A moment in the spotlight

Published: Jan 2017

Excellence, innovation and the desire to continuously improve is par for the course in treasury departments across Asia Pacific. Those treasury teams then that receive a Treasury Today Asia Adam Smith Award are truly special and their success deserves to be celebrated.

In the busy world of corporate life, outstanding achievement can often be overlooked. Shifting business needs and an ever-changing and increasingly complex macroeconomic environment means that once one project finishes another one (or more) begins. The time to celebrate success is short.

But in an arena defined by increasing demands on the treasury department and limited resources, it is important to shine a spotlight on the achievements of treasury practitioners and how they have not only managed to improve their own department, but also driven value across the entire organisation.

The Treasury Today Asia Adam Smith Awards, proudly supported by ANZ, ensures that extraordinary achievement is celebrated. Now in its third year, the Adam Smith Awards Asia has already established itself as the pre-eminent awards programme in the region and a highly sought after prize. In 2016 we received 203 nominations from companies of different sizes operating in the Asia Pacific region, ranging from multinationals to emerging local champions.

The Overall and Highly Commended Winners highlight the very best and brightest in the industry, and each solution demonstrates a high degree of strategic planning, collaboration and innovation. Our judging panel commented on the calibre of each nomination and the difficultly in selecting the winners. In their view, this is the best set of nominations they have seen to date.

Commenting on the importance of the awards and the success of all the winners, Mark Evans, Managing Director, Transaction Banking at ANZ says: “In a relatively short time, these awards have become a benchmark by which we can track developments in corporate treasury in the region. It was impressive to see the high number of submissions this year, as well as the calibre of solutions you have been working on. I know the judging panel had a particularly difficult job selecting the winners.”

A day to remember

To celebrate their success all winning corporates and their banking and technology partners were invited to The South Beach, Singapore for the 2016 Adam Smith Awards Asia Presentation Lunch on Thursday November 17th.

It was an event that will no doubt live long in the memories of all who were present. With such a diverse mix of treasurers, bankers and technology vendor executives coming together for one day to share ideas and experiences, the Adam Smith Awards Asia Presentation Lunch always has a special buzz about it. And this year was no different.

The day began with a networking reception that saw many familiar faces reconnect and share stories of what has been an eventful and exciting year. Angela Berry, Managing Director and Group Publisher at the Treasury Today Group formally opened the event by welcoming all attendees and commenting on the great work of the corporate winners and also the growing levels of collaboration across the industry.

“This year’s nominations are quite simply stunning examples of how corporate treasurers across the region are responding to the evolving challenges they face,” she said. “I would like to comment on the continued levels of collaboration demonstrated by many of you between you and your banking and technology partners.”

Following lunch, it was time for the crystal awards to be presented by Associate Group Publisher, Sophie Jackson, and Editor for Asia Pacific, James Hayward. The pride that accompanies such recognition was clearly visible on the face of each winner and images of their awards were quickly being shared with colleagues, friends and family via social media.

Reflections on success

“We have done a lot of work bringing treasury to the forefront of the organisation. We give ourselves a lot of high-fives for doing so, but it is fantastic to get external recognition in receiving such a prestigious award,” says Vincent Liu, Asia Treasurer, Managing Director at General Electric Capital, Treasury Today Asia’s Top Treasury Team 2016.

This was a point reflected on by Lawrence Chang, China Treasury Manager at Honeywell. “Receiving such a prestigious award acknowledges the innovation and resourcefulness of the Honeywell treasury team,” he says. “But more importantly it endorses our efforts and provides us with an extra incentive to continue improving our operation by pushing the limits of innovation.”

The winners also acknowledged that their success could not be achieved in isolation. Randy Ou, Treasury VP at Alibaba commented on how the treasury’s success was achieved not simply because of the high degree of teamwork within the department itself, but also its cross-functional work. “For our award-winning project we worked very closely with the information platform department and would not have been able to achieve what we have done without them,” he says. “There are many business partners that are needed to help treasury achieve its goals and that must always be remembered as the profession evolves.”

