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Treasury Today Asia’s Top Treasury Team Winner: Agilent Technologies Singapore (Holdings) Pte Ltd

Published: Jan 2020

Photo of Linda Wu, Agilent Technologies Singapore (Holdings) Pte Ltd, Parag Bidarkar, Citi, Wai Kiat Yeo, Sally Shung, Nicholas Kwok, Eunice Chin, Hansheng Wang, Ben Oh, Ann Lee, Miliati Komaladi, Angelina Zhang and Carrie Oh, Agilent Technologies Singapore (Holdings) Pte Ltd. Absent due to leave – Christina Khong

Photo of Linda Wu, Agilent Technologies Singapore (Holdings) Pte Ltd, Parag Bidarkar, Citi, Wai Kiat Yeo, Sally Shung, Nicholas Kwok, Eunice Chin, Hansheng Wang, Ben Oh, Ann Lee, Miliati Komaladi, Angelina Zhang and Carrie Oh, Agilent Technologies Singapore (Holdings) Pte Ltd. Absent due to leave – Christina Khong.

Sally Shung

Assistant Treasurer

Singapore

Agilent Technologies Singapore is a global leader in life sciences, diagnostics and applied chemical markets, generating revenues of US$4.91bn in 2018 and employing 15,400 people worldwide.

in partnership with

A life sciences team with the winning formula

For a business that generated revenues of US$4.91bn in 2018, this global leader in life sciences, diagnostics and applied chemical markets certainly knows how to employ a successful business formula.

The story of Treasury Today Asia’s Top Treasury Team 2019 began back in 2014, when Agilent Technologies was split into two pure-play businesses; Keysight and Agilent. As soon as the corporation was split, Agilent redoubled its efforts to research, develop and acquire products and technologies that would allow it to meet its strategic objectives, as well as the needs of its clients.

Since 2014, Agilent has completed a number of acquisitions, namely Multiplicom, Cobalt, iLab Solutions, Seahorse Bioscience, Luxcel Biosciences, ACEA Biosciences and BioTek. All of these were part of its strategic plans to grow the business.

The Agilent treasury, along with the rest of the finance organisation played a critical role in ensuring the company optimised the synergies and integration benefits of the new acquisitions. To support the dynamic business challenges, the treasury team underwent a series of significant transitions as well.

Geographically, Agilent currently operates a two-centre treasury hub after a centralisation initiative. The treasury centre based in Singapore, comprising 12 team members, manages treasury operations and advisory matters for both Asia and Europe regions.

Earlier, Agilent’s Singapore treasury hub was primarily a cash management function, covering cash and liquidity management, bank account management, governance and control, and bank relationship management.

The role was expanded to cover working capital management, investments, foreign exchange (FX) and insurance risk management. This was achieved with the existing team members enhancing their skillset and diversifying to successfully manage the increase in scale, complexity and scope of its activities. There were no headcount increases or specialist hires.

To achieve this, the Singapore team focused on simplification and automation. Through partnership with their key banking partners and collaborations with the other finance teams, they were able to successfully simplify and improve job efficiencies.

The science behind the success

These transformational changes and new set of objectives resulted in the treasury team embarking on a variety of initiatives. Firstly, the team rationalised and optimised its bank relationships and structures in order to align with industry best practices and to optimise working capital. This included reviewing and revising account structures, cash pooling, payment and collection methods, as well as new techniques such as virtual accounts and enhanced connectivity.

With an efficient account structure in place, the team actively contributed to meeting the global strategic goal of continuous cash repatriation to the parent company, whilst reducing interest expense at a corporate level through better use of surplus cash.

Team composition

Team composition

Given the number and breadth of entities that the team manages through its Singapore treasury centre, the team realised that it was not feasible to finance each entity manually. Agilent therefore developed a sophisticated, highly automated in-house bank (IHB).

In countries where there are no restrictions on cross-border flows, the team put in place a defined liquidity account structure. This was setup at both the domestic and the cross-border level.

