As PlainsCapital grew from a community bank to a nationwide financial institution with US$5.7 billion in assets and operations in 40 states, it outgrew the financial reporting system that had helped fuel its success. Data from its three operating
companies was difficult and time-consuming to consolidate, update, and analyze. To overcome these challenges, PlainsCapital adopted scalable, enterprise-class corporate performance management software from A3 Solutions running on Microsoft technologies. It
made a good choice. The bank can now produce the consolidating financial statements and generate cost allocations in an hour—down from three days. The data is then instantly available to create detailed reports that can be analyzed more easily and thoroughly.
As a result, executives and managers spot trends faster and make better, more data-driven decisions.
When the current ownership group acquired PlainsCapital in the late 1980s, the financial reporting process was relatively straightforward. The corporation’s key holding was Plains National Bank, a Lubbock, Texas–based commercial bank with nearly US$200
million in assets. There was one general ledger, one chart of accounts. Budgeting, reconciliation, and allocations processes were maintained in a series of spreadsheets and disparate third-party applications. Managers and executives used these relatively simplistic
tools to plan the corporation’s growth.
They planned well. By 2011, PlainsCapital included not only the bank—renamed PlainsCapital Bank—but also two major subsidiaries, First Southwest and PrimeLending. These separate operating units enabled the corporation to expand its public finance advisory,
investment banking, and mortgage lending lines of business. PlainsCapital had moved to Dallas and grown throughout Texas and across 40 states. Its assets had increased by an enviable 14.4 percent compound annual rate over the intervening 24 years, reaching
Far From Easy
PlainsCapital was a success, but its financial reporting was now far from easy to manage. Each of the three operating companies ran on independent—and inconsistently structured—financial reporting systems, making aggregation of corporate data a time-consuming
process. Much of that process was also manual, adding the potential for error.
For budgeting and the consolidation of actuals data, for example, PlainsCapital extracted data from its three general ledger systems, loaded the data into a fourth system for consolidation, and put the results into fixed-format spreadsheets that provided high-level
views of the data. However, there was no easy way to expose the underlying details and components of the consolidated information. The consolidated spreadsheets could show the corporation’s total loans, for example, but to see the detail comprising total loans,
executives had to pull up separate, company-specific spreadsheets. And because the general ledgers were managed in separate systems with separate account identifiers and hierarchies, personnel could not access reports showing aggregated general ledger data
across several companies.
“It Was Not Efficient”
||With A3 and Microsoft, we understand the business better, we see the path ahead better, and there are fewer surprises.
| Aaron Taylor
Senior Vice President and Director of Financial Planning and Analysis, PlainsCapital
“Our financial reporting system worked, but it required a lot of duplicative effort,” says Aaron Taylor, Senior Vice President and Director of Financial Planning and Analysis for PlainsCapital. “We were taking data that was already in an accounting system,
putting it into another accounting system, and running consolidations. It was not efficient.”
Each member of a three-person accounting team spent a full day each month producing the cost allocations, journal entries, and corporate eliminations. Others in the departments spent a couple of days producing monthly reports on actuals versus budgeted expenses,
and it took hours to respond to each data request from auditors working on annual audits and quarterly reviews.
Because data was delivered in fixed spreadsheets, it was impossible to update it when new or corrected information was available; the accounting department had to distribute a new round of spreadsheets. There was no way for executives to access current data
whenever they might need it.
It was time for the capabilities of the financial reporting system to grow to match the growth of PlainsCapital itself. Otherwise, that system risked becoming an obstacle to the corporation’s continued success.
To gain the cross-company capabilities they wanted, Taylor and his colleagues needed a new financial reporting system. Their requirements presented a high bar for potential solutions. While they wanted a universal—or corporatewide—reporting hierarchy
that would integrate data from the three operating companies, they also wanted to maintain the existing, distinct systems already in place at those companies, rather than having to rip-and-replace entire systems. “That was a big deal for us,” says Taylor.
The company wanted to have multiple reporting hierarchies that would present data in different ways, optimized for different purposes, such as internal management reports, SEC reporting, and regulatory reporting. And the solution had to be highly customizable.
“We didn’t want to adapt our processes to suit the software,” says Taylor. “We wanted a solution that could be built around the way we run our business.”
PlainsCapital considered financial reporting solutions from companies such as IBM/Cognos, SAP, Tagetik, and Profix. Some of these providers did not offer the level of customization and adaptability that PlainsCapital wanted. Others offered customizable software
but at prices that the company considered too high, or on design and deployment schedules that it considered too long.
“We Didn’t Have to Change a Thing”
Instead, PlainsCapital turned to A3 Solutions, a Microsoft Partner Network member with a Silver competency in ISV Software Solutions in Analytics. “A3 gave us the capabilities of scalable, enterprise-class corporate performance management software from the
largest vendors—but at our price, on our schedule, and fully adaptable to our business processes and accounts,” says Taylor. “We didn’t have to change a thing. They even added functionality that we requested during design and deployment.”
A3 also offered something more: its solution is based on Microsoft technologies that PlainsCapital already used, including Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2 data management software and Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010 collaboration software. “To adopt A3, we
took advantage of Microsoft software that we already license and in-house expertise that we already have,” says Taylor. “And the solution was highly flexible and intuitive for our employees. All that made the decision a no-brainer.”