We have done a lot of work bringing treasury to the forefront of the organisation. We give ourselves a lot of high-fives for doing so, but it is fantastic to get external recognition in receiving such a prestigious award.

Vincent Liu, Asia Treasurer, Managing Director, General Electric Capital

Receiving an award was also seen by winning teams as being a fantastic chance to further push the treasury agenda within their organisations. “In the last few years we have been working intimately with other departments to achieve our goals,” explains Patrick Tai, Finance Director at CNOOC and Shell Petrochemicals. “Receiving this award will give us the opportunity to further validate to other business units and shareholders that we are doing good work and that should give us the ability to continue to develop more innovative solutions.”

The award may also help the voice of treasury carry beyond the company itself. “Externally, with this validation, I hope we can further strengthen connectivity with government agencies and regulatory bodies to move the treasury agenda forward,” says GE Capital’s Liu.

Receiving an Adam Smith Award can be used as a source of information. At least this was the view of Treasury Today Asia’s Woman of the Year, Sonam Donkar, Associate Director Head of Treasury at PepsiCo India. “I feel incredible and really proud to represent PepsiCo, a company that gives wings to women leaders to fly,” she says. “I also feel very honoured to represent India, which is at the cusp of a paradigm change in many ways. Historically we have seen that the gender ratio in the country is skewed and that gender bias exists, meaning opportunities for women are very limited. This is beginning to change though and I will carry this award and message back to fellow female professionals in India and hopefully it can inspire them to continue to chase their dreams.”

Wall of fame

Treasury Today Asia will be presenting the individual case studies in detail as part of the forthcoming Adam Smith Awards Asia Yearbook. In the meantime, here is a taster of what will be included.

The headline category is the Top Treasury Team Asia award, which is open to any treasury team who has developed solutions to tackle a multitude of challenges, added real value to the overall organisation and raised the bar for treasury operations globally. The winner of this prestigious award in 2016 is the General Electric Capital Asia treasury team based in Hong Kong, Delhi, Singapore and Shanghai.

General Electric has always been amongst the leaders in treasury management practices, covering a large franchise in Asia with diversified business requirements and geographies. With presence in five countries across eight cities in Asia, the regional corporate treasury team has been providing critical support in assisting General Electric’s businesses overcome complex cross-border rules and regulatory challenges in this part of the world.

However, with the recent divestment of a significant portion of the General Electric Capital business and the strategic acquisition of Alstom’s thermal, renewables and grid businesses, the company has had to relook at simplifying their treasury management practices and embark on a transformation journey in 2015 through 2016 and beyond. The goals: enhance cash planning, forecasting and reporting; simplify banking through consolidating partners and enhancing bank infrastructure; streamline collections and disbursements.

I feel incredible and really proud to represent PepsiCo, a company that gives wings to women leaders to fly. I also feel very honoured to represent India, which is at the cusp of a paradigm change in many ways.

Sonam Donkar, Associate Director Head of Treasury, PepsiCo India

To achieve these aims, the treasury team has worked on a range of big projects that included building a new Asia shared services centre (SSC) in Shanghai, developing pioneering cross-border liquidity structures, creating an automated single platform solution for FX payments, driving greater working capital efficiency, centralising the transaction processing centre and more broadly helping the company thrive in a period of restructuring.

The work of the General Electric team is truly at the forefront of innovation through the use of market-leading solutions, logical execution and business ownership. The company’s new multi-faceted treasury structure also paves the way for a more robust, nimble, and agile treasury function to support the wider General Electric enterprise on an ongoing basis.

Technological revolution

Another notable winning solution was that of Alibaba in the Harnessing the Power of Technology category. Much has been made of how many treasury operations in Asia still rely on spreadsheets to manage operations. But, with rapid business expansion, a complex treasury infrastructure, resource constraints and the need to be agile, Alibaba could no longer rely on such primitive technology.

