Approaching technology decisions in the treasury function

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Treasury professional
Treasurers Handbook
Authors
Carl Sharman Practice Partner, EMEA
Nischala Murthy Kaushik Head of Marketing and Thought Leadership, Global Treasury and Payments Solutions, Wipro

Introduction

The world of treasury has changed and evolved significantly over recent years, with external pressures bringing increased and intensifying expectations. Essentially the operational requirements of the treasury function have remained largely unchanged: banking and cash management, funding for the business and managing financial risk. However, in light of changes in the financial environment and internal ecosystem within businesses, the challenges faced by corporates have become more global and more complex, and need a holistic and integrated approach to how treasury functions and delivers beyond operational requirements. Key factors include:

  • The globalisation opportunity: Expansion of businesses into new frontiers and emerging geographies and markets potentially increasing operational and reporting ‘blind spots’ in cash and risk management;
  • The customer-driven economy: Changing attitudes in the end-customer buying profile, patterns and behaviour, with procurement departments and corporate heads requiring clear, quantifiable business cases for investment;
  • The increasing expectations on the corporate treasurer: To be an advisor/strategic partner to the rest of the business;
  • The organisation legacy: Developing organisation structures may lead to treasury finding that its current set-up is outdated, ineffective and in need of investment;
  • Technology innovations: Increasing options for treasury technology promising cost rationalisation and advantage, but requiring commitment and ambition to evaluate, select and deliver on time, to budget, and prior to being considered out of date;
  • The changing landscape of payments: Explosive growth in payments or e-payment transactions which provides growing opportunities in areas such as payment formats, real-time dashboards, bank connectivity and messaging services, where the balance between being a lead adopter, fast follower or a ‘wait and see’ reluctant investor could have commercial impacts;
  • Regulatory backdrop: Increased regulatory and compliance requirements that require richer, faster reporting detail that challenge existing processes and threaten business continuity.

In such an era of flux, organisations need assurances on efficiency, competitiveness, scalability and future-proofing for investment decisions. The modern treasury function is expected to be more strategic, to collaborate with the business it serves, and to be comfortable with the use of centres of excellence to support global operations, including the use of in-house banks (IHB) and shared services centres. However, they are often burdened with poor processes and outdated technology.


Technology and systems integration appear to offer all the answers, promising automation, simplification and a bespoke landscape to consolidate and standardise operational processes and tactical reporting. Yet treasury remains a complex discipline, unique to business and sector, and making those strategic and operational decisions on when and where to invest are not quite so easy.

Investing in treasury technology: right for my business?

As with any business process, if you keep doing the same things then you will generally get the same results. More importantly, if you keep doing the same things in a fast-changing environment, you may suffer more severely on account of increasing regulatory requirements (ie SEPA), potential errors (through manual and in-house Excel-based processes), and security and fraud issues, which could mean losing competitive advantage or, worse, increased operational and reputational risk. So it can often be a challenge to find new ways of doing old things, or to do new things. Technology can be at the core of bringing about this change, although standalone technology decisions can be a recipe for delays and can breed indecisiveness. Developing a business case for investment based purely on measurable, foreseeable benefit delivery can make it difficult to get capital and project costs approved, and an actual treasury technology implementation could be out of date by the time it goes live.


However, technology-led change can undoubtedly be a catalyst for treasury to improve operational processes and drive better decision-making through automation and simplification. Due to the nature of the key disciplines it commands, treasury transformation is certainly multi-dimensional, potentially complex and can be costly and time-consuming. A technology decision can either lead this change or simply be an enabler.


Any investment in change is a big decision. With an investment in new technology, the stakes are even higher because the options move so quickly. There can be a fear of what you cannot clearly explain – but who doesn’t want to ‘press a button’ and get accurate, reliable results? Treasury technology advancement, disruption and innovation continue to bring change at a rapid pace, promising increased efficiency at lower costs. In such an ever-changing environment, with lead times on life cycles shortening all the time, it is becoming clear that you need to evaluate something new to stay still, let alone move forward.

Is it just about the technology, or is there more?

The most important question to ask is: what will new technology add to your treasury function? It can be easy to get carried away by the claims of software providers, banks and consultants. So, as the starting point, you will need a solid and tangible business case for investment in change. Most corporates will face constant challenges from within to deliver year-on-year cost savings and this can only be achieved by looking at new ways of doing things. This is one of the best outcomes of new technology solutions: not only can they help you do what you currently do better, but they can also enable you to expand in new directions. If the investment you are considering would deliver new capability, you need to assess if this is going to be relevant for the core business. Are you positioned to achieve the most out of these new opportunities? Will you need to make further investments – in new staff, for example – and instigate organisational change to fully realise these new possibilities?

The second thing to consider is the real cost of your investment. Inevitably it is measured as price paid, but what about the delays, the disruption and the impact of not fully mapping out the change programme? Technology-led transformation requires preparation and planning to realise its potential – ‘out of the box’ rarely works. Begin with the end in mind, and you are more likely to benefit from broader business change. Think broader again to reach for more: how many steps might your new technology eliminate from your current processes? How much more quickly would that enable you to deliver insight? How much better will your processes and reporting be? How much of an edge will these factors give you in terms of performance, and how can these be demonstrated as providing value to finance and the business as a whole?