Insights

Markerstudy: putting 64 businesses onto Sage Intacct

10th May 2023

5 min read

If you’re using Sage 1000 (or indeed other older Sage products like Sage Line 500), you’ll be only too aware that they are going “end of life” and will soon be consigned to history.

At Datel, we know that this is going to mean some upheaval and complexity.

It’s our job to make the migration process simpler; so we spoke to David Smithson at Markerstudy - a highly acquisitive insurance business - which has successfully taken Sage transformation to its limits…

 

The Markerstudy Group of Companies was established in 2001. With over 3,500 employees, it has been recognised as a “Best Company to Work For in the UK” in The Sunday Times Best Companies Awards and also holds the “Investors in People” Gold award. As the UK’s largest Managing General Agent (MGA), Markerstudy supports over 1,000 broker partners and more than three million policyholders with a wide variety of insurance products.

But Markerstudy has grown rapidly by acquisition, and that has presented the business with a constant integration challenge in order to unlock maximum value across the business.

Finance Transformation Lead, David Smithson, says;

“The group now is made up of 64 companies across multiple parts of the (primarily) motor insurance industry. Over the last four years in particular, it's grown significantly, both organically and by acquisition, and that has meant that each entity ran their own ledger systems. We probably have 40 entities using Sage 50, ten on Sage 1000 and a few more running Sage 200.”

That meant that just adding up the numbers each month was very difficult; on different systems and with completely independent ways of working. So one of my objectives was to bring everyone onto a single, multi-entity, multi-currency platform, and then drive common ways of working across the whole group. As part of that, my ambition was also to automate as many transactional processes as possible and so to transition the finance team from an organisation that spent most of its time getting the numbers in the boxes to becoming analysts who support decision-making. It used to take the best part of a month to get group accounts out; our objective is to get that down to three or four days, so that they can spend the rest of the month working with senior managers to add more value back into the business.
 

Markerstudy Group entered into a market evaluation process; and settled on Sage Intacct. It’s a highly extensible SaaS product which suited their business cadence; and the functionality is flexible enough to meet the company’s multi-entity needs without being overengineered. Datel were already a major IT partner to the business, and that also meant that they could deploy Datel’s deep Sage Intacct partner knowledge to make deployment simpler and faster.

Enterprise Account Development Manager, Darren Saint, says;

“Markerstudy needed consolidation across the Group; there was a particular focus on effective reporting; and we needed to be able to support large and variable volumes of transactions and users. All these elements made Sage Intacct the standout solution.”

David is currently through the first stage of what is proving to be a migration journey of epic scale – with 40 corporate entities already successfully migrated out of 64 ultimately planned to migrate from older Sage systems to Sage Intacct later in 2023. He has plenty of advice for those making similar plans.

“Ask why you are making the journey, because a new technology implementation should be valued on its impacts – to the business, management and the finance team who are actually doing the day-to-day work. We conducted a stakeholder analysis to understand how our people would be impacted by the change; and we looked at how we could evolve their roles during the journey, so that the business could be more streamlined, but also so that our finance users would have more enriched jobs. It’s key to think about your people throughout the transition process.”

Beyond like-for-like, the main differentiator in Sage Intacct has been the availability of integrations, which in turn power automations which change the face of the finance function.

“A focus for us was to automate out manual processes. The APIs in Intacct are very good for connecting up pieces of software – it can be done in hours rather than weeks. What pointlessly takes up time is people moving data around by hand, and those API integrations mean we can minimise much of that manual work. If we fully automate, I see no reason that we can’t successfully close a set of books within a day.”

David has one caveat from his migration experience: to get dedicated, skilled resource to support it.

“This scale of project is not a ‘beside the desk’ task. You can’t expect your team to do their day jobs and support the installation of a new system – it’s not only asking too much, it’s also not the most effective or efficient way to do it. You need dedicated resource with the skills to think about the challenges and risks, the operational hiccups, and to have the freedom and time to find workable solutions. Even simple things like file naming conventions will have a huge impact, so it needs to be someone’s job. Migration needs to be given a dedicated person’s full attention.”

Darren adds,

“Most finance or ERP systems will do much the same thing, but the devil is always in the detail. That’s what a partner like Datel is there for. We understand the business, the end goal you're trying to get to, your target systems and the challenges along the way. It's quite the journey, but while it’s a massive change for our clients, it’s something we do every day; and that experience is where the real value lies.” Smithson adds; “We’ve had a lot of support from our Sage Intacct consultant at Datel – she's really been there as a partner to help solve our problems.”

 

By November 2022, 40 businesses in the Markerstudy portfolio were on a single platform and all working optimally using harmonised processes and accounting practices. David says,

At the end of the month, the management team can now run simple comparative reports and get a group view almost instantly across a common ledger. We’ve reduced our month end cycle by around 15 days.  A large tranche of manual spreadsheets are being completely discontinued. And the automations also mean that some of our finance teams can even regain a little in terms of work/life balance.

Those automations are set to continue, incrementally. David says:

"We're now automatically connected to our banks with regular feeds. That means we can auto-match cash, based on rules. We’re currently auto-matching about 60% of cash transactions today; I would like to see that increase. We're looking at digitising the AP process too; we have a couple of major suppliers who still send us lots of paper invoices and we know that that can be digitised. We're not finished: probably 60% of our previously manual processes are automated, which is a great achievement. But I want to get to the point where our AP clerks only need to look at the exceptions, rather than processing the mainstream. With that, auto-reconciliations and further rationalisation of processes, I see a future where a book-close is down to no more than a couple of days.”

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