2010 in Review: Mounting Challenges for Treasurers

Looking back at 2010, it is fair to say that, thankfully, it has been less tumultuous than the couple of preceding years. This was the year that many economies around the world emerged from recession and, while not exactly sprinting into growth, the widely predicted double-dip recession has failed to materialise. So far, so good?

Perhaps not – looking beneath the surface, there are clearly still many structural cracks in the global economy that could derail future stability. In Europe, the sovereign debt crisis threatens to catch up with many more countries in 2011, while the euro itself is under the most intense pressure of its short history. How long will German taxpayers be content to lead the bailout of other nations?

In the US, the Dodd-Frank Act became law, creating huge changes for both banks and corporates in their accounting and reporting processes, while ‘QE2’ showed a marked difference in approach to deficit management compared with most European countries. Even China, seen by many in the west as the saviour of the global economy, has been struggling with a number of economic issues of its own. Under fire from the US and Asian neighbours for manipulating the value of the renminbi (RMB), the spectre of inflation also looms large in China.

With considerations such as these, the role of the treasurer is not getting any easier. The rise in profile of the treasury department over the course of the credit crisis has been well documented, but in many cases this has not been matched by a similar rise in resources. So in a situation of having to do more with less, what have been the topics that gtnews subscribers have been reading the most this year? The box below highlights the top 10 most read pieces of content on gtnews from 1 January to 14 December 2010. Obviously articles published at the start of the year have had more chance to be read, but I believe this provides a good snapshot of ‘top of mind’ issues.

gtnews Top 10 Most Read Content 2010

  1. A Guide to Cash Management Systems in Europe – Joergen Jensen, Nasarius – 23 March 2010
  2. SWIFT Message MT202 COV: Background and Impact Points for Banks – Vijay Sankar, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) – 26 May 2009
  3. Cash Management Centralisation: Is it Right for Your Company? – Diejana van der Wal and Heijmert Rijken, Rabobank – 16 February 2010
  4. Debunking the SWIFT Myth – Joy Macknight, gtnews – 06 July 2010
  5. Future Trends in Payment Systems – Nigel McCook, Edgar Dunn & Company – 19 January 2010
  6. A New Approach to Reliable Cashflow Forecasting – Bas Rebel, Zanders, Treasury & Finance Solutions – 26 January 2010
  7. The Treasury Insider – Cash Forecasting: Is It Really Worth It? – 23 February 2010
  8. Cost-effective Foreign Exchange Risk Management – Ryan Heaslip, SunGard AvantGard – 02 March 2010
  9. Working Capital Management in India – Suryanarayana Akella, ICFAI – 16 May 2005
  10. The Next Generation of Supply Chain Finance – Alexander Mutter, Deutsche Bank – 23 February 2010

Cash Management Concerns to the Fore

Perhaps unsurprisingly, cash management issues dominate the ‘most read’ list for 2010. But within this broad umbrella description, a number of issues emerge, including cashflow forecasting, cash management systems and the centralisation of cash management processes.

Forecasting

Looking at cashflow forecasting, the gtnews Treasury Insider’s blog on the topic had the rather provocative title “Cash Forecasting: Is It Really Worth It?” In the post, the gtnews Treasury Insider explains that, while they don’t need convincing of the importance of cashflow forecasting, there are a couple of major challenges they face in their organisation:

  1. I need to encourage the subsidiaries to get into the habit of forecasting regularly, by which I mean once per week, with updates when necessary.
  2. I need to improve the accuracy of these forecasts. I am keenly aware that the nature of our business dictates the frequency required for forecasting.

The Treasury Insider sees the issue for their company as being an internal personnel issue rather than a system issue. And the blog post gained a large response from the gtnews readers. Selected reader comments include:

  • “I can only support the absolute MUST of cashflow forecasting and also the need to have a at least three months outlook especially when you have to plan out your short-term financing needs, like we are having to do in my company.”
  • “We went from a loose two-week forecast model in 2008 to a very rigidly enforced 13 week model in early 2009 in response to the economic crisis. The outcome played a large part in ensuring that our company avoided any breach of financial limits or covenants – its simply that important.”
  • “Regarding your issue no 1, the best way to solve this is from the top down. Your CFO [chief financial officer] needs to be behind you. Anything less than that will get short-term attention.”
  • “Better cash forecasting will not occur until the link between profitability and liquidity is measured more precisely, and those involved are rewarded for meeting their goals.”
  • “… treasury needs to take the lead not only by owning the cashflow forecast process, but by clearly articulating the benefits across the organisation.”
  • “Technology also helps complete the information loop by quickly communicating back forecasting effectiveness at a level of detail that is actually useful to the remote user.”

