Shagun Malhotra, CPA, CIA, Founder
'A new technology, an old problem, a big idea’—a potent three-ingredient recipe for innovation.
For Shagun Malhotra, CPA, CIA, an experienced auditor and process consultant, this ‘innovative recipe’ moment arrived in 2008. A publicly-traded global financial services company hired Shagun upon discovering that its balance sheet was off by over four billion dollars and that they were in a bit of a pickle. They had a long-standing issue around closing the books and completing reconciliations, which resulted in broken controls and incomplete work at month-end. To help the financial services company, Shagun led a year-long remediation effort and rebuilt the company’s disjointed processes, enabling management to pass the audit and retain its banking license.
This experience made Shagun realize the dire need for a product that would automate this process. She then embarked on a mission to create an affordably priced solution that would help automate the month-end close and reconciliation activities. As a testament to Shagun’s will and commitment, in 2009, SkyStem was established. The company’s flagship solution, ART—a web-based, fintech automation solution which simplifies the jobs of CFOs, accountants, and auditors—was brought to the market shortly after.
Shagun highlights that the world of accounting is filled with many micro-processes and tasks, and there has always been limited focus on the little things that make the accounting function tick. Closing the books, reconciling the balance sheet, and performing flux analyses are essential activities for every corporation.
Failing to close efficiently can put organizations at a competitive disadvantage, propagate inefficiencies and potentially run into regulatory and compliance issues. For mid-sized companies, in particular, the stakes are even higher as they must close quickly and report accurate numbers, often with a lean accounting team. Such organizations can hugely benefit from automation, but a major stumbling block for mid-sized companies is the “lack of resources to make a large investment and undergo a multi-month implementation,” emphasizes Shagun.
SkyStem ART was created just for this market. Setting up ART doesn’t require IT, full-time resources or external consultants. “We can get ART up and running in three to four weeks, with low implementation fees and minimal business disruption,” states Shagun. There are three solution packages, which CFOs and controller scan further customize based on their unique needs and available budgets. All upgrades are delivered automatically to all customers, and the solution is equipped with state-of-the-art security, intrusion prevention and detection, and stringent backup controls. Moreover, ART is ERP-agnostic. Customers have a choice to have data uploaded via an Excel file or schedule a feed automatically via FTP.
At its core, ART aims to meet four principal criteria: robust features, easy usability, fast implementation, and above all, affordably priced. When it comes to ART’s competence, the webbased solution streamlines and eliminates up to 90% of manual activities while strengthening internal controls and corporate governance. These activities are streamlined via standardized forms, real-time dashboards, and powerful reporting features. The reports empower all levels of management to identify exceptions, follow up on aged open items, and address unexpected issues rapidly. It also provides a level of control that senior executives would not be able to get without automation. Moreover, the solution enables a smoother audit.
SkyStem’s customers typically save a considerable amount of time and money.
ART aims to meet four principal criteria: robust features, easy usability, faster implementation time, and, above all, being affordably priced.
Prompt, responsive, and knowledge-based support is another unique selling point of SkyStem. Many of the solution providers today exercise a “fire-and-forget” approach while implementing their solutions. However, Shagun is of the belief that customers continuously require expert guidance. Her customer-centric philosophy stems from her rich background in the travel and hospitality industry, which includes tenures at Marriott and other Fortune 100 companies. Leveraging this knowledge, SkyStem encourages a oneon- one service experience that is sorely lacking in the business world today. By offering unlimited phone, email and chat support free of charge, coupled with selfhelp portals and online training courses, SkyStem ensures that its customers’ queries are addressed timely. That being said, the company’s latest endeavor has been to create podcasts of its customers’ journey in adopting automation and how it has impacted their closing process. “This is another example of our efforts to share our expertise with companies so that they can learn and apply the knowledge wherever appropriate,” expresses Shagun.
This customer-centric approach is also distinct in the company’s product development process, where user feedback plays a vital role in identifying future enhancements. SkyStem enhances its product with at least four large releases and a steady stream of smaller upgrades throughout the year. In doing so, “more than 20% of new features in ART are a direct result of customer suggestions,” notes Shagun. “Putting the customer at the heart of our value-driven offerings has always proven critical to our success,” she adds. This way, SkyStem doesn’t just provide an efficient way to perform the month-end close, but also delivers unrivaled quality through unique product features.
Today, industries spanning from financial services and healthcare, to utilities and retail, rely on ART to ensure success in their month-end close process and meet audit requirements. A case in point is Lake Health, providing a community health system for patient and family-centered care in Northeast Ohio. Lake Health’s accounting team struggled with timeliness and was lacking consistent quality in the reconciliation review process every month. Before implementing ART, Lake Health was managing reconciliations of high-risk accounts with an Excel checklist. Medium and low-risk accounts were either reconciled on an ad-hoc basis or through semi-annual balance sheet reviews. Lake Health recognized the need to establish an accurate and structured close and reconciliation process, along with a centralized repository, and therefore chose ART. Taking only a month’s time for implementation, ART quickly enabled Lake Health’s accounting team to automate the management of month-end close tasks as well as increase visibility, improve quality, and reduce risks associated with the reconciliation process. Since implementing ART, Lake Health’s auditors have also expressed satisfaction with the improvement of internal controls over financial reporting.
What makes the company even more distinctive is its company culture. “We are a woman- and minority-owned business that champions and models diversity inclusion in all areas,” asserts Shagun, proudly. The testament of this progressive leadership and workforce is the numerous accolades and awards that Shagun and her company have received. Recently, Shagun was featured as one of the ‘Most Influential Businesswomen to Follow in 2020’ by Insight Magazine, and her company won the 2020 Fintech award for the “Best Month-End Close and Reconciliation Solution” by Wealth and Finance International. Moving ahead, Shagun and her team now intend to continue injecting intelligence into its award-winning platform, equipping customers to do more with less. “We want that vision to be our constant focal point in all our future endeavors,” concludes the founder.