Upgrading Treasury to First Class
by John Gibbons. EMEA Regional Executive, J.P. Morgan
Turbulence – nature’s way of reminding me that no journey is without a challenge. The most immediate one for me is to drink a coffee while I compose this column at 34,000 feet. But as we draw a line under 2012, how much more turbulence is yet to be experienced and will it be as frequent and dramatic in 2013, let alone given my current experience over the Atlantic?
Many economists have cautious optimism for 2013; yet we’ve got a way to go before the seat belt sign is lit, our seats put upright and trays away – and how bumpy the rest of the journey will be is out of our hands. So while one could suggest that we sit behind the door unable to influence the navigation and guidance controls, surely there is more we can do?
The good news is that 2013 is looking more like “How are we going to gain competitive advantage?” rather than “Can we survive?” Someone recently said “Our destiny is not written for us, but by us.” That being so and if your company is rising out of those storm clouds, what is next in the destiny for treasury and how is it going to contribute to gaining that edge?
In truth, only you know as the treasury professional and the individual requirements of your company. Yes, SEPA needs to be implemented, STP rates, cash visibility and liquidity strategies can always be improved, but these are arguably reactive and surely a destiny requires a more proactive approach?
Take cross-currency payments or FX as it often abbreviated. While there is still so much volatility in the markets and bank account rationalisation continues for many, it is curious (to me), to still see local accounts opened for low-volume payments even though there are no regulatory or legal requirements to do so. In doing so, treasury operations have added to their reconciliation and monitoring processes, FX rates require negotiation, as well as the added cost of having the account. Yet in an overwhelming number of scenarios an account is not needed as the payment, let’s say to Kenya, could easily have been made out of a euro account, but settled with the counterparty in Nairobi in shillings. The exchange rate being intraday and more importantly transparent, the fees pre-determined and the reliability (that we all need these days) the supplier received their funds in the agreed timeframe.
But there is still so much more potential in managing FX risk and increasing efficiency apart from bank account optimisation to be had. Take the scenario of the relationship between procurement and treasury. While procurement’s objective is to drive lower costs through vendor management and sourcing, we have seen scenarios where it has also set the conditions for currency conversion and entered into agreement in a country where banking arrangements don’t exist. In doing so, procurement has inadvertently entered into a derivatives contract with added challenges to settle an invoice within the agreed timeframes. Likewise, if treasury and procurement worked more closely together, scenarios where an FX from euro to dollar has occurred to pay a supplier could have been avoided if procurement were aware that a large receivable in dollar had just been collected by treasury.
Today there are many success stories where these two parties have formed a closer partnership and helped enhance overall competitive advantage. With the continuing evolution in both these spaces including e-invoicing, cards, mobile, supply chain financing, as well as FX portals, when was the last time you met with your procurement peer to discuss closer collaboration? At J.P. Morgan, we’ve been helping many clients enter new markets and we are now seeing representatives from treasury and procurement at many meetings to ensure they are entering the market in the most efficient and robust manner.
While our journey through 2013 will undoubtedly have some bumps from outside influences, those are hopefully not going to be as frequent or dramatic as in the previous few. This year should see the seatbelt sign having longer periods of being off to allow you more freedom in implementing many of those objectives that were stored away in the overhead locker. Perhaps it is time to be proactive and demonstrate how much more value the cockpit of your institution has to offer? A lot of trust, if not faith, is placed upon those highly talented individuals at the front of any plane. If the control tower has given you permission, now is your time to proceed and help your treasury upgrade to first class.
Previous articles from this series can be found at www.treasury-management.com/JPM