Recently, we sat down with Jeff Buchheister, chief financial officer (CFO) at Cetera Financial Group. Cetera is a leading network of independent firms empowering the delivery of professional financial advice to individuals, families, and company retirement plans across the country. They are the second-largest independent financial advisor network in the nation, as well as a leading provider of retail services to the investment programs of banks and credit unions.
What really differentiates us is the way we approach the market. We are a technology-forward company that’s passionate about creating a different financial advice experience. It’s a mindset we call the Advice-Centric Experience®, and we think that it’s something completely different from our competitors. Everything we create and invest in—whether it’s tools, teams, or technology—is designed to enable financial advisors to build stronger client relationships based on customized guidance. It's important that financial advisors are not only able to pick the right investment vehicles for their clients, but also navigate financial decisions and build a greater level of trust.
At the end of the day, we are a service-based business, and we have to enable our employees to provide better services to both our internal partners and the financial professionals we serve, so they can provide the level of support their clients expect. For us, that starts with innovation. We've invested heavily over the last two years improving our overall technology platform by leveraging cloud-based applications and technologies.
The catalyst to move onto cloud-based platforms was financial applications reaching end-of-life. Rather than just replace that technology or upgrade to a newer version, we decided to analyze what system would be best for our business. We needed something that could improve overall productivity, provide a simplified support model, and deliver better data analytics for better decision-making. We also wanted a platform that could expand in the future by leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics. The cloud offered all of those benefits and allowed us to consolidate five systems into one.
For financial services companies, the decision to move to the cloud has been difficult. Traditionally there's been a lot of resistance to moving financial applications to the cloud, and that’s primarily based around security and personally identifiable information, or PII. As a CFO, I wanted to focus our decision on a proper background and framework where we could leverage one technology stack with the right security platform around it. I quickly got comfortable that Oracle's financial services cloud offered us those benefits.
One interesting aspect we discovered was how much of our data was held captive in the IT department. We had a unique situation where we were using a hosted solution, and we were very dependent upon the provider to perform our upgrades, run our reports, process batches, and things of the like. By moving to the cloud, we avoided making substantial investments in infrastructure, took control of our own data, and had fewer dependencies on IT.
Moving our financial applications to the cloud was a first step in thinking about how to innovate. My focus is to empower business decisions through data and analytics so we can support financial professionals in doing what they do best. The applications we had in place did a decent job of helping us tell the story, but we really struggled to develop the type of data and analytics to make better decisions going forward.
We focused on picking a provider that supported our needs both for today and in the future. When we looked at Oracle ERP Cloud, not only did we get the services we needed now, but we could enable the ones we needed for the future and provide users access. Today, we use only the services that our business needs, and with the platform’s scalability, we can move at a much quicker speed when it’s time to expand.
As we embarked on our journey, we quickly realized that there were gaps with our existing solution and where we wanted to go. We needed the flexibility of future innovations―something that would allow us to quickly enable those technologies and consume the services that we need without a significant amount of planning and capital expenditure.
ERP and EPM Cloud gave us those opportunities. As we evaluated Oracle versus other vendors, we kept in mind that as a financial services firm, we are heavily regulated. Oracle offered a financials cloud that specifically met our needs.
Aside from security, we were focused on how to improve processes and data across our systems. Moving to a cloud solution where we could fully integrate the previous five systems into one common data model was a relatively easy choice. It significantly improved the efficiency within my team by reducing the number of integration points.
As far as implementation, the cloud offered the benefit of many pre-configured solutions that require light customization, as opposed to a traditional on-premises solution, where we would customize every application and every user role. This allowed us to move with speed and agility, which was one of our guiding principles.
One of the biggest surprises for me was the speed of implementation. This was an important part of our decision-making criteria because of the number of competing priorities that we currently had within the business. From start to finish, we implemented the Oracle cloud solution across all our core financial applications and the planning and budgeting modules (Oracle EPM Cloud) within seven months.
As I mentioned before, security is one of our foremost concerns. What helped us get comfortable early on was the fact that Oracle offered a cloud-based service specifically for financial services companies. All of the data is hosted domestically. They have an isolated tenancy model, which means our data is not shared with others. They use masking and data encryption services that meet the needs of our regulators. After our comparisons, we felt comfortable that we would deploy a solution that had better security than the one that we previously employed.
We already had Oracle HCM Cloud to manage all our HR needs as well as payroll. Finding a general ledger application and planning module that integrated with HCM Cloud, as well as the other sub-ledgers, and enabled us to do better data analytics in a more timely fashion was an important part of our decision.
Even though we've recently gone live with our implementation, the benefits are already being realized. We fully integrated five systems into one, so the interaction is seamless. I'm now able to drill down into the technology, get information, and provide users with the end reporting in a timely fashion, which boosts efficiency. This speeds up our ability to close, improves our reporting to end users, and allows us to focus on running our business.
On a closed basis, which is one of the monthly reporting outputs we create, we were able to close our financials without any issues in the first one, and we are now able to close our financials roughly two days faster than previously.
Ultimately, the cloud implementation was faster than we expected. It gave us more capabilities and provided a better support model, not only in the cost of support going forward, but in a more efficient way of keeping us upgraded. We now spend more time focusing on analyzing and delivering insights to the business and less time on managing a back-office system.