As the president of the Italian Association of Corporate Treasurers, Fabrizio Masinelli, Group Treasurer at Panini is determined to make his mark. He talks to Treasury Today about his passion for the profession and his belief in co-operation.
Panini is a €751m international business, headquartered in Modena, Italy with a large US subsidiary. Founded in 1961, the company now employs more than 1,000 people publishing books, comics, magazines and the well-known sports-themed trading cards and stickers. Panini also has a strong digital product set, including using voice-activated software to capture and sell football statistics.
From the outset of his career, Fabrizio Masinelli, Group Treasurer of the world famous sports card collectibles firm, Panini, realised that there was so much more to treasury than just number-crunching.
It is, he believes, “a work based on personal attitudes, creativity and personal qualities, more than most would imagine”. He does not pull his punches when he states that “treasury is the most beautiful job in the world”.
This might seem like hyperbole to those who are not involved in the profession. But for Masinelli, the proof of his high praise is in the doing. “Consider that for everything we learn over the years, we always have the possibility to put it into practice,” he says. “Maybe not immediately, and not every day, but there is definitely a time to put it all into practice. And when we do, the company immediately benefits.” For him then, treasury is about “creating value”. It is a professional means of ensuring the whole company continues growing.
As a career choice for young people, Masinelli has one caveat. “Do not think of treasury as a simple job,” he says. “Treasury means you must truly know the company you work for. Only from this knowledge can you begin to continuously strive to create value.” The key to unlocking the joys of treasury, he concludes, is “constant curiosity”. Find the key, “and you will be doing the best job in the world!”
Growing with the company
The responsibilities that Masinelli has today extend across the whole Panini group. Having held this position for the past decade, his role now sees him in charge of treasury, planning, risk management and, of course, the optimisation of every financial flow within this remit.
Treasury hasn’t always been such a strategic function in Panini though. “Only a few years ago, treasury was seen simply as a type of accounting, principally concerned with banking,” Masinelli explains. The period of the world financial crisis and tension starting in 2008 changed all that, as it did for many treasury practitioners. In Panini, the vital work undertaken by treasury to help steer the organisation through the worst of it finally led all the business units “to consider us as a very important and supportive function”.
Of course, being placed under the kind of pressure that many young treasury exponents would not have witnessed before, has been something of a test of his skill and knowledge. Masinelli’s path to success in his chosen field – and the expansion of his remit to that of a more strategic partner – has been “quite long and, in some ways, rather complicated”.
His first role was that of assistant to the treasurer. With his activities focused on the management and updating of payments, he describes these formative years quite simply as being dominated by “bank accounting”.
However, in parallel with the growth of the Panini group, increasing demands were put on the accounting and treasury functions. Extra personnel and improvements in the overall approach to the management of each function were required and Masinelli’s stock grew to accommodate the need.
Changing for the best
Every day, companies all over the world face commercial and economic challenges. In order to always be effective in the market, there is an imperative to be up to speed and know how to read what the market demands, notes Masinelli.
Treasury must be fully part of this ‘circle of intelligence’, not least because all the services and products that the financial sector continues to create in the face of such an imperative must be understood and made available to those that need it.
Indeed, all commercial activities have a financial flow at the end – a common thread being payments and collections – so it follows that treasury is necessarily involved in all the activities of the business. As Masinelli puts it, “doing business means giving the whole company the necessary tools”. To do this, treasury must be in the right place at the right time.
One of the most important projects in the Panini group in recent times has been the reinvention of its financial processes and procedures, allowing all areas of the business to more easily manage their own activities.
Perhaps the key decision affecting how treasury is seen today within the group was to establish a new model for planning and mapping these processes for the whole organisation.
Right from the start of the project, payments, collections and fraud risk management were identified as the three most important focal points. “Defining a clear and shared treasury procedure on these themes takes time but doing so allows everyone to mitigate internal conflicts and, ultimately, guarantee the service to suppliers and customers,” explains Masinelli.
Link to success
“The aim was to have far more reliable information and to be increasingly supportive of the business and the decisions of the general management,” says Masinelli. In fact, the ruling objective of treasury today, facilitated by the decision to remap its processes, is to be “a constant point of strategic delivery”.
The driver for this elevated role is simply, but nonetheless passionately, explained by Masinelli. “We treasurers have to make sure that every one of our stakeholders has available to them the financial resources necessary to stay in the market effectively,” he asserts. “We have to make available financial resources when they’re needed, and in the right amount and currency. Without this action, the whole business runs the risk of not being competitive and we will all lose our value.”
In Panini, there is no doubt in Masinelli’s view that, over the years, treasury has been created “as a staple of the management of both active and passive financial flows”. Above all though, treasury has been moulded into a function capable of doing everything that it can to help every aspect of the company.
“Everything we do is guided by two key words: strategy and support. This thinking allows us to work with agility and speed alongside the general management and the finance department. Together we form the group’s financial management chain.”
The decision to include treasury, not just as a participant but as a key link in this chain, is positively accepted throughout the business now. In a sense, treasury’s rise to strategic player has been an essential part of Panini’s growth.
Reaching a standard
The rules introduced to the Panini financial system as part of this body of work have given clarity and, in many cases, facilitated its improved management. The refined internal flows have been helped, at least to an extent, by external events. Here, Masinelli cites the aims of the Payment Services Directive (PSD) and the European Payments Council’s (EPC) SEPA goal.
