In a globalised world, business travel has become increasingly common. Yet, whilst some may consider travel to be a privilege, others see it as a burden – and even a drag on productivity. How can treasurers make the most of business travel? And will virtual meetings ever be as good as face-to-face?
Virgin Atlantic’s recent advertising campaign paints a glamourous picture of business travel. For those of you that haven’t seen it, the advert depicts a man travelling to a high-pressured meeting and using Virgin’s various amenities (including an in-airport hairdresser) to arrive fresh and ready to nail the pitch. And for those lucky enough to turn left when they get on a flight, this may be close to reality. But, for everyone stuck in economy, business travel may not be so appealing.
Few would argue against the fact that travelling, visiting new places, experiencing new cultures and widening your view of the world is positive thing to do. Indeed, there has been a growing trend of people travelling the world before entering the workplace or even taking a year out from their careers to do so. From a personal standpoint these adventures can be extremely enriching. They can also be viewed favourably by employers in a world where travel is an increasingly important aspect of the globalised economy.
As a result of the globalisation of business, travel has become an ever important part of the job for the corporate treasurer. This has been amplified as corporates continue to centralise the function and dial down in-market treasury expertise, requiring senior treasurers to routinely visit these markets to meet with partners and ensure the operation is running smoothly. This is especially true when these are emerging markets in Latin America or Asia, for instance, where the complexity of the market requires extra focus.
Gabriel David, Treasury Manager (China/HK) at French multinational Veolia is a case in point, frequently travelling from Hong Kong into mainland China. “Travel is an important part of my role because it is crucial to be in the field. Treasury, unlike some other functions, is a specialist role and it therefore is not always a strong topic for those business units on the ground. Travelling and meeting these people is a great way to build trust, rapport and ensure that these business units are receptive to what treasury has to say. From my experience, nothing beats a face-to-face meeting in this respect.” There are of course other benefits such as being able to schedule meetings with banking partners and regulators in the various countries which, again, can often be more effective than simply talking on the phone.
Travel may also be the only way that treasurers can effectively meet their peers. As networking becomes ever more important to share ideas, conferences and other industry events are often inked into the treasurer’s schedule.
The impact of business travel
Despite the clear benefits of business travel, there can be downsides. In fact, recent studies have highlighted the dangers of business travel. According to a paper entitled ‘A darker side of hypermobility’ and penned by Dr Scott Cohen and Professor Stefan Gossling, these downsides include loneliness, strained relationships, a greater risk of deep-vein thrombosis and even radiation exposure (although the paper highlights that you would need to travel over 85,000 miles a year for you to exceed the limit for public exposure to radiation facilities).
According to the study, the health hazards don’t stop there. On the psychological side, travel puts people under great stress in respect to making it to various places on time and dealing with unexpected events such as delays and flight cancellations. Veolia’s David cites this as being the biggest frustration when travelling for work. “I am often delayed when flying in and out of China and at times this can be for hours each way. When this is combined with trying to monitor the daily matters whilst being absorbed by meetings and changes in daily habits such as eating and sleeping it can make trips very tiring experiences.”
Making the experience as comfortable, and enjoyable, as possible is therefore vital and something that travellers become better at with time. “Booking extra leg room when flying economy is a must for me when travelling,” says David. “On top of that, I like to bring things from home which can bring some comfort. Exploring where you are visiting is also great, but this isn’t always possible due to time.”
Of course, technology has also assisted in making life easier for those travelling. Work can be done on the move through mobile banking solutions and it is possible to be in constant contact with the office through tools such as Skype and messaging services such as Whatsapp – these are also very useful for keeping in contact with loved ones and friends.
These tools may actually reduce the amount of travel that treasury needs to do, according to Mike Richards, Managing Director at MR Recruitment. “Treasurers are most effective when they are in the office and doing work. Of course, remote working is now widely available and there is lots of talk around mobile solutions for treasurers, but these will never be as effective as being in the office,” he says. “As a result I am seeing more and more treasurers conduct their meetings using Skype. This still offers the benefits of face-to-face interaction but without the inefficiency of having to travel and as the next generation come through, who have been using these tools their life, I only expect this trend to increase.”
The cost of travel is another aspect that Richards believes will impact how frequently treasurers travel. “Sending staff abroad is expensive for companies and with increasing focus on margins and cutting costs, the ROI on travelling may be seen as not worth the cost. I am therefore seeing companies strip their travel budgets.”
Less travel however may mean that the trips are more intense. “Planning is the key to maximising any business trip,” adds Richards. “For many treasurers I speak to, their objective is to meet the most amount of people in the most efficient manner and in the shortest amount of time. This allows them to get back home to their families and also increases the ROI of the trip for the business.”
With conference season now in full swing, there is no better time to put these lessons into practice in order to get maximum value out of a business trip.