The past 15 years has seen many corporations reorganising treasury to support the operating business, expand its risk management role and create streamlined, process-efficient treasury structures. Corporates have organised treasury in a more centralised manner by establishing regional treasury centres, thereby streamlining the function to attain greater simplicity, standardisation and automation of treasury processes. The transformation from paper-based, decentralised treasury processing to centralised, regional, and in some cases global, treasury centres has generated many benefits for corporates. In parallel, the growth of shared service centres (SSCs) supporting organisation-wide business processes centralisation, often supporting working capital processes, has led corporates to ask: “What next?”
The alignment and integration of the treasury centre and the SSC to mutually support and service the operating businesses has been a more recent trend and opportunity. Corporates with SSCs have sought to work with treasury to re-engineer payments processes in order to deliver efficient payments processing, liquidity management and funding processes. Today many large corporates are seeking to introduce payments-on-behalf-of (POBO) processes in order to achieve further procure-to-pay (P2P) benefits. To maximise the benefits of POBO, requires close co-operation of the SSC and treasury.
POBO is one of several internal processes that corporates can deploy in order to discharge their payments and liabilities. POBO structures are designed and deployed with the legal and tax structure of an organisation being a key influencer of each organisations structure. While each corporate will have a unique combination of supply chain, treasury, and working capital management constructs, it is the legal and tax structure, within which the supply chain operates, that will determine the applicability of POBO as a process.
During the past two to three years, the number of corporates adopting a POBO payments processing model has increased. POBO structures can help an organisation move to the next stage of operational efficiency and risk management control.
In some cases, POBO structures are a consequence of an organisation’s move to centralised procurement. As corporates seek to streamline and manage their global supply chains in a more efficient manner, many are centralising the P2P process with suppliers, at either a regional or global level. The management of the financial flows inherent in a global supply chain are also being centralised within the SSC and/or treasury.
In the POBO model, the liability to the supplier remains on the balance sheet of the local business unit level, and is subsequently discharged out of liquidity owned centrally on behalf of that local unit. Therefore, treasury can design and deploy appropriate liquidity structures, minimising the accounts required from a P2P perspective. Adoption of POBO may also benefit procurement, allowing for centralised tracking of purchase orders (POs). Additionally, foreign exchange (FX) requirements may be centralised, thus minimising the costs associated with funding non-base currency procurement.
In deploying a POBO structure, life is much easier for corporate treasuries which have a single instance of an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. This allows them to set up the rules within the ERP and account in the business unit ledgers on a real-time basis upon the discharge of those liabilities on behalf of those business units. Companies, who have made significant investment in their ERP systems, may now leverage that investment by deploying POBO structures to eke out additional savings.
Medium-sized companies, or those without a single ERP system, are not precluded from gaining the advantages of a POBO structure; they can use a netting centre, an in-house bank or outsource to banks. For companies with disparate ERP systems, POBO can in fact leverage a centralised payment process out of these multiple systems.
Why Should a Corporate Set up POBO?
Companies seek multiple benefits resulting from the implementation of POBO structures:
- Reduction in bank accounts at local business unit level.
- Improved cash flow forecasting.
FX risk management
- Aggregation of non-base currency liquidity requirements.
- Internal arbitrage of payment runs funding.
- Reduce cross-border payments.
- Banking charges.
- FX bid/offer spread reduction.
- Encompass within SSC/payments factory.
- Elimination of access to payments process locally.
The drivers to implement POBO will vary but there are quantifiable benefits although the process introduces a level of complexity both internally and to suppliers.
Challenges to POBO
While POBO structures deliver liquidity management efficiencies and reduced FX costs, there are challenges around data transmission, both to and from suppliers and banks. For example, the final beneficiaries of payments sometimes struggle to identify which entity the payment has been made on behalf of.
This challenge is reduced by the adoption of either the single euro payments area (SEPA) or ISO/XML formats for notifying banks of the payment instruction. Both offer predefined data fields for transmission of both POBO and receipt-on-behalf-of (ROBO) data. From a Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) perspective, SEPA is a significant enabler in the transferring of information through to the end-client, helping corporations and their suppliers to reconcile payments more efficiently and quickly. It is driving a big push towards POBO in Europe, and some corporates are establishing POBO structures initially in Europe because SEPA is seen as an enabler.
In order to determine the suitability of a POBO structure for their organisation, corporates, in addition to internal analysis, need to be fully aware of the varying jurisdictional requirements of the countries in which their entities operate, for those being considered within the scope of the POBO. Alignment of a corporate’s geographic footprint to the individual tax, company law and central bank requirements for each legal entity being considered for inclusion within the POBO structure, is required.
