How Hiline Delivers Strategic Finance with Basis
Hiline is an accounting and financial advisory company delivering cloud-based accounting, tax, HR, and strategic finance services. Founded in 2016, they’ve grown rapidly by leveraging best-in-class cloud accounting and FP&A technology to deliver clients a premium experience.
Syracuse, New York
Transforming modern accounting
Accounting company hiline actually started as Gardner & Capparelli, a boutique accounting firm offering traditional tax and accounting services. Their earliest customers were technology companies: SaaS, gaming, software development firms—companies that already worked in the cloud.
Co-founder and CEO Matt Gardner explains how their earliest customers shaped the company’s path: “Most firms grow hyper-locally through referrals but we were lucky enough to serve the right industries that our referrals started coming from the other side of the country. We were able to take good care of them and build credibility.”
Our customer demographic tends to be millennial or Gen Z who are very comfortable working remotely and visually in the software. That’s when we started exploring all of the technology that could enable a fully virtual offering.
The company began adding new cloud technology piece by piece according to Matt: “We kept on taking bigger and bigger steps forward until we could do it all seamlessly—we could take on any customer anywhere and do their accounting, finance, HR, payroll, and tax.”
In 2019, Gardner & Capparelli rebranded as hiline, the full stack accounting company.
The problem with Excel
One of the challenges hiline encountered while expanding was that adding customers also increased overhead because each customer represented a new stack of Excel files that needed to be maintained.
Matt describes it as their own version of tech debt: “We view every Excel spreadsheet that stands alone like its own piece of technology in the stack. If you think about how many individual files you have for each customer, it’s a really big stack to manage.”
The company itself had its own Excel files for its internal planning models. Morgan Siewert, hiline’s Head of Finance explains that the transformation into hiline prompted the team to build out completely new planning forecasts but using Excel made it difficult for multiple people to collaborate.
"We needed to revamp capacity planning and revenue forecasting, but managing it in Excel wasn’t working. At the time, we were operating under multiple entities, and running a consolidated report, any sort of report, was just the biggest headache."
“When it came to forecasting, doing everything in Excel was a tedious process. We re-forecasted once or twice a year, and it felt like by the time we finished, it was time to start doing it again.”
Controlling data access while still enabling collaboration was particularly tricky. “We had a separate Excel document that included all of our people detail which was linked to our main reforecasting file. It created a mess trying to provide access while still maintaining confidentiality. Links were constantly breaking and failing to flow into our main forecast file.”
It was around this time that a hiline customer introduced Basis to Matt: “It was a revelation when I first saw how it worked.”
“You have all of your tables inside the app and the the data just flowed in through system integrations. It was also easy to use, not clunky like other platforms where it takes too many clicks to do anything. It fit into our vision of how an FP&A tool should work.”
Matt asked Morgan to test Basis by using hiline itself as the first test account. Getting up and running was “the most seamless implementation that I've ever experienced,” according to Siewert. “We connected all of our systems and our onboarding manager recreated our existing forecast model in Basis, which was the biggest help we could have asked for.”
The data integrations and tables were particularly helpful according to Morgan, “building in the assumptions and having a capacity planning model tied directly to our data was a game-changer.”
“You can drill down on a cell to see where the information is coming from, and it’s all referenced by name, so you don’t have to move back and forth between tabs looking for row and column coordinates. For example, clicking into a cell in Basis will show me the exact GL account where the number is coming from. That’s huge for me because it’s not Excel telling me something is wrong in cell B2 which will send me on a wild goose chase trying to figure out what’s driving the formula.”
Morgan also solved the Excel collaboration problem in Basis by using access controls: “I used permissions to create different areas where people can work simultaneously and not have broken links and permission issues.”
The impact of Basis
Enabling rolling forecasts has made the budgeting process a lot more useful. Morgan explains, “It’s such a relief to have the forecasts loaded in with data flowing through and always having it available with accessibility controls for different departments.”
Now we go into planning meetings where open up Basis and test scenarios in real-time. You can adjust a number and watch as the changes flow through all of the planning models.
The biggest test for Basis came when Matt needed to make crucial planning decisions in 2022. It was a tough year because the company had hired for anticipated growth but the sudden change in the macroeconomic environment predicted slower growth.
Matt met with the leadership team to propose cost-cutting measures which unfortunately included letting some talented people go. “We needed to make the decision but the team couldn’t be convinced, so I opened up Basis.”
“We went through the model and, within a half hour, they were convinced. Half of them hadn’t even seen Basis before but they could all understand the scenario modeling, and they could see the path to profitability and sustainability. It would have taken two weeks to get everyone on the same page if we didn’t have Basis.”
The successful trial convinced the hiline team that Basis was the final missing FP&A piece for its client tech stack.
Adding FP&A to hilineOS
Matt describes the complete hiline business service offering as “hilineOS,” the hiline operating system for small and medium-sized businesses (SMB): “We package together a controller, account management, bookkeepers, HR professionals, tax professionals, and cloud technologies as a team and making them available to SMB customers that wouldn’t be able to afford to hire these individuals on their own.”
Adding Basis allows hiline’s controllers to provide strategic finance services while also making them more efficient. According to Matt, “Basis makes it very easy for us to teach our team how to do FP&A the ‘hiline way,’ so that we can spin up new clients very quickly and have a framework for service delivery.”
The hiline team was able to use Basis to standardize the reporting package for its “Strategic Finance” service plan. The package defines the monthly deliverables including financial statements, reports, dashboards, and even meeting agendas.
“Every month we have a strategic finance meeting where we spend the majority of the time talking about business initiatives, the customer’s ideas, what's changed, what's evolved, and Basis drives that meeting,” says Matt, “it provides the meeting structure and starts those conversations.”
”We use Basis to help customers run their businesses the best way possible. We're giving them ERP-level reporting and financial modeling which can really unlock a small business. It means being able to guide a startup to an MVP (minimum viable product) before running out of runway and that level of service lets us charge a premium.”
For Matt, operationalizing virtual CFO services at scale wouldn’t be possible without Basis: “Basis is the unblocker for a scalable fractional CFO business. It’s the tool that helps you show up and give financial insight like a CFO.”
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- Leveraged Basis to standardize customer deliverables and provide more valuable strategic finance advisory services.
- Saved hours and increased accuracy by automating data inputs.
- Made budgeting faster and more relevant by moving from static annual budgets to rolling forecasts with automated actuals.
- Replaced fragile Excel files and improved collaboration with in-application modeling.