Greening the Treasury Function: Q&A with Susan Boeri, GE Treasury

Susan Boeri is manager, product management, global cash management, at General Electric Corporate Treasury based in Stamford, CT, US. In this capacity, she has global responsible for SWIFT projects and industry initiatives at GE Corporate Treasury. She has been with GE Corporate Treasury for six years. Boeri has a BS from SUNY Oswego and a MBA from Pace University.

Q (gtnews): What are the areas of green innovation that GE Treasury is active in?

A (Susan Boeri, manager, treasury services, GE Corporate Treasury): GE Treasury is actively looking at four areas of green innovation:

  1. Enquiries and investigations (E&I).
  2. Electronic bank account management (eBAM).
  3. Electronic statements (eStatements/eDocuments).
  4. TWIST BSB.

The E&I initiative is using the ISO 20022 messages to handle transaction inquiries. eBAM is the electronic bank account management solution. The eStatement initiative is to receive all our period end statements in a read-only pdf file format. The TWIST BSB initiative is the preferred format for our account analysis statements. GE Treasury connects to all its banks through the SWIFT network and we want to leverage the FileAct service when deploying these initiatives.

Q (gtnews): What would you say are the main motivating factors behind GE Treasury’s green initiatives?

A (Boeri): The main motivating factor is to be environmentally friendly and a green corporate citizen. We want to decrease the amount of paper we use and lessen our impact on the landfills. The other motivating factors are controllership and process improvement. We want to centralise and control access to specific documents or information. We also want to control the retention period for documents. Going electronic and leveraging automation enables process improvement. We will have faster turnaround times, which will give our businesses time to focus on their value-add business activities.

Q (gtnews): The dimensions of the GE Treasury operation are very large – what challenges has this created in implementing green initiatives and how have you addressed these?

A (Boeri): We had identified a few challenges with implementing green initiatives. The first is having the infrastructure in-house to support our initiatives. With each of the initiatives, we need an application to support the electronic documents. The second challenge is to have the security controls around each of the applications. Another challenge is having an adopted industry standard. These initiatives are all just gaining industry traction and we are advocating adoptions. With regards to the eStatements/eDocuments initiative, we have been working on defining a standardised file naming convention for files that are delivered electronically to a corporate. As many corporates have more than one banking partner, we need a standard that identifies the bank, the account, the document type and the statement period and we need that standard to be adopted by our banking partners.

Q (gtnews): eBAM is a hot treasury topic today and is something that GE Treasury has embraced as part of its green initiatives. Can you describe the eBAM functionality that you now have, any challenges you face in the move to eBAM, and advice you have for other corporates in how these challenges can be overcome?

A (Boeri): We are not eBAM ready at this point as we are in the process of rebuilding our account administration system, but we have been active in advocating the eBAM initiative and actively discussing eBAM with our partner banks. We recently participated in a pilot with Bank of New York Mellon, SWIFT, Wall Street Systems and a few other corporate participants. We plan to continue participating in pilots with other partner banks. We also continue to have dialogues with vendors to discuss best practices.

In order to continue progressing with our green efforts until we are eBAM ready, we have taken interim steps to improving our processes with regards to eliminating paper such as sending scanned documents over secure email and eliminating the process to send paper copies over mail. One challenge we have come across is bank readiness to adopt an eBAM solution outside their bank portal solution. Since we have so many banking partners, we need to use a single infrastructure, SWIFT, to transmit the eBAM messages to the banks.

Another challenge is the automation of the eBAM messages. Automation and straight-through processing (STP) drives the efficiency gains of bank administration processes both on the bank and corporate sides. While we see value in communicating with the eBAM messages, the added value is derived when banks integrate the eBAM messages into the back office systems so that there is automation of the process. The added value from automation is quick turnaround times and security and integrity of our data.

Our advice to other corporates is to look at implementing eBAM with the banks where you have the highest volume of activity so that you can receive the greatest initial benefit to implementing eBAM. GE Treasury is looking at implementing eBAM at the five to 10 banks that make up approximately 80% of our account administration activity. Using eBAM with our other banks will be a ‘nice to have’, but it won’t provide us with much process improvement.

