The desire to constantly be learning new skills and taking on challenges is something that is hardwired into Matt Cornwall, Deputy Treasurer at Capita’s DNA. In fact, it is this desire to constantly be pushing forward that led him into the treasury profession in the first place. He has not looked back since.
Capita is a leading UK provider of business process management and integrated professional support service solutions. The company operates across the private and public sectors, helping organisations deliver modern services efficiently, effectively and to a high standard. Capita employs 75,000 dedicated staff across the UK, Europe, South Africa and India.
For Matt Cornwall, Deputy Treasurer at Capita, the role of a treasury professional is never static. “There has to be a willingness to learn and drive continuous improvement,” he says. “We can do this by focusing on how we can do things efficiently and more effectively to support the growth of the organisation.”
It is a statement that neatly summarises Cornwall’s perspective on the role of the modern treasury department – and it also gives an insight into the mind of somebody who is inspired by driving change and facilitating progress.
Cornwall openly admits that he is not one for standing still – and this doesn’t only refer to his passion for running. Indeed, the drive to learn new skills and meet challenges head-on is something that has defined his career.
A path well taken
Cornwall’s career began in a similar fashion to many treasury professionals. “For a decade I was an accountant for a number of multinational organisations,” he explains. “I obtained the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants qualification along the way. I think this is a phenomenal starting point for anybody who wants to pursue a career in finance as it really provides you with the knowledge base that is required to move into other areas.”
Accountancy, however, was merely a springboard for Cornwall: the cyclical nature of the profession didn’t match his desire to move forward and learn new skills. “I found after some years that while the role remained interesting, it was quite repetitive,” he says. “I was using the same skills time and time again and not being challenged in the way I would have liked.”
A change was in order. After reviewing the options available, Cornwall decided to follow the well-trodden path to the corporate treasury profession. In doing so he assumed managerial roles at Mecom Group, Virgin Atlantic and Carphone Warehouse, before joining Capita in 2011 where he has since ascended to the role of Deputy Treasurer. The forward thinking nature of the profession and its strong commercial elements, he says, were key to his decision.
Cornwall certainly hasn’t been left disappointed by his choice. Indeed, few could have predicted quite how progressive and commercial the role of corporate treasury would become in the years following the global financial crisis.
“Treasury, through its intimate relationship with the cash that flows through the company, has always had a unique perspective on how a business operates,” he notes. “But I believe that before the crisis this wasn’t largely recognised beyond the walls of the department itself, and the treasury was simply seen as a cash management and banking function. Today, though, treasury has gained greater prominence within the organisation and has become much more involved across the business. I believe it is valued that much more as a result.” While this visibility is, of course, good news for the profession as a whole, treasurers have had their work cut out in recent years to make sure that they can deliver on their increasingly strategic mandate. “I think the crisis provided a wake-up call to many treasury departments which perhaps were not as effective or efficient as they could be,” Cornwall says. “As a result, there has been a need for the profession to mature quickly.”
This is something that Cornwall has noted within his own organisation. In fact, the need to mature, and quickly, has been made even more acute by the growth of Capita in recent years, which has seen its workforce double and its reach extend to a number of additional countries. “The organisation has, naturally, become that more complex because of this,” he says. As a result, the treasury team’s focus in recent years has been to come of age and be in a position to support the continued growth of the organisation.
In the meantime, Cornwall has been involved in enough projects to last some treasury professionals a lifetime. These include, but are by no means limited to, the implementation of a treasury management system, the development of a highly efficient straight through payment process using SWIFT, the building of multiple cash pools and the roll-out of a corporate card programme. The hard work has been worth it, though, and Cornwall notes how treasury is now perceived as one of the key finance departments within the organisation.
The hub of the business
The growth of the Capita treasury department has provided the type of challenge that Cornwall sought when moving away from accountancy. Cornwall’s current role within the organisation, which can be roughly split between internal consultancy, bank relationship management and M&A, almost perfectly matches the commercial challenge that he was looking for when making the switch.
At present, most of Cornwall’s time is spent performing the role of internal consultant. “We provide financial support to over 200 companies within the group and I can take a call from any of these asking for advice at any time and on all manner of topics,” he explains. “It is this variety that brings a constant challenge and in my view is the best part of the job.”
His role has also required him to learn new skills, especially soft skills. Indeed, he believes that these are now a key tool for any modern treasurer because of how the department has evolved within the organisation. “We are now talking to a wider range of people, not just financial professionals. Empathy is therefore key, and it is important to understand your audience, their knowledge base, their drivers and their needs. It is then incumbent on treasury to explain complex issues in a simple and succinct fashion.” Without being able to do this, Cornwall doesn’t believe he couldn’t perform his role effectively.
Cornwall also notes how he has learnt to prioritise – a necessary skill given that he can be juggling over ten issues at one time. “It is then that you have to ascertain what is the most important, what can add value and finally who should be dealing with what,” he says. “Treasury can’t handle everything.”
To ensure that treasury doesn’t have to handle everything in isolation, Cornwall has built strong relationships with departments across the organisation. “In big companies it is often the case that you know what the question is, but not who you should ask,” says Cornwall. “I am finding in my current role that treasury can be that hub – most questions have some cash aspect to them, after all. From there we can direct the question to the most suitable person, either inside or outside of the treasury.”
