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Why is a reconciliation like a shirt? A buyer’s guide by a reluctant shopper

Picture the scene: in a tailor’s shop in Hoi Ann, Vietnam, a reluctant shopper (me) has just been measured for a couple of bespoke suits. I’ve chosen the fabric, decided on the cut and I’m just about to pay for the privilege. Then the tailor throws a curveball. Had I thought, he asks, about shirts to go with my purchases? Despite fierce air conditioning, I sweat. I’m nearing the end of my holiday, so time is tight. But although I hadn’t factored shirts into my plans, they’re obviously essential to my outfits. It’s starting to feel a lot like reconciliation – also often the unanticipated afterthought of a much more exciting process. And like many the owner of legacy reconciliation software, I’m tempted to stick with what I have.

 

Resisting that temptation, I start weighing up the pros and cons of buying a stock of tailored shirts. I know that my current shirts don’t really fit anymore and are starting to look pretty worn. Whereas custom made shirts will fit me perfectly, be made of high quality and durable material, and look and feel exactly how I want them to. But given that I’ll need several, the cost is sure to be prohibitive – and it’s highly unlikely that they’ll be ready in time. This is the kind of conundrum faced by many lines of business in financial institutions today. On the one hand, their current reconciliations are old, tired, inefficient, and no longer reflect business requirements. On the other, it will be far too costly and time consuming to replace them or to construct a bespoke automated solution for every new process.

 

So, maybe the tailor’s isn’t always the best place to shop. For the sake of time and costs, might it not be better to buy “off the shelf”? Many financial institutions now look for solutions that enable them to create and apply best practice templates for reconciliations that will guarantee a baseline of control and reporting – with the major advantage of faster time to market and lower costs. Centralized reconciliation factories have therefore allowed organizations to provide high-quality solutions to their internal customers in a timely, affordable fashion. To reduce costs further, discount clothing manufacturers often move their factories overseas; and plenty of banks have done the same with offshore centers for reconciliation. All great in concept – but when you push the model too far, the theory starts to crack.

 

Whether you’re producing shirts or reconciliations, too much cost-cutting can compromise quality. Take the super-discounted clothing brands; their shirts may be a bargain and produced with incredible speed, but they’re likely to fall apart just as quickly, shrink in the wash or not fit as well as you’d like. The material is low quality, the stitching is poor and there are buttons where you’d rather have cufflinks. Similarly, a reconciliation may be cheap and built rapidly, but you could end up matching a huge proportion of your items manually and lose many of the benefits of a well-made, repeatable process. You may find that the exception management process isn’t automated at all, that people are still rekeying data into other systems and that there’s no common reporting or real-time tracking capabilities. The discount reconciliation, like the discount shirt, is no longer fit for purpose. And when you’re buying in bulk, standards really start to slip.

 

In short, an effective factory is about more than making things quickly and cheaply. Critically, there need to be controls in place to ensure high-quality output at all times. And if an off-the-shelf product doesn’t quite meet requirements, or the requirements are just too complex, it should be possible to adapt a factory template to your specifications.

 

This kind of tailoring is all in a day’s work for the best kind of reconciliation service. To return to our retail metaphor, a truly excellent reconciliation center should be neither a discount store nor a top-notch tailor but somewhere in between – a reputable department store, if you like. It should be well staffed, efficiently run and pride itself on quality control and customer satisfaction, offering a whole catalogue of off-the-shelf templates to choose from. But for something extra special, or if you’re unhappy with your purchase, there will always be an in-house tailoring service at hand, complete with all the right tools, to make the necessary nips and tucks to ensure optimal automation and reporting.

 

With a one-stop shop and centralized service to meet all your reconciliation needs, you’ll reduce the common problems of a fragmented environment and improve efficiency, scalability and transparency. You can also gain constant, instant access to a flexible set of tools and resources, enabling you to create or adapt processes more rapidly and effectively. But although reconciliation is now critical to most business processes, many organizations are yet to implement such a wise enterprise strategy. Instead they fall back on spreadsheets and ageing software, or hesitate between the packaged and the tailor made.

 

Why delay when you could get the best of both worlds under one roof – delivering quality, control, timeliness and value in equal measure? Advice I’ll try to bear in mind the next time I’m reluctantly shopping for shirts.

 

Richard Chapman
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Richard Chapman

Richard Chapman

Head of Strategy

SunGard

Member since

15 Jul 2010

Location

Singapore

Blog posts

11

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This post is from a series of posts in the group:

Financial Risk Management

This network brings together professionals involved in the oversight and management of their company's financial risks and exposures as well as solution vendors, in order to discuss risk issues including interest rate risk, foreign exchange risk and commodity price risk, among others.


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