Clearly the optimum forecasting rate – daily, weekly or monthly – varies from company to company, and there were different views on this from the readers who commented. Common themes surrounded the importance of getting senior management onboard with the forecasting process, and also educating business units as to the importance of accurate and timely cashflow reports. To get a successful cashflow forecasting project off the ground, treasurers need to be adept at communicating the benefits to all invested parties.

A centralised approach to cash management

In their article that looks at centralising the cash management function, Diejana van der Wal and Heijmert Rijken from Rabobank acknowledge the role that cashflow forecasting can play as part of a centralisation programme. Integrated with cash pooling, it can be an important tool for improving cash management as it lets the treasurer have visibility of their company’s cash, no matter which country or currency the account is held in.

In terms of pooling, one example of this helping to centralise liquidity management that is given is this article is the end-of-day sweep. This process makes it possible to transfer balances from local accounts to one central account or to centrally maintained accounts in the name of the local subsidiaries. It is also possible to automatically move the balances back to local subsidiaries, while profiting from the advantages of a central interest pool.

Van der Wal and Rijken explain that this allows the treasurer to have better control over their cash, while they can also view it as a corporate asset within the organisation.

System choices

The most read piece of content on gtnews in 2010 was an article from Joergen Jensen at Nasarius, who provided a guide to cash management systems in Europe. In the article, Jensen examines a variety of areas related to cash management systems, such as the type of vendors (banks, enterprise resource planning (ERP) providers and specialist vendors), what you should look for in a system to suit your organisation, and how to approach the selection process. Jensen also takes a look at some of the specific offerings from the different types of vendors that are available, and offers some advice as to which types of systems may better suit which types of organisations.

This year, gtnews also published a buyers guide to treasury management systems (TMS), providing a comprehensive report on the various issues that treasurers face when selecting and operating a TMS, featuring interviews and case studies from a variety of treasury professionals and a TMS matrix comparing the functionality of a large range of systems. You can download the TMS buyers guide free of charge here.

SWIFT Success?

Articles related to SWIFT take up two of the top four places in the most read chart on gtnews this year, demonstrating the demand for information that exists when it comes to the role that SWIFT can play in making corporate bank communication more efficient and secure. The content with most relevance to corporates in this list is Debunking the SWIFT Myth, written by Joy Macknight and published in July this year. In this feature, Macknight asked the question why, despite the benefits that SWIFTNet offered corporates by providing a single, standardised and secure channel, had not a greater number signed up to use the service? It certainly seems that preconceptions about the accessibility of the SWIFT network had played a role in the slow take-up, with many corporates questioning whether they have the volume of payment information necessary to justify the cost of gaining SWIFT connectivity.

To combat this perception, SWIFT has launched a variety of different connection methods for corporates – from plugging in a USB stick to gain off-the-shelf connectivity through Alliance Lite, through to outsourcing connectivity to a SWIFT service bureau (SSB). The additional services that SWIFT is now looking to offer as part of an overall package is also helping to gain traction, through innovations such as:

  • Exceptions and investigations.
  • Trade finance.
  • Secure e-mail.
  • SWIFT Secure Signature Key (3SKey).
  • Electronic bank account management (eBAM).
  • Electronic invoicing (e-invoicing).

As Marilyn Spearing, global head of trade finance and cash management corporates, Deutsche Bank, and chair of SWIFT’s Corporate Access Group, says in the feature: “Everybody is talking about electronic bank account management and e-invoicing – in other words really expanding what can be done through the same channel.” While SWIFT connectivity is still not going to be high on the agenda for some corporates, these value-added offerings look likely to give a welcome boost to SWIFT’s corporate numbers.

To compare and contrast a selection of the SSBs available for corporates, download the buyer’s guide to SWIFT service bureaus that gtnews published this year.

Evolution of corporate payments

But there was a lot more going on in the world of corporate payments during 2010 than just debate over SWIFT. An article from Nigel McCook of Edgar Dunn & Company discusses the possibilities for future trends in payment systems. Analysing survey results, the article focusses on understanding the importance, both today and in the future, of individual payment products, as well as the key industry events that are expected to shape the payments markets over the coming five years. Some of the key findings discussed include:

  • Credit cards were the payment product given the highest rating in terms of current importance, followed by domestic debit cards.
  • Respondents from Asia gave comparatively higher ratings of importance to cash, mobile SMS, remote payments and remittance.
  • The top four payment products, in terms of their expected growth in importance over the next five years, are:
    1. Contactless cards.
    2. Mobile SMS/remote payments.
    3. Prepaid cards.
    4. Mobile NFC.

These were among the payment topics under discussion at this year’s Sibos conference in Amsterdam. Following the past couple of years of battering this conference has taken – both from the Lehman Brothers’ collapse in 2008 and typhoon Koppu in 2009 – this year saw delegates and exhibitors alike emerge from their emergency shelters and hit the conference ready to do business and network. You can find full gtnews coverage of the conference here, including both the Corporate Blog and Banking Blog and a wealth of video interviews with perspectives from a number of industry experts.

