My Life in Treasury
An Interview with François Masquelier, Head of Corporate Finance and Treasury, RTL Group
Treasury professionals have taken a wide variety of routes when building a career path, and the decision to pursue a treasury career is often a result of chance and circumstance rather than early ambition. François Masquelier, Head of Corporate Finance and Treasury at RTL Group, is well known to TMI readers, and has had notable successes both in his corporate role and in the wider profession as Chairman of ATEL (Association des Trésoriers d’Entreprise de Luxembourg), and Vice-Chairman of EACT (European Association of Corporate Treasurers). Like many others, his treasury career was launched almost accidentally, as he describes in this interview with Helen Sanders, Editor, but he has gone on to become one of the most influential treasurers in the profession.
How did you move into ‘treasury’ and what attracted you to that profession?
I came into treasury somewhat by chance. My career began on the dealing floor of a bank where I worked as a trader, although I started out as a tax lawyer. My second job, after two years, was as a Junior Treasurer in the Treasury Coordination Centre of Eridania Beghin-Say, an agro-industrial company based in Brussels. This happened by chance – and also by luck, I should now say, since a head-hunter convinced them that I would be suitable for the job. I give thanks to them every single day (the head-hunter and my boss at the time, to whom I send my good wishes if he reads this).
What attracted me was the more practical and pragmatic aspect of a multinational corporation (when compared to a bank), and also the fact that I wanted to give up trading to move to hedging of real underlying exposures. I was looking for a more generalist job, a job that was more varied and less hyper-specialised than the typically mono-product bank dealing. To be honest, I also wanted to reduce the stress that trading generated. I have never regretted it.
How did your career progress through to the role that you hold today?
As I often say, I am ‘a tax lawyer who went astray’. I never practised corporate law because at the end of my studies finance attracted me to the point of doing a Masters. For a long time I wavered between banking and the ‘real economy’ (meaning non-financial corporations). I worked for Sakura Bank, a big Japanese bank, before discovering MNC (multinational company) treasury work. After a few years, I decided to have another go at working in a bank in a more commercial post in the large company corporate finance section of ABN.AMRO. Then having landed in Luxembourg as the result of a transfer within the bank, I decided to go back to the ‘real economy’ and corporate treasury at CLT-UFA, which then became RTL Group, the leading European media group. And I have to admit that this was and still is a love story between me, Luxembourg and this fabulous media group. There I also discovered ATEL (Association des Trésoriers d’Entreprise de Luxembourg), the Luxembourg Corporate Treasurers Association, of which I am the chairman and to which I am very attached, as many people know.
How have demands and needs in terms of treasury changed over the course of your career, and what particular skills does it now require?
That is an excellent question; because it is my view that treasury has changed fundamentally. It has perhaps even transformed itself over the last few years to become a key function within finance. I was at work in the days before the EUR and I have hedged the DEM against the ITL and the FRF against the NLG. That was another era! Globalisation of the economy and technological developments have expanded the scope of our work, automated our processes and enhanced our productivity. Corporate treasury is still a young profession, and the changes it is undergoing are still far from over. Today, IT tools are interfaced (straight-through processed), made secure, with encrypted messages and automated reports.
Then we saw the IAS/IFRS accounting revolution. The famous IAS 39 changed my life, I have to admit – I even devoted three books and many articles to it, so you know that it is dear to my heart. ‘Fair value’ diametrically changed the job and the strategic approach. Greater overall rigour emerged in the treasury function. To a certain extent the accounting function has become the cart put before the treasury horses. Then the financial crisis fell upon us in 2008, further changing the job. Its importance came to the fore with the liquidity crisis, and it has kept on changing, particularly to adapt to the new European legislative and regulatory framework. Would anyone have talked about ‘regulation’ and ‘ESMA’ just eight years ago?
The treasurer’s role has become closer to the CFO but also more complex. Of the financial functions, it is the one that has changed by far and away the most over the last 20 years. It was initially an operational role, but shifted more towards management accounting, and now is even moving towards a strategic role in addition to its other two roles. Treasurers are true potential creators of value in corporations. Thanks to IAS 39 and the crisis, they have also had to move closer to their operational subsidiaries and involve themselves in day-to-day operations to understand them better. Today they face a multitude of challenges: more ‘dashboarding’, more business intelligence, more straight-through processing and more centralisation. There are many challenges on the horizon: staying compliant with new regulations, moving towards greater centralisation, setting up ‘payment factories’ (including POBO/ROBO), introducing eBAM and Bank Service Billing (BSB), putting new TiRMS modules in place, etc. – there are too many of them for me to list them all here.
This aspect of never-ending change is a feature of the job. I liken treasurers to a sort of chameleon or victims of the theory of Darwinism: “the function creates the organ” (i.e, new needs drive the evolution of the qualities required by treasury roles). This is precisely what makes the profession so exciting and thrilling.