A global poll of corporate treasurers and other financial professionals identified the current pain points, eight years on from the global financial crisis.
Earlier this year, GTNews set out to discover what factors treasurers across the world are most worried about going into 2016, and the opportunities it might bring. We unveiled the findings at the Treasury Innovation Forum, hosted by GTNews in London this week.
We asked 157 professionals in 44 countries, who are working in different treasury roles and levels of seniority, about what regulation, professional and treasury and finance-related challenges they were tackling at work.
The largest proportions of respondents were working in treasury operations (17%), cash management (15%), product development (8%), and corporate finance (7%), with almost half of the survey participants from either the US or UK (27% and 19% respectively).
The then upcoming UK referendum on its membership and the European Union (EU) and the potential for Brexit did emerge as one of the top concerns identified in our survey. Last Friday, we discovered that those fears were well-founded, as the markets failed to weather the impact of the decision as well as might have been expected – the pound plunged to a 31-year low, and the UK’s credit rating was downgraded.
Indeed, Brexit has exacerbated many of those fears you mentioned in our survey, but what else is keeping you up at night? Here’s what you told us.
For treasury and finance-related challenges, 30% of you cited foreign currency as the most significant. The same percentage named the increasing complexity of legislation, while 25% thought that maintaining visibility of cash flow was a challenge.
As for what’s leading to sleepless nights among treasury professionals, you were varied in your responses – although we picked up evidence of some common themes. These included compliance and legal, foreign currency fluctuations and exchange rate volatility, and changing politics.
One respondent summed it up well, summarising the current challenges as: “Maintaining growth in the midst of challenging headwinds from unpredictable markets, increasingly restrictive compliance and regulatory environment.”
Emerging markets and their unpredictability cropped up often in the open-ended questions. In fact, major shifts in global politics emerged as one of the most cited concerns among respondents.
Some of you were concerned about the state of Latin American markets. The region’s largest economy, Brazil, entered recession last year following the corruption scandal that rocked state-owned oil company Petrobras. Brazil’s financial troubles are at risk of spilling over neighbouring countries, its closest trading partners, including Argentina, Venezuela and Peru.
South Africa’s recent credit downgrade had another of you worried. Last December, ratings agency Fitch downgraded the country to the level above junk status, while peer Standard & Poor’s (S&P) lowered its outlook for South Africa from stable to negative.
Regulation, compliance and risk management were also worries. One respondent said that “compliance and risk managers who seek to avoid risk rather than manage it” was keeping them awake at night.
The areas of treasury risk you deemed most important to your organisation aligned closely with what you were losing sleep over: 62% of those who answered the question cited foreign exchange (FX), followed by country/political risk (54%), liquidity (also 54%), interest rates (46%), counterparty (39%) and financing (23%).
When it came to professional challenges, managing workload came top of the table with 26% of you mentioning it. Many of you were concerned about whether you were using tech to its full potential, as 24% named “understanding how to harness technology to improve efficiency” as one of their biggest professional challenges. Access to information about governance and regulatory issues came in third, with 18% citing this as a challenge.
This part of the survey painted a clear picture of the feeling of uncertainty among treasurers, whether it be political, economic, or within organisations – some of you sought better support, while others were concerned about people management.
The life of a treasurer isn’t entirely dictated by challenges and risk. We also sought to understand the most significant opportunities.
You told us that the role of the treasurer had changed “significantly” since the 2008 global financial crisis, though nearly four in five (79%) felt the change had for the better.
When we asked what you thought were the most significant treasury-related opportunities for your organisation in 2016, revenue growth was top of the table with 36% of respondents naming it – no surprises there. But at a close second, 32% expressed a desire for better planning and analysis software, suggesting that corporates want more from their treasury technology.
Your ideas for future tech investment were varied, and included blockchain ledgers; real-time data; rolling out to other locations; risk management; and customer relation management.
For the next phase of our survey, we wanted to find out how satisfied you were with your treasury management system (TMS).
It appeared that the capabilities you rated as “critical” for a TMS, including reporting and analysis capabilities, user interface, and ease of implementation, weren’t always satisfied by the system you currently use.
One respondent felt that it is the user rather than the TMS that could be improved, suggesting that simply investing in training could be useful: “We should be able to get more out of it but lack the skills to use the TMS to its maximum potential,” (s)he said.
As treasury departments invest more in treasury technology, it’s important that it works for them. From our survey findings, it’s clear that TMSs could be more user-friendly, and intuitive to the tasks treasurers need them to complete. It also appears that treasurers could benefit from feeling more confidence in their chosen systems, so that they may respond to changes quickly and appropriately.
Our survey confirmed that treasurers are playing an increasingly important role in managing complexity and uncertainty, and that regulation is very much top of mind as a key organisational and professional challenge. Notably, we also found that although the role of TMSs is crucial it also appears that the technology is under-utilised.
As for the uncertainty many of you were concerned about, halfway through the year, and after the events of last week, it looks as though that uncertainty will continue in 2016, though closer to home.
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