Another piece of advice to other corporates is to look at implementing eBAM in separate phases based on functionality to get experience with the eBAM messages and process flows. A common pain point for corporates is managing their signatories so starting with just the maintenance messages to change signatories on accounts will give your organisation immediate value. Or consider implementing the close messages as a first phase. One of our pain points is confirming that an account is closed so receiving the eBAM close report message from the bank will give us the audit trail we need and will save us hours in following up on the requests by mail and phone.

Q (gtnews): Looking at your E&I process, what changes have you implemented here to green the process, and what benefits do you think this has for GE Treasury?

A (Boeri): With regards to our E&I process, we have centralised our enquiries on a central database that sends automated emails to our banks with the enquiry request. As a second phase to this initiative, we want to use the SWIFT E&I messages. The benefit to using the SWIFT E&I messages is having quick resolution to our enquiries by leveraging the automation that the banks have in place. A common enquiry is ‘Unable to Apply’ and we need to get additional data as quickly as possible so that we can apply the payment. The more automated the process is end-to-end, the quicker we will get a reply on our enquiries and we can close our cases.

Another benefit is controllership. Using the E&I messages will eliminate our need to fax a request to the bank with the risk that it is sent to a wrong fax number or is left unattended at the bank. We know the E&I messages are being delivered securely to our partner bank and that we have the audit trail of the message flow.

Q (gtnews): Electronic statements (eStatements), by their very nature, help reduce paper. How has GE Treasury integrated eStatements into its processes, and are there other benefits (aside from paper reduction) that you have gained as a result of this switch?

A (Boeri): Some GE Businesses are currently using bank portals to download their bank statements. GE Treasury is centralising this process. We have purchased an eDocument module from our workstation vendor that will warehouse all our eStatements and other eDocuments.

The other benefits we see are control and compliance. We need to have control over who has access to our statements and we can only do this when the documents are in a centralised repository in our workstation, leveraging its existing security controls. We have too many users accessing too many different bank portals to access their statements and we see this as a risk. We need our users utilising one source system to access their statements. When paper statements are sent in the mail, we have no control over where they eventually reside and who has access to the documents. Controlling the retention period for accessing these documents is another benefit. Having our eStatements in a central repository with secured access controls gives us the confidence that we are in compliance from an audit perspective with our internal document retention policy.

Q (gtnews): Bank services billing can occur in a variety of formats and file types depending on region and other considerations. GE Treasury implemented the TWIST BSB – how has this helped to standardise and improve operations?

A (Boeri): The TWIST BSB standard has enabled us to look at our fees more effectively. Prior to implementing the standard with our banks, we were receiving paper statements or Excel spreadsheets. We were not getting the granular information we needed and it was not in a standardised format. With the TWIST BSB files, our bank compensation team is able to better analyse our fees because the data and information are in a standardised format that can be mapped into our account analysis system in a consistent manner. We are currently getting the TWIST BSB format from 26 bank locations (countries) and expect to go live with four more locations before year-end. We expect that when the TWIST BSB format gets ISO certification, we will see a lot more adoption of the TWIST BSB format from other banks.

Q (gtnews): GE Treasury’s green initiatives are impressive, but are there other things you’d like to achieve in this area? What is your green strategy for next year?

A (Boeri): Besides continuing our current green initiatives on a global scale, our green strategy for next year is to expand the scope of documents we receive electronically and store in our eDocument module within our workstation. We have built the infrastructure to warehouse documents and control the security around the documents so now we want to leverage that infrastructure with other document types. For example, we also plan to move to electronic are check registers, reconciliation reports and remittances.

Q (gtnews): Finally, what would be your main advice for other corporate treasury professionals that are considering implementing green initiatives within their organisation?

A (Boeri): My advice would be to have a vision for greening your operations and communicate that vision internally within your organisation as well as with your banking partners and vendors. A key consideration is to work internally with your audit and compliance teams to ensure that electronic versions that replace paper documents meet internal and external requirements.

A final recommendation is to have internal support from your organisation to build the foundation and infrastructure that would support going electronic. The infrastructure and security controls must be in place before rolling out the electronic process within your organisation.

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