Partnership working

The team worked closely with its partner, Citi, to review the scope and structure of the IHB and cash pooling structures regularly, with further rationalisation as the objective.

As a result of simplifying the account structures and increasing the reach and automation of the cash pooling arrangements, Agilent has been able to reduce the amount of time spent on cash and liquidity management activities, whilst automating resource-heavy activities such as inter-company financing and account reconciliation.

As a result, there was a reduction of bank accounts by 5%, and this has achieved daily visibility of roughly 90% of global cash, excluding only those accounts the company is obliged to hold for tax and payroll purposes with minimal flows.

Agilent Technologies Singapore (Holdings) Pte Ltd

Going digital

Digitisation, automation and leveraging expertise and experience both within the business and from Agilent’s banking partners were essential to achieving the efficiency, control and scalability that was needed to deliver key business objectives.

Earlier this year, Agilent’s treasury management system (TMS) also got an upgrade to a global web-based environment, with enhanced reporting and user capabilities connected to banks via SWIFT. Coupled with new functionalities, such as bank fee management and real-time dashboards, the team has also been able to take advantage of the global SAP migration project to adopt XML ISO 20022 to standardise the exchange of data with counterparties.

“We are greatly honoured to win this award. We are thankful to our banking and business partners who have worked with us during our transformation journey, providing us great advisory and support.”

Sally Shung, Assistant Treasurer

Having fully upgraded its TMS, Agilent achieved significant improvements in efficiency and automation, control and visibility over its activities. For example, in the past, it took two days each month to put together a global cash position. Now the report can be put together as and when required with minimum manual intervention.

While bank fees were previously tracked via spreadsheet, now the information is loaded to the TMS, allowing for easier reference and reporting.

Going beyond borders

Before the team’s transition, foreign exchange trades were often transacted with a single bank. However, post expansion of scope, to cover balance sheet hedging for all the Asia Pacific entities, the team has implemented a series of best practices to improve transparency and automation. This includes creating a counterparty bank panel to improve price discovery. Furthermore, practices to improve transparency and automation were implemented as well as implementing automatic confirmation matching.

With a larger banking panel, the team is now achieving better FX rates, as well as more efficient processes with automatic trade confirmation.

With FX processes now centralised and automated, the team spends more time working with its country controllers and other finance groups in order to improve forecasting accuracy. This reduces both hedging costs and the impact of currency fluctuations in its accounts, as well as enabling the team to focus its efforts on more strategically important objectives for the organisation.

The right chemistry

Integrating new entities into the business quickly and efficiently was essential to create cost synergies, ensure consistent controls and avoid fragmentation or loss of visibility over cash, liquidity and risk. To  achieve this, the team developed a structured process to manage mergers and acquisitions (M&A), including automating and standardising processes and reducing costs wherever possible.

“This recognition re-affirms that we have taken the right path as we strive to ensure we stay current and continue to add value towards Agilent business strategies and growth.”

Sally Shung, Assistant Treasurer

To begin with, the team ensured that any acquired entity’s treasury policies, such as bank signatory requirements and payment controls, were fully compliant with Agilent’s. If that was not the case, the team put in place either an exception process or an action plan to achieve compliance. For acquired entities requiring funding, the team worked closely with tax and finance controllers to obtain funding either via internal funding or external commercial loans.

Moving forward

Agilent’s ultimate objective is to create a dynamic and robust treasury team which partners with the business to support expansion strategies, enabled through engagement with key strategic banks.

Being a member of Agilent’s treasury team means not only to embrace the opportunity to develop new skills and approaches, but to explore and realise the potential of leading-edge technology and bank solutions.

The ability to successfully handle the increasing scale, scope and complexity of Agilent’s treasury requirements during a period of major organisational change and multiple mergers and acquisitions without increasing headcount is incredibly impressive.

It is Agilent’s continual quest to find the perfect solution, drawn from evidence, that embodies the approach of Agilent’s treasury team, making them a worthy and rightful winner of Treasury Today Asia’s Top Treasury Team 2019.

Agilent Technologies Singapore (Holdings) Pte Ltd

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