Cornwall sometimes jokes that he is a Capita tour guide, pointing people in the right direction within the company. But joking aside, Cornwall has worked hard to form a deep understanding of the company and very strong relationships – as demonstrated by people turning to him as their guide.
Bolt on after bolt on
Capita is increasingly becoming a more complex organisation to navigate, however. The Group has grown considerably in recent years, primarily through continual merger and acquisition (M&A) activity – around ten to 15 a year, on average. And Cornwall and the treasury team are a focal point of this growth strategy.
For one thing, it is the role of treasury to find the cash to make these purchases. As such, Cornwall and the team have worked to develop a variety of different funding channels to satisfy this need. Core to this has been the US Private Placement Market (USPP). “This is quite an unusual funding source for a company of our size, but for the last 12 years we have found it to be very reliable,” says Cornwall.
It is once an M&A transaction is complete, however, that the real work for the treasury begins. “The challenge for the team comes from the sheer number of companies that we are buying,” says Cornwall. “Although these are typically small purchases (between £1m and £100m) they all have banking arrangements to review, at a minimum. In addition, they might have bonds, guarantees, supply chain finance programmes, FX exposures and so forth. No two companies that we buy are the same.”
“For me, the most successful banks are the ones that take the time to understand our business and where we want to go. This is especially vital given our M&A activity as we are a fast moving organisation.”
The Capita treasury team has therefore put a premium on standardisation and making sure that the core integration is completed as soon as possible. But for Cornwall, the biggest challenge comes in deciding what is most critical to the integration. “It can be easy to get bogged down in the noise, and as I have learnt in other areas of my role, the key is to prioritise,” he notes.
This is something that gets easier with time. “The more of these we do the better we get,” he adds. “Since I have worked here we have acquired around 70 businesses, and treasury has become a pretty slick machine when integrating these.” Touching on those soft skills again, Cornwall notes that communication is the foundation of the treasury team’s success in its M&A activity.
Pushing for more
Looking after the group’s banking relationships is the last pillar of Cornwall’s role. And in similar vein to his roles in consultancy and M&A, this area tests both his operational and soft skills.
“I have developed some great relationships with our banks,” he says. “For me, the most successful banks are the ones that take the time to understand our business and where we want to go. This is especially vital given our M&A activity as we are a fast moving organisation.”
However, there are plenty of areas where Cornwall sees room for improvement, particularly around the banks’ technology offerings. In his view, basic tools that would really help a treasury department, such as electronic bank account management (eBAM) and some automated know your customer (KYC) tools, are lacking. “For Capita these would be very beneficial because we are frequently opening and closing bank accounts and a lot of unnecessary work is required to do this,” he says.
Cornwall is noticing a change in the way that banks approach technological innovation though, as fintech companies are prompting them to up their game. It is the fintech community – with its agility and progressive thinking that allows it to react quickly to customer needs – that he believes will have the biggest impact on the corporate banking landscape.
“Fintech firms in isolation cannot help corporate treasury departments, I believe – they are too small and lack access to the necessary infrastructure,” he notes. “What I do believe, however, is that these companies will eventually overlay the banks and provide the large majority of their digital customer facing platforms. It will be interesting to see how these developments, and the growing need for partnerships formed between banks and fintech, will work in favour of the corporate treasury profession in the years to come.”
A skilled profession
Despite Cornwall’s hope that technology can continue to help treasury deliver on its strategic mandate, he has a warning for those who believe that technology is a panacea. Indeed, he believes there is a danger that future generations may become over-reliant on technology and forget the fundamentals of the role.
“There have already been huge changes in the profession brought on by technology,” he says. “Take FX dealing as an example: a decade ago this was completed over the phone and required some technical understanding. Today, this can be completed automatically through an online platform without the need for specialist skills.”
To avoid a decline in the ‘fundamental’ treasury skills at Capita, junior members of the team are sometimes asked to do some FX dealing over the phone so that they can better understand the complexities of the buy and sell side. “Technology is great to improve things, but it is important not to lose sight of the fundamentals,” comments Cornwall.
Finding the time
Since making the move to treasury, Cornwall has not only helped the Capita treasury department support the dramatic growth of the company – he has also fulfilled many of his own personal growth ambitions by challenging himself and learning new skills. “I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in the profession and certainly haven’t looked back,” he reflects.
But as most treasury professionals will confirm, while the job is rewarding, it can also be all-encompassing. As such, it is important to carve time for yourself outside of the office. “Creating a work-life balance that works for you is vital,” says Cornwall. “If you are constantly switched on, even when at home, then you will become less efficient.”
For Cornwall, time at home is precious: with a long commute to and from the office he makes sure that he leaves work at a reasonable time. He then uses the commute effectively to catch up on emails and other similar tasks. “I am lucky that I have built a great relationship with the Group Treasurer,” Cornwall notes. “He understands my circumstances and is happy for me to leave on time when required as long as the job is done.”
So what does the future hold? For now, Cornwall is very content in his current role and certainly sees treasury as the right career for him. But his desire to seek new challenges cannot be quelled for long and he admits that one day he would like to run his own charity: “If I can find another ten hours in the day, perhaps I will get around to doing this!”