The Alibaba treasury team therefore decided to develop a treasury management platform in-house. The treasury management intelligence (TMI) platform is a web-based treasury management solution which provides cash visibility, transaction based liquidity, investment and financing management systems, with standardised operation process controls in place and support for management decision-making.

Comprised of several key modules including a management dashboard, liquidity and cash forecasting, investments, financing, transaction and auto accounting and a mobile approval function, the solution is all-encompassing. Also, through offering multi-banking, automation, real time based data analytics, secure and reliable technical infrastructure, and a user-friendly interface, the solution perfectly fits the ever-changing needs of the treasury.

Innovation agenda

The One to Watch category aims to highlight those that may shape the future of treasury. Quite often these are at the cutting edge of innovation and highlight real ingenuity. This year was no different and Intel’s Asia treasury team based in Penang, Malaysia have created something very special.

Intel historically, for numerous reasons, had a low take-up of its early payment programme. The company, however, was sitting on large pools of liquidity earning low interest yield due to the market interest rate environment. Intel therefore wanted to implement a more flexible and attractive early payment solution that suppliers would want to participate in and which would generate higher returns on Intel’s excess cash without taking additional risks.

To achieve this the treasury has re-engineered its early payment discount programme. The key to this has been the use of an innovative digital marketplace that has enabled Intel to provide liquidity support to their supply chain whilst driving significant returns on excess capital without any credit risk.

The real significance of Intel’s early payment programme is in the results. Intel approved pilot suppliers’ bid for invoices at discount rates which were approved for payment early by Intel and still generated an average return several multiples higher than the heritage in-house programme during the first pilot launch.

Facilitating growth

Treasury is now much more than a back office processing centre. The function has become truly engaged in how the business operates and in facilitating further growth. The winning Best Foreign Exchange Solution from Hong Kong-based airline Cathay Pacific perhaps highlights this best.

The airlines’ solution is all about giving Cathay Pacific’s customers choice when paying for bookings in a currency other than Hong Kong dollars, the airlines’ home currency. It saw Cathay Pacific review its existing global payments processes, which resulted in the implementation of cheque outsourcing and lockbox solutions across suitable geographies. This has enabled the treasury to automate the high volume of online currency conversions from its customers.

The project is part of a three-phase, multi-year deliverables roadmap to prioritise the implementation of solutions for treasury management enhancements, payment outsourcing and online payment card needs.

Pushing the boundaries

As these few short case studies highlight, winning an Adam Smith Award comes from challenging the status quo and pushing the limits of the treasury profession. But it can also come from pushing the limits of societal norms and breaking glass ceilings. This is epitomised by the 2016 Treasury Today Asia Woman of the Year, Sonam Donkar, Associate Director Head of Treasury at PepsiCo India.

Sonam is living proof of how perseverance, drive and passion can break down barriers and remove glass ceilings. Her journey has been a roller-coaster ride from growing up in difficult conditions to becoming a teacher at the tender age of 14 and graduating from the University of Delhi, despite facing real financial difficulties. She joined PepsiCo in May 2013 and in less than 18 months was promoted to Associate Director – Treasury Head where she has led numerous regional treasury initiatives and cross-functional projects to enhance efficiencies and improve visibility.

Professionally, Sonam has mentored trainees, management and summer interns and trained her young managers into well-rounded treasury professionals, nurturing potential candidates and ensuring they consistently exceed in their performance. Over two years, her team has been recognised with at least eight awards for their performance excellence.

Are you at the cutting edge?

The class of 2016 has set a high bar and we challenge you to do better. This is what the Adam Smith Awards are all about: recognising the creativity and ingenuity of the treasury community, and in doing so, inspiring treasurers (and their banking and technology partners) to think creatively and develop even better and more innovative solutions.

Treasury Today Asia will again be running the Adam Smith Awards Asia in 2017 and nominations open in mid-June this year. We look forward to receiving your submissions and seeing once again the very best the region has to offer.

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