With many different vendors wrangling for the treasury technology mandate, we examine the best way to make the most out of your discussions with them and to optimise any relationships and systems that are currently in place.
Is your TMS sufficient for today’s needs?
Many corporates’ treasury technology simply isn’t up to scratch. Often neglected as IT departments control the technology budget and choices, rather than treasury having its say, for many companies technology consists of spreadsheets. For those where systems investment has taken place, it can often be on enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems that may not offer the resources or capability that certain treasury departments require.
Yet over the last 18 months of financial crisis and recession, senior management have demanded more timely and more accurate financial information meaning treasury has had a louder voice than ever before when it comes to the technology agenda. Cash visibility and cash flow forecasting capabilities were found to be inadequate by many corporates and were common system downfalls exposed by the crisis, as was a lack of adequate risk software. Treasury management systems (TMS) that had been in place for many years could no longer cope with the demands being placed on the treasury after the crisis.
Although the quality of a treasury management system cannot solve the external factors of the crisis; information, such as improved cash visibility, forecasting and risk assessment can improve the team’s response and help provide solutions through tough times when the pressure to deliver is greater than ever.
So, with treasury and its operations in the spotlight, this could be the best time to ask for system improvements, while the board understands the immediacy of the issues that arose during the crisis.
Optimising on a shoestring
However, while an upgrade in the technology supporting the department can improve performance, the benefits of an upgrade will only be seen if carried out correctly. Treasurers want real-time visibility over their cash and liquidity; information on credit and counterparty risk, market movements and trades, as well as richer management information, all at lower cost. So what is there to know and how can all this be achieved?
Judson Murchie, an analyst with Aite Group, explains, “If in a treasury, you think ‘we don’t even have time to look for new treasury management systems’ then that is exactly the time to start approaching vendors or consultants because changing the way you operate, and leveraging your technology can help make real savings in time and money in the long run.”
Where to start
Before approaching vendors and consultants, it can be useful to spend a few minutes outlining the areas where the current system is falling down. Treasurers we spoke to cited the following common problems:
Activities, such as rekeying of information, being duplicated.
Certain tasks/areas taking too long to complete or continually experiencing delays.
Links with legacy systems/systems in other departments causing persistent difficulties.
Management reports are often incomplete, inaccurate, late or delivered in an inappropriate format.
Cash flow forecasts fail to promote efficient financial decision making.
The company’s treasury risk is not being accurately identified and quantified.
Failure to achieve adequate control and financial transparency.
Existing processes make it difficult to meet accounting standards, eg for hedging activities.
Treasurers should not feel that they need to approach the TMS question alone. Many companies choose to employ a consultant to determine their treasury’s needs and which vendor is suited to them. These consultants should be viewed as impartial advisors to the treasury team. Treasurers and treasury staff can often be so involved with their current systems that it is difficult to see where improvements and efficiencies could be made, whereas a consultant, familiar with a range of products across the spectrum, will easily spot the gaps in a department’s needs.
There is also a risk that treasury staff will become accustomed to using one system and be reluctant to change to one that is better, simply because they do not want to have to learn how the new one operates.
Through the traditional processes of sending out an RFP to vendors and them giving a brief demonstration, the treasury only sees what the vendors want them to see. A consultant can cut the spin out of a vendor’s sales pitch and identify the products on offer that best suit treasury needs.
In the long run, employing a good consultant can be an inexpensive solution. Moreover, it is a solution that provides an opportunity for success in the selection as well as the deployment of a system and therefore improves the level and speed of return on investment.
Corporates should not be afraid to approach their vendors, leverage their existing ties and explain their predicament or current needs. More likely than not, the vendor has customers in a similar situation. This can be an effective way of cutting development costs.
Are vendors getting the picture?
Most of the big vendors run well-attended user groups for their customers, enabling clients to speak to other companies using the same systems to see if they are making the best use of their technology. Treasury peers will be able to give independent and informed advice on the services they have received and how they are improving their operations.
These groups can even be used as forums for staff training, with employees learning the ins and outs of a system from its users while overseen by the vendor. Leveraging this information and using it to ask the vendors tough questions should result in the treasury receiving a better service, and the vendors developing better products to meet the needs of their clients.
As there is greater development of technology, treasuries are likely to see a movement to mobile treasury systems, where treasury processes can be accessed on the move. The development of smart phones, with 3G internet or Wi-Fi access, means that it is possible to undertake every day treasury activities such as payment initiation, authorisation and release, investment verifications and FX transactions, whilst working remotely. All these actions can be done in real-time and from any location, enhancing the productivity, efficiency and responsiveness of the treasury.
In recent years, treasury management systems have also become far more compatible with ERP systems, which creates improved links with other departments’ IT systems. However, some inefficiencies remain as Bas Rebel, Executive Consultant, Zanders, explains, “Most treasuries are still receiving forecast information using Excel spreadsheets, reconciling and integrating the information into their own systems themselves. There is a need to focus on the integration of the treasury with other business operations to economise on staff resources and improve the quality of the information.”
With resource optimisation in mind, the use of Application Service Providers (ASPs), where treasury systems are hosted online, is set to become a big trend in the treasury technology space. We will look at ASPs in a forthcoming edition of Treasury Today, but the benefits include increasing the quality of IT solutions by outsourcing to a specialist team and low cost implementation and maintenance.
Even if you are satisfied with the way your treasury system is running, keep an eye on what is available in the market. New developments are always being made. It is not only the technical aspect of treasury technology that has increased but as relationships with vendors become more relevant to the treasury, it will be important to make sure the relationship suits both parties.
As Murchie explains, “It’s always good to see what’s out there. More demands are being placed on treasurers, and you might as well look at treasury technology as a solution, as you are more likely to get a budget for it rather than a budget for new staff.”