2009 was a torrid year and, some believe, possibly best forgotten; however, it is important to reflect on the tough times and understand the lessons that have come out of them. This will enable treasury professionals to look to the future and effectively plan for career and businesses growth.
Moving into 2010, we have found that candidates and clients alike have been keen to assess future prospects for their company, careers and themselves.
2009 – A Tough Year
At the beginning of 2009, we seemed to be surfacing from a global financial crisis but the knock-on effect of an economic recession loomed large. It seemed many UK-, European- and US-based clients were in a ‘lockdown’ mode where it was business only where necessary. Many used the fragile economic state and umbrella of bad news to streamline operations and reduce headcount without the usual negative publicity – everyone blamed the recession.
However, the size of the treasury department relative to the wider finance function and the crucial nature of the work performed often meant they weren’t forced to reduce staffing, although this didn’t mean they didn’t suffer. It was often the case that when a member of staff left or moved on there was no budget to fill the position. Treasurers were being asked to deliver an ‘A to Z’ of results but were lucky if they got to ‘M’. Projects were intentionally stalled and a frugal back-to-basics approach was implemented. From a candidate’s perspective, everyone sat tight; if you were in a good job – even if you were suffering a pay freeze or recognised that your yearly bonus was unlikely – you simply couldn’t consider a move in such a volatile or threatening marketplace.
We found that a simple invitation to meet and discuss the state of the market was often rebuffed because either someone wasn’t willing to think about a move or was simply too overworked to consider a move. It seemed that all career development plans had been put on hold. The phones started ringing again as early as May 2009, although we didn’t see real signs of recovery until October 2009. It was at this point that many questioned why should they stay without the prospect of a bonus or any pay increase. The realisation that the reward for at least a year’s hard work was going to be a 12-month pay freeze and no bonus was too much for many to bear.
Our 2010 Treasury Salary Survey reflects the current market sentiment, from a sample of 603 treasury professionals surveyed:
- 35 people felt ‘well-rewarded’, representing just 5.8% of the survey.
- 164 people felt ‘comfortable’ – 27.2% of the survey.
- 226 people felt ‘averagely paid’ – 37.5% of the survey.
- 158 people felt ‘underpaid’ – 26.2% of the survey.
- 20 people felt ‘drastically underpaid’ – 3.3% of the survey.
Source: MR Recruitment
However, when we investigated further, we found that only 13 treasury professionals didn’t feel valued by their bosses, just 2% of the survey, and only 120 of those surveyed felt undervalued by their line managers, which represented just under 20%.
It seems that while compensation packages have faced huge pressure this past year, candidates have realised their bosses can only do so much.
Also, it hasn’t helped that their bosses have been giving them a massive thumbs up for their efforts and achievement because they were in the same situation. Often finance directors and chief financial officers (CFOs) were valuing what the treasurer contributed, but realised they couldn’t reward them through their pay packets.
Time to Move On?
High potential candidates weren’t afraid to start searching for new roles – the efficiencies of the early part of 2009 have meant that treasury departments have become leaner than ever. Roles that are on offer in the open market place are both exciting and dynamic and crucial to the operation of treasury departments, i.e. if they weren’t recruited, the work simply didn’t get done. The only negative impact of this has been that often candidates used to be able to move into new roles expecting they would be comfortable with 50% of the content of a role, 30% would be a ‘stretch’ and 20% would be ‘new’.
In the current market, candidates are often expected to be comfortable with at least 70% of the position with only 20% stretch, and 5-10% new to them. The effect of this is that candidates are forced into taking a more holistic view of their next career move. They have to consider factors such as:
- Will the scope of the work the treasury department carries out widen?
- Will their new boss act as an effective sponsor/mentor of a person’s career?
- Will the person they are working for move on within two to three years providing them with career progression?
- Will the work that is carried out be engaging, as they believe in what the company is trying to achieve?
2010: Volatile but Recovering, Bumpy, Unpredictable, Uncertain yet an Improvement
What a jumble of sentiments in the heading! And I think that that pretty much describes our thoughts and feelings about the road ahead in 2010. Although we’ve seen the treasury recruitment market recovering recently, we believe it’s a return to normality rather than a bull market, and as the markets improve we’ve seen increased levels of activity. Roles that appeared at the end of 2009 and those that we’ve started to recruit in 2010 are interesting and attractive.
Our predictions are based upon observed activity across the treasury market place although we have noticed that the increased awareness of treasury as a discipline has led to the establishment of at least nine specialist treasury recruitment desks in other recruitment companies. While we are not afraid of the competition, many candidates and clients have reported their frustration at the diluted specialist treasury recruitment advice offered by some. We believe that established market players should constantly strive to improve and their experience provides often the most comprehensive source of expertise and advice of the treasury market.
Key Treasury Markets – 2010
An improving picture although often ‘recruit-to-replace’ rather than newly created roles. There is a possibility of a slowdown/err-to-caution around the time of the UK election in April/May 2010. We believe there will be a continued caution for the rest of the year through a continued recovery.
A quicker return to normal levels of activity than the UK driven on part by advantageous tax structuring and an awareness that companies need fully-staffed, well-resourced treasury departments to function effectively.
Early 2009 saw a purge of activity with lots of experienced treasury professionals relocating to the region. Late in 2009 a total stop/reverse gear and brakes on. There will be a slower than average recovery and heightened awareness of the importance of an effective treasury function.
Far East and Australasia
The realisation of the importance of treasury and ‘cash being king’, meaning that many CFOs are having to increase their internal treasury expertise.
We are cautiously optimistic – we believe the market will stabilise and there should be greater balance in the marketplace fuelled by clients needing to up-skill functions to cope with increasing workload and complexity of infomation required by senior management.
Requests in 2009 to increase headcount were met with a’ closed door’ approach, while 2010 should see a more openness as business conditions improve and cost saving initiatives of last year free up cash to re-invest in key areas, e.g. treasury.
An increasing focus on compliance, cash and working capital management and the driving of system efficiencies could lead to more project-orientated roles and long-term interim assignments.
The global nature/mobility of treasury will be very much in focus, with an increasing need for overseas clients to bring in specialist treasury staff.
Last year was largely an exciting and very challenging one in treasury, but few new opportunities and the obvious fear for the economy meant a head-down market. This year should see more raising their heads above the parapet, led by a growing confidence in the treasury market that will relieve some of the recessionary pressures.
A better, but cautious, 2010 awaits.