“A wide variety of SwiftNet offers from banks”
Group Treasurer, Alten
Lettre du Trésorier
Alten is quite a new organisation?
It was set up just over 20 years ago by three engineers. The company obtained a listing on the Second Marché of the Paris Stock Exchange in 1999. It is now listed on the Euronext under Section A and the stock is eligible for the deferred payment service. Since it was formed, annual growth in business has averaged 20%. The company’s two areas of activity are engineering and technology consultancy - which account for 70% of our business - and IT services and networks. We have a workforce of 12,500 of whom 88% are engineers. In 2008, we generated revenues of €846m, of which one quarter was from outside France, principally from Europe but also from India, Russia and Vietnam.
Broadly speaking how is the treasury function organised?
Our previous system was not totally satisfactory and was characterised by an excessive amount of manual transactions.
L G-D: The treasury function was set up in 1999 because the company had grown quickly but in some areas had retained the structures of an SME, firstly strictly regional, then national. At that time, it was necessary to set up the treasury function practically from scratch, notably by introducing a cash pooling system and obtaining cash management and banking communications IT resources. On this subject, if you want to take a shortcut, you could say that we went from the fax to ETEBAC 5 for the French part and Isabel for foreign markets. The Belgian protocol allowed access to the bank accounts of most of our non-French subsidiaries. The system also included a payment centre which was introduced in order to free up the operational staff as much as possible from the administrative tasks and to save us having a treasury function as such within the subsidiaries. This centre principally manages the payment of salaries, which accounts for by far the highest amount of payment flows. On the risk management side, we only have quite limited foreign exchange activity and no interest rate activity because until now the company has financed its own growth internally. There are still placements which, due to steady external growth, are primarily very liquid and secure, whether in the form of certificates of deposit, time deposits or monetary funds, amongst our pool of three banks.
However, although Alten went through a period of strong external growth after the burst of the internet bubble between 2001 and 2003, the system was not totally satisfactory and was characterised by an excessive amount of manual transactions.
How did you improve this?
L G-D: It was not possible to move to stage two from one day to the next. At an initial stage we conducted an examination based on our findings and the questions which we were asking ourselves. At a time when, objectively speaking, the systems in place were becoming obsolete in view of the size and the pace of the company’s growth, we had one eye on setting up an ERP project - we did not want to have the treasury modules of this future ERP imposed on us – and another eye on the consequences of the scheduled end of ETEBAC 5 based on the harmonisation of European payment methods. It was under these conditions in 2006 that I heard through AFTE of SwiftNet, which I began to take an interest in and told the finance division about it. We must remember that SwiftNet was initially highly coded, a matter of discussion amongst the initiated, and that only a handful of very big companies had tried it out.