‘Stressury’: Genuine Risk or Fantasy?
by François Masquelier, Head of Corporate Finance and Treasury, RTL Group, and Honorary Chairman of the European Association of Corporate Treasurers
Is the treasurer’s job stressful?
In Forbes magazine’s annual survey of the most stressful jobs, the treasurer’s job has never figured in the top ten. When we think of the most stressful jobs, on the face of it the treasurer’s job does not look to be one of the most stressful. However, if we look at it more closely, nobody would dare dispute the (potential) stress aspect of the job. Treasurers handle millions and billions in multiple currencies to the point of losing sight of their economic reality at times. These are no more than lines of figures and zeros, but they represent astronomical sums, and therefore huge financial and operational risks. Treasurers are also responsible for generating the highest risk-free returns possible, while ensuring there is enough liquidity, minimising cash lying idle here and there and guaranteeing compliance and adherence to ever more numerous regulations, which increases their stress. Does stress stop treasurers sleeping properly at nights? Surely not. After spending the day counting cash and keeping down risks, they can go to sleep peacefully counting sheep.
The treasury function has become much more complex over the last few years
As the challenges and the plans on their ‘to do’ lists have become ever more numerous, as the work has become more complex and the economic environment is increasingly thrown into turmoil, you can easily see why their stress levels would rise. Treasurers have been in the limelight for the last five years and this sudden popularity with CFOs and audit committees has added an extra layer of stress that was not there before. Treasurers have not been used to that much attention and to being centre stage. They accepted this somewhat reluctantly, aware of the weight of the responsibilities falling upon them. Today, treasurers’ lives are far from being a primrose path; they are more like a steep and thorny way. Treasurers have therefore had to learn how to manage this new and additional stress. They must be approaching the top ten, surely? Could this stress perhaps lead to the risk of burn-out? Maybe. BOS (Burn-Out Syndrome) was discovered by Harold Bradley in 1969 and is often found in overworked senior managers. It is a state of exhaustion and loss of motivation brought about by work, particularly when best efforts have not produced the desired results.
In treasury, loss of motivation would not come from the work, which is increasingly interesting, but potentially from the quantity of figures to be delivered with scarce resources. Exhaustion, fatigue, headaches and insomnia – these are only some of many syndromes of this state. Burn-out involves wearing yourself down, tiring yourself out and snapping because of excessive demands. This is a bit like a candle which, after burning for several hours, now gives out only a weak light. We need to be realistic and accept that this syndrome lies in wait for quite a few treasurers.
If you have been driving at 180 km/h for a long time, you end up forgetting that the legal limit is 130 km/h in European countries. Treasurers have to a certain extent forgotten what ‘normality’ and cruising speed are, since their daily lives are so busy and will stay that way with the number of new regulations and further IFRS standards. Treasurers are not going to take their foot off the accelerator and go back to their (long-lost) cruising speed any time soon. So what other choices are there?
Having started out at this speed and having become used to it, there are not many opportunities to ask yourself fundamental and existentialist questions. It may, of course, be better that way.
Take care not to burn out!
This inevitable stress and this unreasonable work overload are undoubted facts. As always, some people handle this better than others. Experienced treasurers will have built up their resistance, and will be forearmed against the risk of breakdown. To guard against this, we need to keep a cool head and soldier on in spite of the pressures and lack of resources, a sign of the times in these days of economies. Treasurers are experienced risk managers. Are they, however, also good at managing the risk of burn-out? Quite likely not!