BNP Paribas, PwC, SAP and EACT release a joint report to address the most important items on treasurers’ agendas and offers insights from the perspective of banks, consultants, software providers and the industry association.
There was a time when the EuroFinance International Treasury Management conference, which opened in Barcelona on Wednesday, used to be quite straightforward one for treasurers. They knew what to expect: networking with their colleagues and banks to discuss the latest developments in liquidity management, trade, interest rates, visibility of cash and centralized treasury management operations.
These issues are still the bread and butter for most corporate treasuries. But now, in addition, they are faced with a myriad of technology choices and a confusing array of fintech (financial technology) companies that are promising to reinvent the world of treasury.
How do treasurers make sense of all the jargon—blockchain; smart contacts; artificial intelligence; Big Data; and what it means for them? What do they pay attention to, and what do they ignore? After all, fintech companies haven’t been around for as long as the banks. Is it just “Tulip mania” all over again, or should treasurers really pay more attention to the technological developments going on around them?
On October 4, 2017 at the EuroFinance conference in Barcelona, BNP Paribas in association with PwC, software vendor SAP and the European Association of Corporate Treasurers (EACT) released the second edition of the Journeys To Treasury (JTT) report. The report is a joint thought-leadership initiative that addresses the most important and pertinent items on treasurers’ agendas and offers insights in the world of treasury from the perspectives of the bank, the consultant, the software provider and the industry association.
MAIN ISSUES FOR TREASURERS IN 2017
This year’s report highlights three broad issues. First; blockchain, fintech and big data and what they mean for corporate treasurers, second; the move to “anytime, anywhere, round-the-clock treasury, real-time payments and 24/7 commerce and third; the growing cybercrime threat, which is exacerbated by treasurers’ and banks’ increasing reliance on technology.“Our treasury world is on the brink of major change,” the report’s authors write. “The questions are how soon will it happen and in which direction will it go?”
Treasurers are following the emergence of fintech with interest, however, no companies are engaging directly with fintechs, as per the report. A lack of trust, security issues, regulatory uncertainty, scalability and integrating new technologies with legacy systems, remain major stumbling blocks to widespread corporate adoption.
Jean-Marc Servat, the chair of The European Association of Corporate Treasurers: "Treasurers are not staffed up to try every [new technology]. They are going to want proofs of concept for blockchain." Banks will act as aggregators of fintechs for corporate treasurers.
New technologies like blockchain may be the most transformative of all, with the potential to change how treasurers think about bank accounts, trade finance and eliminating the need for reconciliations, which is a major headache for most of them today.
However, real-world, scalable commercial applications are not expected for another three to five years, according to the JTT report, which may explain treasurers’ scepticism.
“We are starting to look at fintechs, but we believe that the market has still to become more mature before we can seriously consider working directly with them, since we are still concerned about the size and financial stability of most of them,” says François Masquelier, chairman of the Association of Corporate Treasurers in Luxemburg (ATEL). “We are very happy that banks are interested in investing in fintechs as they will bring about their financial stability.”
The JTT report highlights four ways that corporate treasurers can leverage or interact with fintech: fintech applications that solve specific problems within corporate treasury; those that provide piecemeal solutions, which could lead to greater fragmentation; fintechs that collaborate with the banks; or position themselves as an alternative to banks.
Fintechs will only become the “main providers of financial services” to corporates, says the report, if they can engender the same level of trust and security as the banks that banks have built up over hundreds of years (some of which was eroded, however, during the 2008 global financial crisis, when banks retreated from certain market segments and geographies). An alternative approach, may be for fintechs to partner with enterprise resource planning providers like Germany’s SAP, which already has a strong foothold in the corporate treasury space.
Meanwhile, other technologies like “specialist artificial intelligence tools,” says the report, are already proving their worth to corporate treasurers in terms of faster cash flow forecasting, FX exposure management and fraud prevention.
'Nice To Have' versus 'Must Have'
While the world of commerce appears to be moving at an exponential pace across borders, 24/7 treasury is considered a “nice to have” rather than a “must have.” According to a BNP Paribas Cash Management University poll of 150 corporate treasurers conducted last May, only 25% consider real-time payments to be of interest. Most of those companies tend to be in the business-to-consumer space where real-time is an essential part of payments.
What treasurers are more interested, says JTT, is better service level agreements with their banks, more “predictable execution times,” and for banks to work faster and round the clock when it comes to processing transactions.
Treasurers are looking more towards ‘near real-time” payments such as the forthcoming SWIFT [Global Payments Initiative], which will offer faster and more transparent cross-border transfers.They could also look towards euro cross-border real-time payments if it addresses the issue of high-value payments,” the report states.
Cybercrime and Fraud
One of the biggest concerns for treasurers, according to the report, is the threat of cybercrime and fraud. It is a case of when, not if they will be attacked. “Treasurers need bullet-proof security policies and procedures,” says the report, pointing to treasurers who are using Big Data not only to prevent fraud, but also to predict where it may occur.
Big Data could also potentially give treasurers greater transparency around best execution for the price of each payment, says the report, or help with matching invoices to payments, a task that is largely manual today. The report points to companies like chemicals giant AkzoNobel and online fashion retailer, Zalando, who are using Big Data to enhance liquidity management and to identify “inappropriate payments.”