My Life in Treasury
Nicolas Tusseau, Global In-House Bank Manager, Global Treasury Operations, LyondellBasell
Take risks when young, keep studying and stay abreast of technology – this is key advice Nicolas Tusseau gives to anyone looking to develop their career in treasury. And he quotes Richard Branson, who famously said: “If somebody offers you an amazing opportunity but you are not sure you can do it, say yes and learn how to do it later!”
How did you come into treasury and what attracted you to the profession?
I joined treasury by chance! On the completion of my studies in France, I wanted to gain some experience abroad. An internship was open at BNP Paribas Luxembourg in the Cash Management Department. It was not entirely new to me as one of my (best) professors was an International Treasurer. After my internship, I continued on an expatriate contract, and then on a local one, still with BNP Paribas. As a result of that experience I realised this was what I wanted to do. I enjoyed the ‘project-mindedness’ of treasury, starting from a whiteboard, selling, implementing and maintaining. I also liked the technology around treasury. Even as far back as 2007 we implemented our first XML payments and reporting. Finally, this experience with a bank was fantastic when I decided to change job to become a treasurer on the corporate side. I was familiar with compliance and the pricing and implementation processes.
How has your career progressed through to the role that you hold today?
I spent two and a half years with BNP Paribas in the Cash Management Department. We were a small team working together with the middle office, so our scope of activities was large. My job was to sell and implement cash management products: web-banking, cash pooling, investments etc. But again, because of the size of our team, we were also carrying out the account opening, the project management and we were the first level of contact for clients of web-banking and cash pooling when they were having issues or had questions. We were also helping the middle office on day-to-day payments so we had a broad range of tasks.
For a young professional like me it was a great experience. On one hand, I was seeing how the bank worked, from back office to trading floors. On the other hand, I was witnessing best practices on the corporate side. Shortly after the Fortis merger I joined CBRE Global Investors as Treasurer in Real Estate Investment Funds. The role was new, so everything had to be built: policies, requests for proposals (RFPs) with banks and rationalisation of bank accounts.
We were maintaining a large number of bank accounts with many service providers involved (fiduciaries or property partners) which required access to each bank account. Because of that, it wasn’t possible to implement a TMS or a payment factory. After four and a half years I decided I needed to do something else. I joined A. Schulman (now LyondellBasell) in my current role as Global In-House Bank Manager. During 18 months we carried out the implementation: account opening, TMS set-up; in-house bank agreement; cash pooling set-up etc. We also added more modules along the way including risk management, netting, and banking fees management via CAMT86. We wanted the project to be state of the art in terms of technology and the modules we were using. That’s why we decided to implement only XML for reporting and payments. We also chose Kyriba as a TMS to use a software-as-a-service (SaaS) cloud platform, which enabled us to be flexible in the future and potentially add new modules, and use the system to its full capacity.
How have the demands and needs of treasury changed over the course of your career, and what particular skills does the role require today?
I feel that there was a ‘before’ and ‘after’ view of treasury following the 2008 financial crisis. Before the crisis, the job wasn’t so well known: taking care of bank accounts, some investments, few projects. The treasurer was there to help accounting and the CFO, but the role was not key. Then Lehman crashed and CFOs started to wonder if their money really was safe. This was something they had never really considered before. From that day, things changed. The treasurer now needs to report on the safety of money, and that gives treasury more visibility. From then on, a TMS needed to be implemented to see where the money was and to secure the payments methods. Investments needed to be reviewed, risk management had to be set up, IT and automation had to be developed, and financing renegotiated. Finally, the financial crisis also generated a need for more compliance, and here again the treasurer is on the front line. As for the skills that the role requires today, a treasurer also has to be up to date with technology and be both a risk manager and project manager who is able to gather a team and deliver a project to bring about positive change.
What specific, or perhaps surprising, qualities do you look for when recruiting treasury personnel?
Recruiting the right person is one of my most difficult tasks. I look for stability in a CV and for someone who has been able to make a positive difference in their previous jobs. I believe you need to be in post for at least two to three years in order to bring about change. I also look for someone with good communication skills, who can demonstrate a balance between having confidence in themselves and being able to question a process and raise comments. Finally, considering the world we are living in, knowledge about technology, even if it’s not specifically treasury oriented, will always be welcomed.
How important do you think a formal treasury education is, as opposed to (or as well as) more general finance or accountancy qualifications?
It depends how you want to build your career and if you are planning to work in treasury for your entire professional life. If that’s the case, yes, you will need not only a finance education but a formal treasury education/qualification in order to progress. Many aspects of the treasury function can be learnt only during training or through Association of Corporate Treasurers (ACT) qualifications. Not many colleges or universities offer treasury qualifications, so some people believe the work of a treasurer can be picked up ‘on the job’. That is true as far as the basics are concerned, but if you want to reach another level then you will need a formal treasury education.
What about wider experience in the world of business? Is that valuable too?
Absolutely. Clearly if you come from certain areas of business, your impact in a treasury department will be greater. For example, if you come from an accounts payable department or from accounting, you will know what treasury does. Someone coming from the banking world will also be valuable because they understand the constraints banks face and also their capacities.