The Future of Treasury Is Now – Are You Ready?
By Eleanor Hill, Editor
Everyone loves a sneak preview, and here Michael Spiegel, Head of Cash Management, Deutsche Bank, gives Eleanor Hill, Editor, TMI, an exclusive peek at the results of one of the hottest treasury surveys going. Read on to discover what your peers really think about the role of AI and blockchain within the treasury function. Also learn about emerging threats and opportunities for treasurers to prepare for, from regulation to new business models.
Eleanor Hill, TMI (EH): You will be launching the results of the annual corporate treasury survey by the Economist Intelligence Unit, sponsored by Deutsche Bank, at EuroFinance in Geneva. Tell us a little bit about this year’s survey – what does it focus on?
Michael Spiegel, Deutsche Bank (MS): Well, the title of this year’s survey is The Future is Now: How Ready is Treasury.
So, it’s a really exciting topic that highlights how treasurers are readying themselves for change resulting from new technologies, new business models, and the emergence of new regulatory initiatives.
As well as being relevant from a thematic perspective, the survey is a comprehensive piece of research, with views from 300 senior treasurers across the globe. We also built on the results with a number of in-depth interviews with group treasurers at leading multinationals to really bring the findings to life. As such, it’s an insightful read.
EH: Let’s address treasurers’ readiness for new technologies. There is a lot of talk about technology innovations and how treasurers stand to benefit, but is this being translated into action? Are treasurers proactively embracing new technologies?
MS: It’s a good question, and you’re right that there is a lot of noise around new technologies. The survey results show that treasurers are certainly interested in new tech and digital innovation. For example, 30% of treasurers are looking to upgrade their TMS, and 36% are seeking an ERP upgrade. Meanwhile, 31% of respondents are considering moving their in-house systems to the cloud.
That said, 36% of respondents intend to rely on their existing ERP and 35% on their current TMS for now. Before passing judgement, though, it is important to stress that the treasury function is not necessarily the best place to test out entirely new technologies. The role of treasury is so integral to the everyday running of the company, that it is essential to be prudent from a technology perspective.
This does not mean that treasurers are standing still when it comes to technology. They certainly recognise the opportunity that comes with digital innovation. But they are also conscious that being a fast follower, rather than a technology leader, may be beneficial.
EH: It’s hard to talk about treasury technology and innovation without mentioning big data, artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain. But how are treasurers planning to put these technologies to use – and what might the benefits be?
MS: There are a lot of buzzwords. And it’s not always clear what they mean in concrete terms for treasurers. So, let’s look at each of the three themes you mentioned, starting with big data.
Interestingly, 56% of respondents think big data, and related data analytics, will be the most beneficial technology for their organisation going forward. In terms of practical applications, 46% plan to use big data for asset management, and 42% for cash management. That is extremely promising because treasurers are now embracing the practical applications of big data.
However, only 8% said they would use application programming interfaces (APIs) in this area, which seems a little on the low side. This may, however, reflect the fact that APIs sit behind the scenes and are often used unknowingly, as a means to get to the data in the first place. So, personally, I believe APIs are more important, and more frequently used, than the survey results perhaps suggest.
The numbers coming out of the survey around AI, meanwhile, are promising. Half of treasurers (50%) say that they plan to use AI to better understand supply chain bottlenecks and 49% would like to use AI to forecast working capital requirements. What’s clear from these results is that treasurers are forward-looking around AI. They understand that it can potentially lower the cost of operations, boost productivity, increase insights across the company and help find new business opportunities. Although the willingness to embrace AI is there, though, the how and when of its implementation still remains something of a mystery.
Finally, let’s talk about blockchain, or distributed ledger technology (DLT). This is definitely one of those buzzwords that treasurers have heard so much – and perhaps in some cases too much – about from a theoretical point of view. What they want to see now are practical applications of the technology which leverage blockchain’s ability to track multiple changes in one place.
Pilots and even live blockchain transactions are starting to happen in the trade and payments space, which is reflected in the survey results: 57% plan to use DLT for the delivery of payments and goods and 46% think it will be most useful in issuing and tracking documentary letters of credit.
EH: It would be interesting to know how well-prepared treasury teams are for this technological change. So, what did the survey results show around their preparedness? Do they need more training?
MS: Honestly, I was a little surprised by the responses we received around treasury’s preparedness for technological change! Eighty percent of those surveyed believe they already have the right level of skills in their teams to stay on top of new technologies and innovation. Only 4% think that substantial training is required to ensure their teams stay ahead of the curve.
In my view, a little more investment into the creation of the next generation treasurer may be required, particularly from a skills perspective. But at the same time, we have to recognise that, as I mentioned earlier, treasury functions are not really the place to test completely new, innovative technologies.