In Part III of our ongoing Flexi Education Series, we sit down and talk to Natalie Roberts Vice President – Accounting, Controller from Medical Mutual
Marc Meyer: Hi Natalie. Thanks for jumping on and agreeing to do this interview.
Natalie Roberts: No problem.
MM: Natalie, let’s just get right to it. What do you see as the top accounting challenge(s) for insurance companies?
NR: For us, our biggest accounting challenge is automation and remote working capabilities. The challenge really is all about getting it going or started. Broadly speaking, I look at the challenges in our industry not necessarily from a personal perspective but more from a broader picture. Automation is not only an accounting challenge but also one for the software vendors.
For example, over the last 12 months, the challenge was a little different. Our true challenge revolved around trying to figure out solutions for working from home. The primary reason was that we had certain people that absolutely had to come into the office to mail invoices, for example. Because of that experience, this year one of our corporate goals is to eliminate as many instances as possible that require someone to actually be “in the office.”
MM: That’s an interesting transformation, do you view that as more of a technology issue or a process issue?
NR: Both. It’s about our policy administration system, specifically the billing part which we have an in-house system for. Stepping back, we also realized that we had other issues (with both systems and processes) that we had to solve to enable our teams to work from home. COVID was the start of it, but we were already starting to think of all these other types of situations that might prevent us from being in the office. We had to solve for all of them.
MM: What about on-prem vs. cloud technology. Did that come into play for you at all?
NR: Well one of the biggest things we had just achieved was getting the general ledger and AP processing into the cloud. The timing of that could not have been better. If we had not have moved these processes to the cloud when we did, working from home during the pandemic would not have been possible.
MM: Let’s talk more about the challenges that you are facing and I’m not referring just to Flexi, but is the challenge based on the tools, systems and software that you are using?
NR: The challenge is really just finding a solution to our problem, and asking, “Is there a vendor that can do that?” For us, for example, getting AR invoices printed and mailed when working remotely was a big deal. Also, we print thousands of checks. There was no way that someone was going to print thousands of checks from home. So, because of the last 12 months, the incorporation of OCR technologies into workflow processing of Accounts Payable was a big transformation for us.
MM: So, the pandemic created a problem that you didn’t have before. Which was, working from home 24/7?
NR: Right, simply put, the availability of multiple means of paying invoices (and vendors) other than paper checks became the primary issue. Getting AR invoices printed and mailed when working remotely was the challenge. Factor in that “live” signatures were needed on the checks…we had to work that out as well.
MM: Sounds to me that the more processes that you could automate today, the better? That would be a welcome thing for you right?
NR: Absolutely. I’m all about making things more efficient.
MM: Are there manual processes that you do on a day-to-day basis that you would like to get off of your plate?
NR: Me personally? Not so much. My staff? Definitely. Take for example bank reconciliations and matching. There’s no reason why someone should be sitting there manually matching the general ledger activity back to the bank statement.
MM: I’m curious, Have newer technologies and data security issues affected your world? Like most of us, I imagine the insurance industry is no stranger to existential threats.
NR: We are very aware too. Our Board is very aware, we have a security governance committee that meets regularly. In addition, we do quarterly training as well as constant phishing-prevention campaigns. This security awareness is something that is constantly being discussed in our company.
MM: I get it. It’s crazy what we have to do these days on behalf of security. Let me ask you, Is the future of accounting in insurance bright? What do you predict for the future? What’s on your wish list?
NR: The biggest thing on my wish list is the OCR for AP. That’s probably the biggest, although another corporate goal for this year is to improve our database and query capabilities to help with financial analysis (primarily related to policy and claims data).
MM: Can you see a time where AI factors into what you currently do on a day-to-day basis?
NR: Absolutely and I think that works hand-in-hand with OCR capabilities: the invoice is read and the AI technology helps to determine what account it gets charged to. The insurance industry has traditionally been a laggard when it comes to adopting new technologies. But I see AI on the horizon.
MM: You’ve seen the evolution.
NR: It is something I’ve dealt with my whole career. I have been that person at the forefront trying to push to get new technology into the mix.
MM: That’s really cool to hear. Every company needs that champion of technology to drive transformational change. Natalie, I want to thank you for taking the time to sit down and talk with me today. I really appreciate it.
NR: My pleasure.