Following a number of acquisitions after Quilter emerged from the break-up in 2018 of financial services giant Old Mutual, the wealth management firm’s CFO Mark Satchel felt the time was right to improve the ledger and related systems for a business managing £117.8bn of investments for over 900,000 customers.
Having undertaken numerous transactions in his 20-year tenure at Old Mutual and then Quilter, Satchel was well placed to deliver a process to further integrate the various areas across the firm’s two main segments: Advice & Wealth Management and Wealth Platforms.
From a consolidation perspective, it was becoming more and more cumbersome to operate with all the different general ledger systems across all the business, says Satchel.
“We wanted to link the group’s entire procurement system, purchase orders, invoices, effectively undertake an overhaul of the whole authorisation process. That leads into HR to make sure it’s going through the right hierarchies, in terms of cost centre ownership and responsibility for costs within the business more generally,” says Satchel.
A key area of improvement was how staff submitedt expense claims, how they we going to be getting invoices approved for third party suppliers and purchase orders raised, and from an HR perspective joining up benefits and annual leave on one system. An optimisation programme kicked off just over two years ago was already being used to reduce costs and headcount within the finance function, as well as addressing procurement and HR requirements. But the new system offered the chance to reduce thousands of cost centres to a few hundred.
Satchel plumbed for a January launch, to avoid conflicting with a December year end.
A decision was also made to continue with the project despite the onset of the pandemic in early 2020 because Satchel was confident his team had the means to work remotely, and because the group had already made commitments to the market regarding cost savings.
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The core finance team in Southampton was made responsibility with project delivery. “We had already started the process of moving more activities to Southampton to combine teams, so to stop and pause that would be as disruptive as continuing with the programme,” says Satchel.
The team selected to drive the project was composed of subject matter experts from across finance, procurement, HR, tax, actuarial services, as well as staff from the programme management side managing the overall complexity of the programme. “Department heads would be involved from a sign off perspective, but they wouldn’t necessarily be 100 percent dedicated to it,” says Satchel.
External vendor support came from Coupa Software and HR specialist Workday, while consultancy Deloitte provided expertise on how systems can be migrated onto a common system, “working on setup and design, as well as making sure the right things were put in the right place,” says Satchel.
“With Deloitte we also wanted a team that had experience with having Coupa and Workday working together, because we wanted them to be integrated and not have manual handoffs between the two systems,” he adds.
Terms agreed with vendors included a mix of mainly service agreements and on-off purchases, which extended to third party suppliers of Quilter’s employee benefits; facilities/property service providers and specialist IT services.
Executing the plan
An online version of a war room was set up to manage the project, with a governance structure in which Satchel had overall responsibility for the broader programme, and the chief operating officer and HR director also taking key roles.
“I looked to them to make sure that their particular components were operating effectively and smoothly, because they were heading up some of the project’s sub streams. In effect, it was a good collaboration and co-operation within the back-office functions of the organisation.
“In terms of disseminating information, collecting feedback in terms of density testing protocols, we undertook internal audits and performance reviews of the whole implementation process at various points. The risk function was very much involved in decisions,” he says.
A black out period was put in place prior to the launch of the new procurement system, where expense claims and invoices couldn’t be submitted. Dry runs were then undertaken amongst the delivery team with user groups established to look at, for example, how the process worked from an HR perspective, or what the user experience was like.
Satchel says one of the main challenges encountered during the process was around implementing some aspects of the HR component, in terms of getting that aligned with the general ledger system.
“Because of some of the technical difficulties we had in the pandemic environment, we thought it better not to risk the delivery of the procurement and finance component, so we made the decision to decouple the HR elements from the finance parts.
“Although the finance and procurement component has been fully delivered in January, the HR component is now coming in later. That said, the process was always going to be a phased delivery, starting with a big drop taking place in January,” he says.
A second phase for other subsidiaries will come through later on this year, after the HR component is delivered in April. “Although the decision delayed the HR component by three months, it was the right call to make.
“Although we’ve been pretty rigid around making sure that we are delivering the things that we need to deliver, by a certain date and to a set budget, we recognised the need for some flexibility when necessary regarding the delivery of the HR component which is going to cost a little bit more than what we initially thought.
“You can’t assume in a programme setting up the delivery of this size that every single thing is going to go absolutely 100 percent. You need to make sure you’ve got some buffers in there, so that you can get up to capacity to perform a rerun or retest, if you need it.
Satchel says the ethos of Quilter is that you’re unlikely to complete something earlier than planned. “There’s a likelihood that if it’s a really tight timetable you’re going to start slipping, because frankly your risk appetite is going to get exceeded otherwise you won’t be ready and you’re going to run into snags. But overall, I’m going to ensure that we delivered the whole project within budget and on track,” he adds.
Although it’s still early days, Satchel says he and his team are already feeling the benefits of delivering the first phase of the new system. “There’s a familiarisation process happening. I’m already getting visibility of the purchase order process, which is a good insight into what my expenses are going to be looking like over the next few months.
“It’s already given me a better guidance as to what the runway over the next few months is going to look like,” he says.
One of the big benefits of this project has been to bring together people across Quilter. “Even within our function the team had very little to do with one another before, but actually have a lot in common.
“Having different finance teams spread across the nation, meant there was very little collaboration or benefits that they could get from one part to another, but this initiative has brought together the wider team. We have a diverse group of people that I think are going to benefit going forward because they know each other.
“It means we can work more collaboratively. One of our objectives as an organisation, is to operate more as one business, rather than lots of individual businesses, which is the tendency when you have grown through acquisitions,” he says.
Satchel says he is very proud of how the team delivered, given the difficulties thrown up by the pandemic. “They’ve had to balance what’s going on in their own personal life, often working whilst home schooling. Yet, they’ve got enough professional pride and pride to get this project done in a very capable and professional manner.
“My advice to others is to make sure you’ve got the right people doing the work, because those embroiled in the detail are the right people to have on board.
“You also need a strong programme director, managing the day-to-day activities of the programme to make sure that the different components are very much in the right place at the right time. They need to be like a conductor, bringing in different parts of orchestra at the point that you need them to come in,” he adds.