Technology Returns Person-to-Person Relationships to the Fore

While fundamental corporate needs such as visibility over cash, understanding the company’s finance requirements and analysis of corporate performance are still essential for corporate treasurers, a new environment is transforming what corporates need to do. Today’s corporates work across different markets, operate in new environments and face far different needs to protect against country and counterparty risks, amid massive shifts in the importance of information. As technology gets into its stride, the potential to use data is much more significant than in the past, and the pressure on corporates to get better at their data is more intense.

For large corporates, their greater resources mean they have been able to use tools such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) and treasury workstations to stay ahead, and banks have given them analytics to support their business.

The big difference now, according to HSBC’s Marcus Treacher, is that smaller companies are starting to employ cloud computing to gain the same analysis. Rather than continuing to use Excel worksheets, for example, they can collaborate with their treasury service providers and their banks to get the same level of services as a larger company, such as awareness of cash management positions and foreign exchange solutions. Since global banks offer internet banking solutions anywhere, even small businesses can get the same access as large multinationals via direct access to the bank.

Treacher believes that the future lies in offering smaller companies more internet banking features so that they can conduct more analysis in a way that makes sense to them and to leverage partners to provide complementary internet-based services that fit their needs. The bulk of HSBC’s half million users are small companies and he expects the number to double to million users before long.

To enable more large and small customers alike to use its services more fully, HSBC offers webinars and telephone training. When it receives a lot of calls on a particular topic, the bank creates a new webinar. “I’d love to do more interactive online training with customers, to bring people in face-to-face so we can help, says Treacher.

Big Data Powers Insights

One of the differentiators for business is increasingly data and analytics, and ‘Big Data’ has become a buzz phrase. While big data is useful “you need to be careful with data” and HSBC is thus working with the information it has globally to support customers. “Make it come to life. Use it to help your corporates run their world better. Help them with the data,” says Treacher. “The vision is that we will do more in the future. Today we give reports. What we could do more is help create the insight.”

Mobile Builds Relationships

While advances in the back office are clearly important, technology is also coming out of the back office and moving on to new places. Even so, Treacher believes this is just the beginning of a long journey to even better and more intuitive interfaces. The way we connect will become more intuitive and rich, so information delivery will be more powerful. Companies that can use that will get an advantage.

While the consumer world adopted mobile quickly, Treacher says the bank was curious to see whether treasurers would use it to the same degree. “When we launched HSBCnet on a smartphone, in effect our global internet shrunk onto a handheld for all our corporate customers.” The take-up was strong, with more than 12,000 senior treasurers using the internet actively and making over US$20bn of payments to date. One company authorized US$1bn in a single session. “These are treasury professionals of major corporations using smartphones to execute major banking transactions. This is significant.”

What comes next is to offer more apps and better graphics to deliver what people need as they change and as their devices change. “It means that the industry needs to get think carefully about how we offer our services through different methods and how people use them.”

While enabling mobile-based transactions is useful, where Treacher sees mobile being most powerful is in building relationships. “Our differentiator is our client engagement. Now, there is an opportunity to build on those relationships through mobile.” While transaction traffic will continue to be important on the mobile, the focus will shift to developing interfaces to support the relationship, enabling client-facing staff to focus on what they do well.

What he forecasts, then, is that banking will become increasingly relationship-based. While the 20th century has focused on industrialised banking “you could find this moving to a greater focus on person-to-person engagement. The difference would be that the quality of decisions would be greater because the quality of information is greater.

“Data will become more important. Management will be more important. Who you know, how you behave. That is where I would like to see things end up. Gadgets support our lives. I hope we get over being over-gadgeted. We can be human beings together.”

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