Many corporations deploy legal and tax structures that are designed to optimise their tax structure. These enable a corporation to centralise not only working capital management into a SSC, but also to deploy centralisation of treasury constructs. For example, a US company may operate regional treasury centres in Singapore and Europe, with a treasury head office in North America. This has led to a proliferation of in-house banks (IHBs), which act as a single legal entity, within which all of the underlying business units will perform their treasury trades and functions. IHBs tend to be global, which means that the risk management which is vested in the function of the IHB, under the ownership of treasury, would be performed on a global basis.
In parallel to that, companies will operate a netting centre or netting process to gain internal efficiencies in working capital management for inter-company commercial activity. By deploying a POBO structure within the working capital model, a corporate treasury can further reduce payments. If you can envisage working capital management to the left with an overlap to an IHB or a treasury structure on the right, the consolidation or netting of payments, be it external or internal, requires the maintenance of accounts for each business unit in order to determine who owes what to whom.
One of the elements within this interface between working capital management and treasury is the net flows of assets or liabilities created through the netting process or the POBO process, but which are accounted for by the IHB. POBO as a working capital management construct has inter-company loan implications and they would normally be managed or accounted for within the IHB.
Corporations can mitigate operational risk by appointing a principal bank for payments and establishing POBO structures, thus minimising the flow of payments that need to be executed by third party banks.
As business has globalised, the number of corporations operating with multiple accounts has increased over time as a result of failing to rationalise, or as their business has grown and expanded into new territories either organically or through acquisition. Some large consumer and healthcare companies Citi has worked with within SEPA have more than 600 separate bank accounts, for example. And these were not just at entity level, but at the accounts payable (A/P) and accounts receivable (A/R) levels and within these levels.
As part of the implementation of a POBO structure, corporations should review all of their accounts. During such a review it is likely that many of these accounts will be identified as redundant and will be closed. A key POBO driver is the reduction of number of corporate accounts with a desire to achieve a single account structure or, if not a single account structure, one in which the corporation can operate single accounts at a country level in order to adhere to central bank reporting requirements.
For the next few years at least it is unlikely that central bank reporting requirements will change and until these regulatory restrictions are removed the nirvana of a single account and single location structure will be unobtainable. However, the European Central Bank’s (ECB) roadmap for central bank reporting within the eurozone envisages the removal of these differences by around 2016, at which point the road to full single account structures will be increasingly achievable.
Bank solutions for POBO will be simpler, removing layers of accounts or providing single centre account structures. In addition, it is important to realise that SEPA should not be considered in isolation; it should adopted alongside an overall review of a corporation’s cash management strategy during which a review will be undertaken of a bank rationalisation strategy and technology rationalisation plans, such as consolidating ERP systems and setting up SSCs. And as corporations undertake SEPA migration, it is inevitable that the adoption of POBO structures will increase and help organisations gain further efficiencies in operations and liquidity management.
Establishing a POBO structure is not something that can be done overnight, as both internal and external factors must be considered in the design and deployment. Corporations need a very good understanding of the tax, legal and regulatory environments in which they operate, and continually reassess the evolving environment. Mapping out these issues across the scope of countries in which they operate, ensuring that it all works in terms of structuring the ideal POBO structure, the location of their IHB, the entity which is doing the payment, must all be very well thought through before a corporation starts on its POBO journey.
Internal political and cost constraints within the corporate may prevent changes unless considerable cost savings can be demonstrated. It is important to involve tax, legal and compliance departments from the outset.
This is where a relationship bank really steps in and provides the expertise and understanding, and the vital information, which will help a corporation to create its POBO plan.
The evolution towards the POBO model has been both because of and in spite of the current turbulent economic environment. One of the issues we have discovered is that while there is a significant cost to SSCs, the economic downturn has in fact given more credence to the SSC model. A number of corporates, if they have not already centralised their treasury operations, are now looking to centralise, not just to reduce costs, but also to gain better control over risk management.
An SSC model, in-house bank and POBO structure combine to deliver to the corporate treasury a number of benefits:
- Simpler treasury structure.
- Efficient working capital management.
- Leveraged scale.
- Reduced transaction fees and FX cost.
- Reduced bank connectivity and maintenance costs.
- Operational discipline and control.
- Consolidated view of buyer/supplier relationships.
- Improved visibility.
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