The Deployment at PlainsCapital
The A3 deployment at PlainsCapital uses SQL Server Integration Services to pull data from the chart of accounts of each of the three operating companies, including general ledger, fixed assets, and human resources system data. (See Figure 1.) The data is pulled
into SQL Server Analysis Services cubes that store historical results and forecasted scenarios of the business. The A3 modeling solution configures users’ personalized financial and operational models in real time, and manages the data, metadata, and security
from those cubes, eliminating inconsistencies that can develop when data is stored in a series of spreadsheets.
| Figure 1. The A3 modeling solution integrates data from the operating companies
and presents them via team sites, dashboards, web browsers, or spreadsheets.
Employees can choose how they access and work with A3 data. Most choose to work through A3 Modeling reports and models that are delivered live to Microsoft Excel 2010 spreadsheets. They can use key performance indicator dashboards (see Figure 2), Excel Services
hosted in SharePoint Server, and SQL Server Reporting Services.
Several groups at PlainsCapital use the solution, including the managers of PlainsCapital’s 150 cost centers, who use customized A3 Modeling reports and models to evaluate actuals-versus-budget and year-to-date performance data for their cost centers. Other
key users are corporate executives, and analysts in the finance and accounting groups.
PlainsCapital now produces consolidated financial data faster, more reliably, and with greater detail than before. It can spot trends more quickly, make better decisions, and avoid surprises.
Consolidated Data Produced in an Hour, Down from a Week
In implementing the A3 and Microsoft solution, PlainsCapital gained a faster, easier, and more accurate way to develop and access corporatewide data. For example, the monthly reports on actual versus budgeted expenses, which used to take a couple of days to
produce, are now produced in less than an hour.
The 150 cost-center managers see their reports a week closer to the monthly close, making it possible for them to use the data to make more timely decisions. Not only do managers see their results much sooner, but they can explore the details underlying
the data from various perspectives in ways that weren’t possible in a fixed, spreadsheet-based reporting environment.
Similarly, the consolidation and cost-allocation process which took three accounting personnel a full day to produce is now completed by one employee in an hour.
PlainsCapital sees speedier data aggregation and analysis in other ways, too. For example, one senior executive used to take the spreadsheets for the various cost centers under his management and manually consolidate them into one spreadsheet to make comparisons.
The process took a couple of hours and was prone to error. Now, the integrated spreadsheet is generated automatically in seconds.
Executives and managers also access current data anytime they need it, minimizing the need for the accounting staff to run custom reports. The accounting staff saves more time, and the executives and managers get their custom reports more quickly.
“We use A3 and Microsoft to free up time that everyone used to spend on manual reporting,” says Taylor. “Our executives spend less time running reports and more time running the business. Our staff can respond more quickly and fully to requests that really
require their involvement, such as analyzing results.”
Trends Spotted Faster with Greater Analysis Tools, Accuracy
| Figure 2: Employees get at-a-glance views of actuals-to-budget and more with
the solution’s key performance dashboards.
Getting data faster is just one benefit of PlainsCapital’s new financial reporting solution. Getting more detailed data is another. Managers and executives don’t get just the fixed, high-level consolidations they were accustomed to seeing. They also have the
ability to click through the data to see and work with the more granular information behind it. They can examine details from different perspectives and conduct “what if” analyses to understand the impact of potential changes on the data.
The data is also more accurate and reliable than before, according to Taylor. “We were already doing cost allocations, but partly in Excel, partly in our core financial system, partly in separate databases. The data was all over the place. We’d pull data
from different sources and it didn’t always reflect the same information. Now, all of our results are in one database, and all the data can be reported against each other. This is way beyond what we had before.”
For PlainsCapital, the key benefit of the solution is the ability to identify financial trends. “The biggest difference we see with this solution is that we’re able to detect favorable and unfavorable trends faster, because we can see levels of detail that
were hidden before and because we have more confidence in the accuracy of the information,” says Taylor. “With A3 and Microsoft, we understand the business better, we see the path ahead better, and there are fewer surprises.”
For example, the finance team has started producing detailed forecasts for each operating unit, loading the projections into the model and running the consolidation process against the forecast. The ability to forecast at such a granular level and consolidate
the projections didn’t exist before.
Solution Deployed Three Times Faster, 44 Percent Cheaper
PlainsCapital acquired the A3 and Microsoft solution for about 44 percent of the cost of the IBM/Cognos solution it considered, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars without sacrificing performance. Part of that savings came from the reliance on existing
Microsoft licenses and expertise. Part came from the ability of A3 to use the corporation’s existing financial systems and processes, eliminating the need to replace systems and rewrite code.
Yet more savings came from the speed at which A3 was able to deploy the solution. PlainsCapital kicked off its annual budget process with A3 after just two months of deployment. Taylor says that it would have taken four to six weeks just to begin deployment
planning with IBM/Cognos, and that a full deployment of that system would have taken six to eight months.
Microsoft Solutions for the Financial Services Industry
Financial institutions continue to seek cost-effective solutions that create rapid and sustainable competitive advantage while laying the groundwork for future innovation. Microsoft and its ever-growing partner community develop solutions that meet the industry-specific
needs of banks, insurance companies, and capital markets firms worldwide, and help financial services customers realize their full potential.
For more information about Microsoft solutions for the financial services industry, go to:
For More Information
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For more information about PlainsCapital products and services, call (214) 252-4100 or visit the website at: