My Life in Treasury
Helen Sanders, Editor, Treasury Management International
This edition marks my final one as Editor of TMI after nearly 12 remarkable years, so I thought I’d use the opportunity to share a few thoughts based on my own life in treasury and beyond.
How did you come into treasury and what attracted you to the profession?
Like almost every treasurer featured in these pages, I came to treasury by accident. I had been in academia previously, as I am a classicist by background, but on returning from an overseas teaching post just before the summer holidays, I joined the tax department of a technology company. I needed to move to London to complete my studies, so I applied for a treasury role at an oil exploration and production company. I remember asking the company secretary of my previous employer what treasury did, to which he replied, “Not much, it’s very narrow, you’ll hate it.”
Fortunately, his analysis was wide of the mark, and I joined treasury at a very exciting time. The treasury department I worked for was very innovative (although I didn't necessarily recognise it at the time!). Almost uniquely, we had a treasury management system: a proprietary system developed at phenomenal cost some years earlier, together with a plethora of manual processes, whiteboards, A3 daily cash position sheets, fax and telex. I was tasked to work with the system provider to manage the system. I soon realised that this was a proverbial money pit, but with no flexibility to improve our processes or reporting. I researched the market for treasury management systems, which was extremely limited at that time, developed the business case, and led the selection and implementation of a new system, which launched the next step in my treasury career.
How did your career progress through to the role that you hold today?
I found the opportunity to use technology, and adopt new ideas to deliver value in treasury very motivating, and this was really the period in which treasury management systems first developed. We were only the second company in Europe to implement GIS’ Quantum solution, now part of FIS, and I loved it. When the opportunity to join GIS came up in 1996, joining a team of only five, I jumped at it. Then followed seven very happy years, during a wonderful period in the development of the company. During that time, I inevitably did a bit of everything but ultimately found my niche in sales and marketing, and once we were acquired by SunGard in 2000, I managed the sales and marketing function for corporates in Europe.
Leaving SunGard was hard, and after a year in Australia and New Zealand with another start-up financial technology company, I came back to Europe and ran the training function at EuroFinance before joining the Association of Corporate Treasurers (ACT) as Director of Education. I think back very fondly to this time, and I was very fortunate to work for Richard Raeburn, who has made such a significant mark on both the ACT and EACT. During that time, we developed and launched a new associate (AMCT) qualification, an achievement of which I remain very proud to have been part.
I had known TMI well during my time at GIS and SunGard, and had been very involved in producing marketing collateral, media content and advertising plans. When Robin asked if I’d like to join as the Editor, it seemed the ideal way of combining my education and marketing background, experience working with treasurers in a wide range of different corporations, and knowledge of treasury and technology innovation. Twelve years on, I think there are very few people who have enjoyed a role as much as I have enjoyed working with Robin and the team at TMI. TMI is a unique publication and I have every confidence that it will continue to grow and constantly reinvent itself to reflect the changing dynamics of treasury and transaction banking.
Throughout this time, I’ve continued to work on freelance and interim projects with banks and technology companies, which has been an essential way of keeping my skills and knowledge fresh. I’m also trustee and honorary treasurer of a charity in the UK, which has brought a new perspective. It’s now time to hand over the reins to a new Editor who can champion and lead the publication to the next stage in its journey: many readers will already know Eleanor Hill who has edited Treasury Today in the past, so I leave TMI in very safe hands. It’s not goodbye altogether though, I’ll still be working with, and on behalf of TMI from time to time, and hope to remain closely connected with treasury and transaction banking in the future.
How have demands and needs in terms of treasury changed over the course of your career, and what particular skills does it now require?
This is a question I have always been particularly interested in asking people who have participated in this feature in the past. I remember looking at piles of old course notes and exam papers from the 1980s during my time at the ACT and was struck by how relevant they remained: the treasury fundamentals of managing liquidity and risk are as important today as ever, even though the tools and techniques have evolved.
Amidst the ‘buzz’ about innovation and globalisation, there seems to be a misapprehension that international expansion has only happened over the past two decades, and that technology was somehow invented by and for the millennial generation. Neither, of course, is true. What has changed is firstly that all companies, not just the largest, operate internationally. As a result, and facilitated by the degree of technology progress and innovation that continues to take place, treasury technology has become ‘democratised’, so it is no longer restricted to the largest multinationals.
While technology innovation has always been part of treasury, we are undoubtedly at the start of a new era in technology which has the potential to be transformational. It takes vision, open-mindedness, engagement, communication commitment and courage to shape and benefit from these developments, but these have always characterised a great, rather than simply a good treasury professional: it’s just the tools that people have to work with that have changed.