Increasing Finance Operations Efficiency at First Sentier Investors

When First Sentier Investors was acquired, company leaders only had six months to stand up an all-new financial management platform. The CFO of First Sentier Investors shares how the company transformed its reporting, analysis, budgeting, and forecasting processes in record time.

Trust and performance. Those two watchwords were on the minds of hundreds of institutional investors, pension fund owners, financial advisers, and private clients across the world when they heard that the global asset management firm with US$180 billion of their investments would change ownership in August 2019.

That’s when Sydney-based First Sentier Investors was acquired by Mitsubishi UFJ Trust and Banking Corporation (MUTB) from the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA).

First Sentier Investors CFO Suzanne Evans recently shared at Elevate Australia & New Zealand why she hung on to those two watchwords as well. “My challenges were to provide our clients with complete confidence in our continued competence and performance in handling their investments while also providing stability to our global organization, which has more than 800 employees in 11 offices across nine countries,” she said.

“With Workday as our financial management platform, we now have all the numbers we need at our fingertips and can trust their integrity.”

Suzanne Evans Chief Financial Officer First Sentier Investors

A Liberating New Chapter

But those weren’t Evans’ only concerns. The radical ownership change—from a multinational bank based in Australia to a global, financial juggernaut based in Tokyo—required First Sentier Investors to stand up new systems across the entire organization. “If we were renovating a house, we didn't just remodel the kitchen and a couple bathrooms; it was a complete knockdown and rebuild,” she said. “And we had less than 12 months to do it.”

In terms of financial management, Evans and her team had their work cut out for them. “We had to literally get rid of everything we had worked with previously,” she said. “For example, even though we are a global asset management business, we were using a legacy general ledger that had been designed for CBA, our previous owner and primarily an Australian domestic bank with international offices. And our financial reports consisted of a series of spreadsheets pinned together, which comes with its own risks.”

While Evans found this latter situation unsettling, she also considered it liberating. “Our tipping point was literally the day of our 2019 ownership change, which was Friday, Aug. 2,” she recalled. “We tried to do a lot of planning beforehand, of course, but until you're under your new ownership, it's quite hard to execute. So we held off issuing an RFP for our new financial systems platform until then. We did know we wanted a cloud-based technology with secure yet global accessibility, easy scalability, and regular but non-disruptive updates and upgrades that would allow us to leverage future advancements—such as process automation.”

More Time to Guide the Business

After evaluating the RFP responses carefully, Evans and her team chose Workday and its deployment partner Accenture. Specifically, First Sentier Investors deployed Workday Financial Management, Workday Adaptive Planning, and Workday Prism Analytics. “With Accenture using Workday’s proven delivery assurance model, we met our go-live deadline,” she said. “In the meantime, I connected with other CFOs who are using Workday and learned a lot of best practices on the [customer portal] Workday Community.”

Evans reported that the changes in the work of her finance team—about 60 people worldwide—have been dramatic. “Everyone has been able to stop focusing on just producing the numbers,” she said. “With Workday as our financial management platform, we now have all the numbers we need at our fingertips and can trust their integrity. This lets us really start to drill into the data, the analytics, the planning, and the forecasting so we can deliver more guidance to the business than we could before.”

In deploying Workday, Evans and her team took the opportunity to closely examine their workflows and tap into their experiences and imaginations to find ways to make their processes more efficient. “We wanted to do more than just what we’ve always done but with new technology,” she said. “The conversations I had with other CFOs who use Workday gave us thought starters, and our own team added a lot of good ideas. This also helped get the team excited about the coming changes because they were part of making them happen.”

Enhanced Global Collaboration Across Finance

Today, Evans and her team are better positioned to operate worldwide. “We’re able to work much more closely as a global team,” she said. “We're not seen as a group of different regions anymore because we're looking at the same tool and the same dataset, and we can do it in the same time frame. Overall, Workday has definitely helped make us more agile as an organization.”

With Workday, the proper financial and security controls are in place at every level of the business. “While Workday gives us real-time data access; the integrity of our numbers; and great analytics, budgeting, and forecasting tools, the board also wants assurances that operational risks are contained. Workday helps us do that,” Evans said.

Evans enjoys seeing the positive changes in her team members. “The more you can make your employees’ lives easier, the more you can empower them to feel that they both own their roles and have the autonomy to push things forward without constantly having to go through approval layers, the more they're going to feel accountable for what they're doing,” she said. “And I love how the team keeps coming up with new ways to use Workday.”

Evans cited the experience of one longtime team member who left on parental leave before the Workday deployment and returned months after it was fully operational. “She couldn’t believe the difference. In her view, our team had gone ‘from driving a clunker to a Ferrari.’” Evans concluded, “When you hear something like that, you know you're going in the right direction.”

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