Philip Peck is Vice President Advisory services, and Finance transformation practice at Peloton Consulting Group. Joe Fleischer is webinar content marketing manager for BILL with more than 16 years experience, including and Argonne.

Following are key takeaways to this discussion. If you are interested in learning more, view the full webinar archive video here.

What procedures companies should have in place before preparing to close the books

I think first and foremost, establishing a clear timeline. What key milestones are in the detailed schedule of activities for all steps of the process? It’s so essential as a foundational element of executing successfully on that year-end close. You must have a structured approach, and you have to have all the mechanisms in place such that something doesn’t fall through the cracks.

With that in mind then, I would strongly advocate having a comprehensive communications plan, provide clarity around team roles, responsibilities so that all relevant stakeholders know what’s happening throughout the process. They get informed of potential delays or things that you may not expect as it’s happening, and any changes say in procedures or timelines that manifest itself by the nature of what’s going on.

Another element is really stepping back and saying, do we have our documentation around the closed process up to snuff? Is it a 100% up to date? And that’s inclusive of things like service-level agreements. Things do change over time, and it’s important that we keep pace and make sure that our documentation accurately reflects everything that’s part and parcel to the current process. From a systems, technologies and tools, make sure they’re ready. There may be some updates say to subledgers or various other systems you’re using. It could be tools templates, it could be monitoring elements that you have in place, and make sure that they’re ready prior to that year-end close.

Certainly, things that are pre-closed in nature, be it recons, accruals, adjustments. Get them done, don’t wait. Make sure that they’re all in place prior to that final set of activities for your final year-end close.

Something that typically would happen a little bit earlier is the training and knowledge transfer. And this is so essential, especially with newer employees and participants in the process, but also given the nature of our hybrid work environment, it’s highly distributed as compared to what was just a few years ago, so that training and knowledge transfers critical.

Another key one that I think is important, and certainly don’t want to raise a red flag or get people concerned, but often there are audits as part of a natural year-end closed process, or a downstream activity to support audit-related activities. Make sure you have the necessary documentation, transparency, and things at your fingertips to support those activities.

And then the last one, a bonus one that I’ve been thinking a lot about recently… The concept of a pre-mortem before you enter that year-end close cycle, simulate it with all the participants and go, what’s likely to happen? What’s happened in the past? How do we mitigate potential things that could go sideways and be prepared for it?

What skills, resources, and tools companies require to complete an annual close accurately and efficiently

I think we start with the core accounting expertise, the technical competency, but third, an element that I’m a firm believer can only benefit the organization and really move us up the food chain in terms of our capabilities with the close and that’s an appreciation for the business value chain. So, no question, strong accounting knowledge and skills is essential. The fundamental accounting principles, financial reporting standards, appreciation for regulations relevant to the industry that you just must have those skills and capabilities.

Adding in the aspect about the business value chain, then allows us as practitioners to optimally apply what we’re doing in the context of that financial close to the real-world setting. Certainly, the world of accounting and the world of the close and the world of transactions follows standards, follows protocols, follows procedures. That said, there’s typically elements that have an industry-specific company-specific uniqueness or idiosyncrasy that having more knowledge around how the business value chain works enables us to do that financial close set of activities that much better.

A second major one I’d highlight is just problem solving and analytics skills. Being able to analyze financial data, being able to discern and understand trends, interpret discrepancies, like where to go, when and how, when something is not the way that it should be. That helps us navigate that financial close to ensure the accuracy, the financial statements and everything we need to do. Another one would be more project management and communication. The ability to manage the timelines, manage my work, manage the team’s work, be able to interact with others who contribute to, or I contribute to their work. Coordination of tasks and adherence to the deadlines is certainly essential for that smooth close.

How AP and AR teams can contribute most effectively to a smooth close

There are certainly elements that apply to both the AP function and the AR function, and by design we’ve bifurcated to really laser focus in on how can those teams contribute to the year-end close. But one that I want to bubble up, and just before I move into the AP and then the AR side, is just come back full circle to clear communication. Whether you’re AP, AR, the teams need to have open communication channels certainly with each other, but fundamentally all the other functions and departments that they interact with. So, when you come up with issues, not if, or discrepancies, you can address them promptly. You have a good working relationship with these other groups. Hopefully, you can mitigate or even prevent last-minute surprises that tend to happen during the year-end close.

How to evaluate your current close process and identify opportunities to improve it

Starting first, current state analysis. Do a thorough process mapping exercise of the end-to-end annual closed process. What you’re looking to do first is you need to document it, all the steps, all the activities associated with it, how are you using tools and technology? How are you leveraging data? How do you manipulate the data? Who’s responsible when? Who’s doing what, when and why? A little bit of a classic side talk, inputs, activities, outputs.

Part of that current state analysis is certainly looking out to the stakeholder community. We don’t just want to be internal. And internal, meaning our core little team who might be doing the exercise, but what about the other participants in the process? They often have great ideas, and at a minimum, engaging them can only help you when you start to improve. So, document the steps, who performs them, the tools used, and count. Measure the time associated, number of steps and time associated, such that you have a good benchmark of where you are today.

Now that you have that, do a gap analysis. Measure yourself against industry best practices. And when I say industry best practices, sometimes it might even be better practices, it might be okay practices, it could be candidly even mediocre practices, but you need a gap analysis against something. And I think the target of best practices is a great way to go.

Then do a review and update of any existing KPI metrics you have. So, how are you measuring performance? Could you be doing it better? Do those metrics align to know these North Star objectives, and are they the right metrics to ensure that you’re monitoring, and measuring, and managing the progress against your overarching goals?

Now that you’ve done all that, you need to compile, rationalize, and prioritize the improvement initiatives. Often, there are elements that are pure business process, some that are technology. Often there’s elements around data, data cleanliness, data quality, data access, data governance, and then certainly the people side, roles and responsibilities, skills, training, knowledge, etc.

Last point, I’d like to make here is, when you’re in the mode then of implementation, constantly monitor, continuously measure performance against those defined metrics to ensure progress. It’s likely like any other major initiative in an organization, you may need to course correct. Your priorities, relative priorities, may change slightly. So, you need to be on top of things that you ensure as you’re going through that transformation journey, you extract the greatest value and you hit the bullseye in terms of what you’re looking to achieve.

To view the complete webcast, download full webinar here.


BILL (NYSE: BILL) is a leading financial operations platform for small and midsize businesses (SMBs). As a champion of SMBs, we are automating the future of finance so businesses can thrive. Our integrated platform helps businesses to more efficiently control payables, receivables and spend and expense management. Hundreds of thousands of businesses rely on BILL’s proprietary member network of millions to pay or get paid faster. Headquartered in San Jose, California, BILL is a trusted partner of leading U.S. financial institutions, accounting firms, and accounting software providers. For more information, visit