In this exclusive interview, Amit Baraskar, Vice President & Head – Treasury at Thomas Cook (India) Ltd, discusses his award-winning career in corporate treasury and how he has managed some interesting challenges.
Tell us about your career. Why corporate treasury?
I am a qualified Chartered Accountant and have always worked in finance. Initially, I worked for several SMEs across India, heading up their finance teams. This was a fantastic learning experience and I gained exposure to a variety of financial techniques.
It was during these years that I developed a flair for corporate treasury and realised that this is where I could add the most value to an organisation. I therefore decided to join the Thomas Cook (India) Ltd (TCIL) treasury team in 2007 and focus on this area full time.
I have deviated away from corporate treasury once or twice over the past decade. For example, I spent some time running one of TCIL’s Business Commercial and Credit function. But even then, I could not fully let go of corporate treasury and held onto some treasury responsibilities. Because of this, I moved back into treasury full-time and without a second thought when I was offered the chance to lead the team.
I have accepted that I am a ‘treasury guy’ and it is where I want to spend the rest of my career.
How has the role of treasury at TCIL changed in recent years?
Treasury at TCIL has always been unique because of the business lines it supports. We operate like a typical treasury function supporting the Group’s operations in India, Hong Kong, Mauritius and Lanka on one hand. Then, on the other, we also operate the Dealing Room (back- and mid-office) much like a bank to support TCIL’s foreign exchange business across India.
Then, last year, following TCIL’s acquisition of Kuoni’s global network of destination management specialists, our job became even more complex. This is because almost overnight TCIL became a multinational company with a presence in over 20 markets. This posed a huge challenge to treasury because not only did we need to integrate the new business into TCIL’s existing operations, we also had to put processes and controls in place in unfamiliar markets.
At the time, one of the biggest challenges was simply managing the team’s time because we had so much to do. I solved this fairly quickly by assigning different countries to different people, empowering them to become specialists in that market to provide maximum value.
What else has TCIL had to deal with recently?
In India, there have been a few big issues that we have had to deal with, for example, the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) in July 2017. This is because it was introduced in a hurry and as a result, the financial services industry across India did not have time to implement GST properly.
This has resulted in the delay of many financial transactions across India. For TCIL and the whole of corporate India, one of the biggest issues has been the turnaround time for collections of receivables, which has increased greatly. This really hurts organisations, because every day that you are unable to collect your cash, you are incurring an interest cost that negatively impacts the business’ financials.
Another regulatory change that created a challenge earlier to this was demonetisation. This was a rollercoaster ride because TCIL’s foreign exchange business has a heavy rupee cash requirement. Demonetisation put extreme pressure on this business line as we were struggling to get the banknotes required to serve our customers. Thankfully, we were able to work with our banking partners to solve this issue after a few days. This did mean going overboard and withdrawing a huge amount of cash from the banking system, but ultimately it kept the business going. It was a tough time, but my team managed it beautifully.
Read more about Amit Baraskar’s career and his views on treasury in the March/April edition of Treasury Today Asia.