Advancements in technology can greatly help the treasury department establish itself as a strategic ally to the business. A recent AFP Treasury in Practice Guide explores how treasury can leverage technology to reduce manual processes, freeing up more time to contribute to strategy.
BUILDING THE BUSINESS CASE
Though the advantages to adopting new technology may be obvious to treasury, it’s not uncommon to receive pushback from senior leadership. Convincing the CFO to approve an investment in essential treasury technology—even something as commonplace as a treasury management system (TMS)—can often be a tall order. Therefore, the onus is on treasury to sell the CFO on why a technology upgrade is necessary.
When it comes to selling the CFO on adopting a TMS, the time component is perhaps the easiest case to make. A treasury system is an incredible tool to free up time for treasury departments as a whole, allowing staff members to spend more time catalyzing change or developing strategy for the organization, noted Niklas Bergentoft, treasury leader for Deloitte.
In the current environment, navigating the COVID-19 pandemic, time is especially critical for treasury. Having the time to answer questions around cash and liquidity; model cash forecasts for various dynamic scenarios; and understand the levers the organization has around financing and risk management can make a huge difference.
But perhaps more important are the capabilities that a TMS provides, particularly when it comes to safeguarding financial assets. When treasury departments rely too much on manual processes, they leave themselves open to fraud. And that’s something any good CFO wants to avoid.
“One thing that my CFO and I talk about on a regular basis, is payments fraud,” said Bruno Fernandes, deputy CFO and treasurer for the Government of Washington, D.C. “And one of the things that we looked at when we were in the process of implementing the TMS was how it can help us with those issues that we're experiencing. Because the last thing I want and the last thing our CFO wants is to be in the Washington Post. So being the District government, that's something that we're very cognizant of. And we have had fraud incidents, but one of the things that we focus on is how we can avoid them. And a lot of it is transitioning those manual processes or spreadsheets into more of a streamlined process.”
Susan Lee, vice president of treasury for Infor, agreed, noting that treasury is essentially the custodian of the company's bank account, with a directive to safeguard cash. Therefore, as fraud attempts continue to become more and more sophisticated, it's critical to leverage new technology and tools that are available to improve your treasury controls.
She recommends not only looking within your own treasury processes, but also at other departments that touch cash, such as AP, billing and payroll. “Organizations may see an increase in fraudulent attempts around process-driven areas,” she said. “Treasury typically has the relationships with the banks and the TMS vendors that have the latest fraud prevention tools, so it is important for us to bring that to the organization and be part of that conversation.”
ADOPTING NEW TECHNOLOGIES
Earning trust with the C-suite and across the organization often requires treasury to come up with a formal, detailed plan. Fortunately, there are new tools available that can help treasury in its efforts.
After Fernandes took over the treasury team in the D.C. government, he began an overhaul that would move the department from a transactional function to more of a strategic one. This required revisiting treasury’s technology, implementing best-in-class systems and processes.
Throughout this process, the treasury team reassessed its strategy to see if it aligned with the goals of the CFO and the business overall. They ultimately adopted a business strategy tool by ESM Software to build their roadmap. “It helps you create a balanced scorecard by looking at your strategy and aligning it with employee performance,” Fernandes said. “By formalizing that process, what we found is that we are in a better position to be able to support the CFO from a strategic perspective, as well as the rest of the organization.”
Fernandes noted that, in many city governments, the software systems are antiquated and no longer supported. That creates a lot of issues because when the people who supported those systems leave, the organization is left with platforms that don't work.
“So we are making sure that we take all of the software systems right out of the box,” he said. “That means an extensive amount of work done with process reengineering, policies and procedures. A lot of people are going to be doing different jobs in the future. But we are already starting to see the transition occur.”
Many treasury systems now have automation capabilities that can also help free up treasury to focus on strategy. Going back to the time component, Bergentoft noted that one of the biggest challenges for many treasurers is simply finding the time to participate in strategy. “On the timing side, a big enabler there is obviously the technology,” he said. “So how do you free up the time not just for yourself, but also for the people around you?”
He added that the typical treasury department spends about 50% of its time performing manual, operational activity. “So if you're able to reduce that, you can shift more of the time spent to strategic activities; it becomes a greater part of the day,” he said.
As demand has grown across finance for automation, data transparency and advanced analytics, a modern TMS can provide the tools for treasury to be successful in those areas. Following a series of acquisitions, Infor’s treasury department was committed to install a TMS. “At one point, we had close to 700 bank accounts across 45 different countries, so the TMS allowed us to automate that daily reporting and essentially made it real time,” Lee said.
Treasury also implemented a control process to organize the data. As bank files came in every morning, the department reviewed each debit and credit and then categorized them into detailed budget codes. “Several years later, we now have a single database of really good historical cashflow trends,” Lee said. “And with that information, we have been able to highlight working capital across each entity, understand cash seasonality, and measure currency exposures. The data from the TMS is the foundation for all our heavy analytics.”
Dana Laidhold, treasurer for Peloton, believes that the more automation comes into play, the more essential application programming interfaces (APIs) will become for treasury. Systems’ ability to talk to each other and to outside parties will only grow in importance the more connectivity increases. “You can either go deep with a ‘one size fits all’ solution, or you can pool a ‘best of breed’ product that does very specific functions wonderfully,” she said. “And I think APIs are really what's going to enable the next generation of all financial technologies to be able to take shape.”
For more insights, download the AFP Treasury in Practice Guide, Treasury as a Strategic Ally to the Business, underwritten by Kyriba.