My Life in Treasury
Terry Nelson, Director of Treasury and Accounting, Meridian Restaurants Unlimited, L.C.
Anticipate, be proactive and maximise your time management skills – these are three pieces of advice to treasury newcomers from Terry Nelson. And if you can become a subject matter expert in your field and combine your discipline with a knowledge of technology, then you will be well prepared for the challenges posed by this ever-changing industry.
How did you come into treasury and what attracted you to the profession? And how has your career progressed through to the role that you hold today?
I started working for small to mid-sized companies and treasury was an important by-product of my traditional accounting functions. Handling cash collections and disbursements were the main tasks back then. It then evolved into a dedicated team and crucial interdepartmental role in an industry highly regulated by complex banking requirements directed by key stakeholders.
What better way to navigate the world of treasury than by working in one of the most regulated industries – healthcare – with convoluted banking design? Because of the complexity in banking layouts, I find these challenges an opportunity to simplify, automate and improve upon old manual practices. A dedicated treasury department is born out of necessity; the old accounting/finance function has been outgrown and treasury now maintains transactional integrity, mitigates financial risks, optimises cash investments, and appropriately segregates duties with transparency.
I am a firm believer in continued learning, even as adults, whether that is continued education through a formal institution, training courses or reading published articles by subject matter experts. This not only keeps your industry knowledge sharp, but also enables you to be a key driver in the recommending of solutions or adapting/changing processes and in keeping the company relevant in today’s highly competitive market.
My time in treasury evolved from being an accounting manager to becoming a subject matter expert and a super user of an enterprise resource planning (ERP) application. I was able to bridge the gap between the worlds of finance and technology. I knew the world of accounting, but all too often companies miss that additional level of discipline in determining solutions to streamline. Or they don’t understand how to integrate and capitalise on different financial software applications and processes to better achieve scalability without adding unnecessary full-time equivalents (FTEs), reduce application redundancies and reduce manual human entry-point of errors.
This creates better workflow automation between applications which, in turn, optimally achieves quicker and more accurate accounting month-end closures, mitigates chances of fraud, identifies discrepancies early, and spreads labour throughout the month while fine-tuning the financial reporting package. The final outcome is accurate and timely data reporting on the financial statements.
How have the demands and needs of treasury changed over the course of your career, and what particular skills does the role require today?
Technology solves integral back-office requirements with complex banking designs for companies that do not require a physical banking presence in rural locations. Sometimes solving the basic component to treasury, which is cash management, has been somewhat overshadowed by the drive to innovate. We are not a cashless society so it’s imperative to address certain entry-point barriers such as local banking requirements that create unnecessary banking relationships and accounts that could otherwise be streamlined. If we do not do this, we are back to manual practices and treasury management innovation is halted. I mentioned earlier my role in bridging the gaps between technology, finance, accounting and treasury. This is especially important in treasury as its principal function is to mitigate financial risks and make key decisions regarding the best possible use of funds.
I see a need for individuals to not only have a subset of one discipline but also to be able to couple it with technology. This is vitally important in the ever-changing financial landscape.
What specific, or perhaps surprising, qualities do you look for when recruiting treasury personnel?
I am a person who leads by example but am by no means a micromanager. If I become a micromanager then that shows one of two things have occurred. Either I did not provide the tools necessary to achieve success or the team member lacks the desire to achieve greater success by using the tools provided. In other words, I look for team members who will take the initiative and use the tools provided to create opportunities and add value to the company.
Complacency is the antithesis of progress. Striving to achieve best practice keeps the company relevant and yourself desirable as you progress through your career. Attributes that indicate someone has the drive to be better in life in general, not only in the workplace, typically equates to a productive, value-added team member. I also seek those who have led initiatives, great or small, that have been impactful to the company or department.
How important do you think a formal treasury education is, as opposed to (or as well as) more general finance or accountancy qualifications?
There is a definite opportunity for formal education to expand the finance and accounting programme to include treasury management as a subset of the overall course offerings.