A Mobile Future for the Corporate Treasury?

Mobile technology has, in less than a decade, become an integral part of life. Most people take it for granted that they will be able to access their email, search the internet and even watch video on the move. Where once commuters read morning newspapers and paperbacks, many now watch news on tablets or smartphones or read using electronic e-book devices. 

For many people, tablets – and to a lesser extent smartphones – are replacing desktop PCs as their primary computing device. Increasing processing power combined with the greater availability of high-speed mobile broadband (most obviously 4G) is making it increasingly unnecessary to use a desktop PC for even the most complex tasks. Research by Forrester shows that about half of US adults that go online now own a smartphone and two-thirds own multiple connected devices: tablet adoption has doubled since 2011 and is now 19%1

The ubiquity of mobile devices in the consumer world is evident in sales figures from the holiday season: 45% of retailer marketing emails were opened on mobile devices for the six-day period around Thanksgiving in the US, according to mobile marketing firm Knotice2, while mobile devices accounted for 22% of e-retail sales on ‘cyber Monday’ when online gift orders are traditionally placed, according to Adobe Systems, which says this is double the percentage of a year earlier3. A total of 25% of online buyers shopped with a mobile device over the US Thanksgiving weekend, and 13% of those mobile shoppers used their devices while in stores, according to a survey by Bizrate Insights and Forrester4. Mobile consumer uptake is similarly growing elsewhere in the world. But what does it mean for the world of business, the supply chain and corporate treasurers? 

Changing Corporate Patterns of IT Use

Research by the Gartner consultancy shows that business adoption of mobile devices is increasing at the expense of PC and laptop use. Gartner reports5 that one company’s salesforce which deployed iPads discovered that people were spending 20% more time computing each day when they used a tablet, a smartphone and a laptop than if they were using a smartphone and laptop alone. Laptops were relegated to less-frequent (but longer) sessions, and users were reaching for tablets frequently throughout the day. 

For corporate treasurers, the use of mobile devices such as tablets offers enormous opportunities to streamline their interaction with banks and partners in the supply chain. Being mobile can significantly improve productivity by enabling multi-tasking: delays to payment authorisation, for example, need never occur because the individual responsible can give their approval wherever they are. 

However, there is a huge difference between the online activities of a corporate treasurer and that of a consumer making a payment (or even a company’s salesforce completing a sale). Treasury employees need greater control and visibility of their online activities. At a practical level, they may need more detail than would ordinarily be available to a consumer making a banking transaction. Most importantly, the uniquely sensitive nature of many treasury tasks – and the large sums of money involved – mean that security is paramount. Treasury must be confident that a mobile connection to a bank is secure and that crucial data cannot be intercepted by another party. 

Overcoming Security Concerns

While concerns about mobile device security are understandable, in reality they are unwarranted. There is no real difference between a desktop PC and a tablet when accessing sensitive information or carrying out sensitive tasks – information is carried using the same bandwidth, and security measures work in the same way (with the exception of a tablet not having a fixed IP address). Moreover, as mobile devices increasingly move from dedicated apps, which can pose security challenges, to HTML5, the fifth generation of HTML language used in many websites today, there a significant reduction in the perception that mobile is inferior in terms of security. 

Ultimately, online security is dependent on precautions taken by the user and therefore user education is essential. Mobile users must use the same safe computing practices used on desk tops, such as employing antivirus software and using safe browsers, as they would ordinarily. Given that only a limited number of treasury personnel would typically have access to online payment approval or decision-making functionality, such education is unlikely to be an onerous task. 

HTML5: An Aid to the Treasury

As well as enhancing security in comparison to dedicated apps, HTML5 offers users a richer, smarter experience. It automatically resizes webpages so that users enjoy the same experience on a tablet as they would on their desktop PC. At the same time, browser-based solutions created using HTML5 adapt to the device being used. As a result, features such as drop-down menus are shown in a familiar way on Apple’s iOS, Google’s Android operating system or a BlackBerry device, helping to avoid confusion for users. 

The introduction of HTML5 is especially helpful for treasury because it allows usage patterns to be reflected in the application’s workflow. According to usability studies conducted by Bank of America Merrill Lynch (BAML), user behaviour associated with payment approval, for example, differs substantially between PC and smartphone or tablet use. While PC users may simply approve a payment, smartphone and tablet users tend to check balances, exchange rates or beneficiary details in advance of approval. 

Unlike the linear nature of traditional websites, HTML5 allows users to work in a way that suits them: they can get easy access to specific transaction details by tapping on the account to be debited, for example. Workflow is not interrupted because requested information appears on a drop down screen rather than in a new webpage. Similarly, HTML5 allows users to communicate with colleagues using social media, email or through a telephone call before approving a transaction. Workflow is not interrupted and all details of that transaction remain accessible. Given that mobile transactions are often outside regular business hours, this additional functionality can make the difference to a transaction being completed. 

Freeing up Time for Strategic Activity

The demands placed on the treasury have continued to increase at many companies, especially since the onset of the financial crisis in 2008. Treasury now plays a strategic role in company decision-making – often working in partnership with the business to assess risk associated with new markets, for example. Inevitably, in many companies resources have failed to keep pace with the expanded remit of corporate treasurers, which face huge demands on their time. 

The use of mobile devices such as tablets has the potential to massively increase the productivity of treasurers and other senior treasury staff. They can retain visibility and control and manage the company’s operational requirements wherever they are – they only need an alert to be sent to them asking for a payment authorisation. Consequently, their time can be freed up for the greater strategic role the company expects them to play. 

Business Continuity Aids

Other than the clear productivity and flexibility benefits of treasury personnel being able to facilitate transactions wherever they are, there are also proven disaster recovery advantages. In the past, a disaster recovery plan effectively required the replication, in another location, of the treasury. In a mobile world, the treasury can continue to operate without any physical location regardless of whether a hurricane or other disaster puts transport and other infrastructure out of action. 

On a more prosaic level, the use of mobile devices for treasury tasks has the potential to improve employees’ work/life balance. While they may be contactable at all times (in order to authorise a payment, for example), mobile technology can also allow them to work from home to tend a sick child – or even attend their child’s school play – while still fulfilling their responsibilities. Equally, when employees are unable to work, the use of mobile devices can make it easier to ensure that tasks they normally undertake, and which may be critical, are not overlooked. 

Evolving Attitudes to Mobile

The wholesale embracing of tablets and smartphones for treasury use will not happen overnight: security concerns and the relatively slow introduction of new technologies into the corporate environment (in contrast to the consumer world) mean change will be evolutionary. Moreover, the multiplicity of mobile platforms – from Android to iOS to Microsoft’s new Windows 8 OS (which could make significant headway given the company’s existing acceptance among IT departments in the corporate market) – may slow take-up. 

However, there is a growing acceptance that there are few – if any – tasks that can only be accomplished on a desktop PC rather than a tablet. There is also a growing recognition that the use of mobile devices can result in a more robust and nimble treasury. As a result, attitudes to mobile devices in the treasury will inevitably change, and ultimately even lower-level staff may no longer need a desktop to do their job. For corporate treasury, the future is increasingly mobile. 

1 The State Of Consumers And Technology: Benchmark 2012, US, Forester, December 19, 2012.
2 Mobile Commerce Daily, December 10, 2012.
3 Cyber Monday Sales Climb to New Heights, Adobe, November 26, 2012.
4 Bizrate Insights/Forrester Third Annual Holiday Study, December 3, 2012.
5 Enterprise Applications for Tablets, Gartner, June 13, 2011.  

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