Coding skills can allow treasurers to challenge the norm and become a more valuable asset to their organisation, says Kirsty Dent, Treasury Analyst at Brisbane Airport Corporation.
Computer coding is rarely a key skill marketed by treasury professionals. Instead, CVs typically focus on financial acumen, risk management knowledge and soft skills.
However, a handful of treasury professionals are starting to see value in having knowledge of computer coding.
Take Kirsty Dent, Treasury Analyst at Brisbane Airport Corporation, for example. Dent’s ability to code Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) – the programming language of Microsoft Excel – has enabled her to save several days’ effort per month by automating manual tasks in Excel. This frees up her time to focus on more value-adding activities (including learning more code).
To achieve such impressive time-savings, Dent has applied her coding skills to many different manual tasks that she was required to carry out in Excel.
The most recent has been the development of a macro – an automated input sequence that imitates keystrokes or mouse actions – for creating, saving and sending payment notices to Brisbane Airport Corporation’s bond holders.
“This macro was designed to remove any human intervention from an important but repetitive process,” explains Dent. “Doing so has saved the team up to two full working days per month. This is a good return on the few hours it took to write the code.”
Whilst some treasury professionals may be uncomfortable using code written by a member of the treasury team and not the IT team, Dent explains that it is very easy to test.
“I ensure that I have another person within the treasury team to run their eyes over the process, to confirm that the macro is completing the task as required,” she says. “This four-eyes approach is pivotal to ensuring an additional review level and will increase confidence in the outputs.”
Learning on the job
Saving the treasury several days’ manual work through a few hours coding certainly sounds like a positive investment. However, some may question the amount of time it takes to learn coding in the first place.
Dent admits that she started her career in treasury with “little to no” knowledge of coding. Instead, she focused on the more traditional treasury skills. It was only after receiving a ‘Visual Basic: run-time error’ message when working on a crucial Excel spreadsheet that her journey into coding began.
“I was challenged by my boss at the time (who understood coding) to find the solution to the issue for myself,” explains Dent. “And it was from here that I started to learn exactly how to use macros, automate and create time-saving efficiencies in many different situations.”
Relatively quickly, Dent’s understanding of VBA increased and she started building other automated solutions. “VBA cannot be learned overnight but it is definitely one of the easier coding languages,” she says. “It is simple to understand and easy to operate, meaning that it doesn’t take too long to begin building solutions using it.”
In general, coding requires problem solving and logical thinking – two skills that any treasury person should excel in, adds Dent. “So we should have a head start in learning to code.”
Fear of the unknown
Aside from the perceived time that it takes to learn to code, Dent believes that some treasury professionals, especially those focused on more operational tasks, may be fearful of the impact technology and greater automation will have on their jobs.
“When most people hear the words automation, they immediately think about the potential for technology to complete their job for them and their position becoming less significant,” she says. “It is important that we focus on what automation can enable us to do, instead of ignoring the efficiencies it can create to fully reap the benefits.”
Code for the future
Dent is certainly focused on the opportunities and has started to learn Python – another high-level language for general-purpose programming – to automate more complex processes.
“I believe that coding is just as important as the more traditional treasury skills. It allows you to challenge the norm and become a more valuable asset to your organisation,” concludes Dent. “And it will become even more important over time as treasuries shrink and people are required to do more with less.”