Risk Management Issues Rise

One of the more blatant legacies of the credit crisis has been the rise of risk management and mitigation that treasurers are responsible for. A glaring example of this is the fact that corporates now actively need to carry out counterparty risk analysis of their banking partners – something completely at odds with the ‘one global bank’ policy that many corporates were actively pursuing when credit was both plentiful and affordable.

A key area of risk management this year has been foreign exchange (FX) – from currency volatility in Europe and South America to concerns over ‘currency wars’ in Asia, corporate treasurers have had to be increasingly mindful of their FX exposures. As such, it is no surprise to find the article from SunGard’s Ryan Heaslip in the top 10 content list. Entitled Cost-effective Foreign Exchange Risk Management, the article looks at steps corporates can take to ensure they have an efficient FX risk management strategy in place. Some questions Heaslip suggests treasurers start by asking include:

  • Are you currently able to gather a complete dataset of exposures?
  • Is exposure information provided in a timely, detailed and accurate manner?
  • Is there an operational focus on reducing exposure?
  • Are risk factors used to rank exposures?
  • Is there a strategy that prioritises the types of risk to hedge (e.g. balance sheet, short-term forecast, long-term forecast)?
  • What type of derivative strategies will be used to hedge, after operational considerations?

The topic of FX risk management was also high on the agenda at the inaugural Global Corporate Treasurers Forum Europe that gtnews hosted at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London in June. The event is an annual independent forum bringing together European corporate treasurers to meet face-to-face, listen to leading speakers and network with industry peers in a high level and exclusive environment.

Discussion at one session of the forum turned specifically to the transaction risk element of FX risk – where the risk of value changes depending on where the transaction is. Some transaction exposure is not shown in the profit and loss (P&L) because it has not yet been recognised, or the contract is anticipated rather than committed to. A couple of the questions raised at the forum referred to a) whether transaction exposure should be hedged; and b) if it was hedged, whose responsibility within the organisational structure was this?

One group treasurer explained that their company had decided not to hedge its transaction exposure as they would have had to involve all of its investors, which would have added complexity. It has an impact on reporting – the company would have had to have shown like-for-like figures, and they wanted to protect this information. The factors involved in weighing up whether or not to hedge this risk requires a full evaluation by corporates.

If you are a treasurer or group treasurer, and would like to find out more about the Global Corporate Treasurers Forum Europe and register your interest in attending the 2011 forum at the Ritz Hotel in Paris, click here.

Growth in Supply Chain Finance

Another area of interest to corporates that received a ‘boost’ from the credit crisis is supply chain finance (SCF). The contraction of available credit in the market led to an increased need for bank financing. With a dearth of liquidity solutions available, SCF solutions gained a much greater global popularity. Picking up this trend, Alexander Mutter from Deutsche Bank examined what the future may hold for SCF offerings in his article that rounds out our top 10 for 2010.

Mutter sees the growth of SCF leading to more diversified and bespoke solutions emerging, driven by banks. He uses the example of a supplier portfolio where there are large, mid-sized and smaller enterprises involved. “Today, a similar supply chain finance solution will be offered to all of them. In the future, the offering to the individual supplier will be customised according to their balance sheet objective, based on the need analysis of this portfolio and risk policies, as well as financial needs,” suggests Mutter. By taking this approach, the SCF offering will be more flexible and tailored to suit the individual customer profile.

Responding to the growth in popularity of SCF as a topic among corporate treasurers, this year gtnews has worked with Enrico Camerinelli, a senior analyst at Aite Group and SCF expert, to publish a monthly blog on key SCF issues. Topics covered in 2010 include the return on investment in SCF, the importance of sustainable supply chains and the need for an industry standard taxonomy in SCF. You can find every blog post on the topic here.

Looking Ahead

2010 proved that, while the role of the treasurer has grown in stature, the demands this places on the treasurer are fierce and come in many forms. The economic world can still be paranoid and reactionary in the aftermath of the credit crisis and, as many corporates stockpile cash, perhaps some treasurers could be accused of fuelling the fire in this regard. It seems that this year has answered a number of questions – regarding global recession and the credit crisis – but thrown up several more challenges.

Despite this, there are excellent examples of corporate treasury departments and individual treasurers demonstrating best practice across the myriad different disciplines mentioned above. We were lucky enough to witness this first-hand at gtnews in 2010 through the quality and quantity of entries we received for our first annual Global Corporate Treasury Awards, which was this year held in Amsterdam alongside the Sibos Corporate Forum. As you can see from the winning projects, teams and treasurers, innovation is alive and well in treasury departments around the world.

Coming up on 4 January in our first upload of 2011, we’ll be publishing a series of articles offering perspectives and predictions for the year ahead and mulling over the challenges that are likely to come the way of the treasurer. Until then, best wishes for the holidays from everyone here at gtnews.

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