This has allowed the team to “significantly improve treasury activities”, with digitisation and straight through processing aiding the flow of cash. However, “there is still a lot of work to do” to bring about full market standardisation and the real benefits that exist therein.
There was, he feels, an inevitability of this due to the scope of SEPA and the two versions to date of PSD, and because the regulators “seem to forget that, unlike for commercial issues, financial issues tend to cover the entire financial world”. Nonetheless, trying to further facilitate improved financial flows is a move in the right direction.
Of course, standardisation closer to home, within the organisation, is a goal for many treasurers. Treasury activities are very similar in all companies, notes Masinelli, and this allows technology, notably the treasury management systems, to help businesses achieve greater levels of performance across a wider range of activities.
It’s a well-worn discussion, but being able to automate some or all of the manually intensive but less valued-adding tasks really does allow treasurers to focus more on the strategic side of the role. “No doubt the further evolution of these systems will help treasury to dedicate more time to activities of added value,” Masinelli comments.
However, he adds, “we must not forget that this profession is mainly made of personal qualities born from personal experiences”. Human intervention, he argues, remains the most important part of the treasurer’s profession.
Relying on experience
Within Panini Group, the activities that take up most of Masinelli’s time are planning and financial development, bank relationship management and risk management. All of these demand a high degree of treasury experience, the latter for example requiring Masinelli to create multiple ‘what if’ scenarios “in order to be able to intervene very quickly in situations of financial stress”.
However, the depth and breadth of experience necessary to form a successful modern treasury are precisely what makes the profession so interesting for Masinelli.
Indeed, on this basis, he declares it “a decidedly different role from others within the company”. That “you must love your work” is perhaps a pre-requisite for any successful professional. To be able to do the job well, he says there are a few more essential skills that practitioners must have.
There must be a balanced approach to making decisions and taking risks, along with a heightened capacity to think quickly (this, says Masinelli, is why risk simulations are such an important aid). Treasurers must also exhibit “the flair of the entrepreneur” when managing corporate finance, and yet also be “strong on teamwork”.
On the latter point, he goes further, suggesting that the so-called ‘soft skills’ of the treasurer should be considered essential, arguing that training in this aspect should be accorded “the level of importance it deserves”. And for good reason. With treasurers today working with every business area, having well-developed soft skills “undoubtedly helps us to know ourselves and others but, above all, to understand how to deal with situations”.
Of course, there is a technical side to the job too. When considering the demands made on the role, solid academic achievement can offer an important grounding. But for Masinelli, the value of study does not quite reach that of what he calls ‘field training’. “Attending seminars, conferences and events helps us to know how the outside world is,” he explains. “Having a good ‘network of networks’ is important too, helping us to share issues and problems that others have often experienced before us.”
It certainly helps being recognised professionally for a job well done. Panini’s treasury team won a Highly Commended Winner award in the Treasury Today Adam Smith Awards 2017 One to Watch category. Its development of a proof of concept for a blockchain-based cross-border, multi-country, multi-currency payments solution, clearly hit the mark.
At the time, Masinelli said that “probably the most important factor in our involvement with this project has been the very short timing in which this PoC has been prepared and completed and the extreme efficiency of this new technology; far beyond our expectation. This really is the future.”
Some months on and whilst he says the award represents the “passing of a finish line” for the team, it is also a signal to continue thinking ahead, looking for new solutions and being innovative. “Sooner or later the world will change, and it is better for us to be amongst the first.”
A safe pair of hands
Tackling what the future throws at any business is about being prepared, either with a ready solution, such as the blockchain payments tool, or with a ready mind. “To date I have dealt with many complicated situations,” comments Masinelli. Whilst he does not foresee major complications before him, he is always in a state of readiness because “without a doubt, the biggest problem will be the next”.
His level-headed and yet innovative approach to treasury has contributed to his success to date. But he also cites his family as having played “a very important role” in his journey. With his wife and children “offering continuous support and an incentive to do better”, he feels he has been able to grow and achieve his goals. “Now I can say I have an excellent balance between work and private life.”
Having been elected as President of Associazione Italiana Tesorieri d’Impresa (Italian Association of Corporate Treasurers) in 2016, Masinelli’s approach is clearly appreciated by his 648 professional colleagues.
One of his key aims has been to create a wider network of associations, bringing together a vast pool of experience that can be shared between many more businesses, helping to nurture the understanding of finance and treasury management amongst many more professionals.
Of course, there is acknowledgement that the fundamentals must continue to be developed too. In addition to organising roundtables on the principal topics of finance and treasury, there is much work to be done keeping up to speed with every regulatory change, rapidly communicating the advantages and disadvantages of each to members.
As President of his national treasury association, Masinelli believes that it is important to “make a mark”. And yet having created a strong team within Panini, his goal to continue forging the same solidarity amongst treasurers from other companies, is founded on a simple belief. “We do the same thing, so why not work together,” he muses.
Arguably, the most enduring ideas are driven by basic tenets such as this. Indeed, in his quest for a new approach to payments and his work to align treasury so that financial institutions can deliver more and better services to the corporate, there is plenty of evidence that Masinelli is already making his mark.