Since the 2008 financial crisis, businesses — specifically in the insurance industry — have been facing a challenging environment, with higher pressure on margins, increased competition, and stricter regulatory reporting requirements. Every function needs to be more efficient, and finance in particular faces increased demands to better steer the business to meet the challenges of the future.
Swiss Re — a global provider of leading wholesale reinsurance, insurance, and other forms of risk transfer for the past 150 years — recognized the challenges facing its industry. Both dealing direct and working through brokers, its global client base consists of insurance companies, mid- to large-sized corporations, and public sector clients — with approximately 12,000 employees and offices in 22 countries around the globe. In 2014, after a significant review of its finance department’s processes, Swiss Re launched a multi-year finance transformation journey called the ATLAS program. The mission of the program was to achieve simplification, integration, and automation of finance processes for Reinsurance Finance, the largest finance division of Swiss Re.
From the Past to the Future of Finance
Reinsurance Finance had been operating with backward-looking accounting processes, which varied around the globe. Due to both organic growth and acquisitions, a fragmented finance landscape built up over time. Data sat across multiple general ledgers on different systems, which meant there was no common basis for the production of reports, and much time was spent reconciling numbers. Andreas Schoenherr, Finance Integration Lead of the ATLAS program, says, “The processes were cumbersome, and it was taking us too long to close our books in all required country-specific reporting Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAPs), solvency reporting, and internal valuations. This was not a place we wanted to be as a finance organization.”
Not only was this frustrating for finance employees, it also made it difficult for Reinsurance Finance to partner effectively with client-facing colleagues. Additionally, steering the business was harder for Swiss Re’s leaders when the information they needed simply wasn’t available in a timely fashion.
Finding the Right Product
After performing initial assessments and gathering requirements, Swiss Re, together with SAP, completed a solution discovery phase to understand how SAP S/4HANA Finance differentiates itself in areas critical to Swiss Re and the ATLAS transformation program. Ultimately, the program’s goal was to enable Reinsurance Finance to reach a target of a five-day close. To determine if SAP S/4HANA Finance was the right product to deliver on this ambitious goal, the ATLAS team developed three use cases, which tested the most challenging and important aspects the business needed to consider for its global financial requirements:
- Cost allocation processing: What advantages does SAP S/4HANA Finance have from a performance perspective? What advantages can be leveraged from the merging of financials and controlling documents?
- Multi-valuation and multi-currency functionality: What are the implications from a multi-dimensional ledger setup when it comes to important processes such as revaluation or regrouping?
- Multi-dimensional reporting: Would SAP S/4HANA Finance provide the ability to easily add customer-defined dimensions?
Swiss Re concluded that SAP S/4HANA Finance was fit for its purposes and would help enable its vision of a five-day close. “As a company whose core competency is to know and understand risks, we wanted to be certain the benefits outweighed any new product risk. The functionality innovations in the product — including new currency handling and the use of an embedded business warehouse with the significant removal of aggregates and redundant data — made the SAP S/4HANA value proposition very compelling,” says Thomas Wright, IT Lead for the program. “Through our prototype work, we added over 80 customer-defined dimensions without performance degradation.” These discoveries led Swiss Re to move forward with SAP S/4HANA Finance.
Since the decision, the ATLAS program has been focusing on the build and preparing to implement the globally standardized financial accounting system on SAP S/4HANA Finance in a co-development partnership with SAP. “To reach our ambitious target of a five-day close, we had to find innovative solutions,” says Schoenherr. “And SAP S/4HANA technology will help enable us to transform the way we do finance at Swiss Re.”
As a result, the business will be going live with the first element of SAP S/4HANA Finance, the functionality for cost accounting and allocation. Then, Swiss Re will move to a single general ledger, a new integrated chart of accounts with aligned accounting logic that will enable the business to look across global reporting GAAPs and will allow for better analytics and forward-looking information. Swiss Re’s aim is to have 90% standardization globally, but also to have built-in localization where required, ensuring financials are consistent across the business but still tailored to local regulatory needs.
The new standardized accounting system on SAP S/4HANA Finance will enable real-time reporting with drill-down capabilities so that it is possible to slice and dice the data in whatever way it is needed, whenever it’s needed. It will also enable the Reinsurance Finance division to reach its ambitious target of a five-day close, bringing Swiss Re to the forefront of the insurance industry in regards to financial management.