Your key relationships bank’s strategy no longer includes you?

Published: Nov 2016
Person in the woods on a cold winters night

The global financial crisis brought an unprecedented shift in the global transaction banking landscape and an end to the era of the ‘global bank’. For some corporates, this has resulted in the need to find a new banking partner. Here, two treasurers who have recently had to change transaction banks share their experiences.

Ten years ago, transaction banking was going through a period of expansion. Banks around the world were extending their footprints and product suites to support the requirements of a wider array more business.

For the corporate treasurer, these were good times. Banks were queuing up to provide services that covered the full gamut of corporate activity, leaving treasurers well positioned to obtain the best solutions at a competitive price.

Today the landscape looks very different. Banks have reversed their expansionist policies, focusing their attention on geographies and products that remain profitable. This has been demonstrated by some of the world’s largest financial institutions pulling out of certain markets and products in both the corporate and retail space in recent years. For the corporate treasurer this has made finding a bank with the necessary product suite and footprint increasingly difficult.

Perhaps most challenging, however, is that in this environment nothing is certain. A bank’s strategy can change and treasurers must be prepared for the possibility of losing a key relationship bank – and should have a strategy in place for such an event. Here two corporate treasurers recently impacted by RBS’ decision to withdraw from transaction banking outside of the UK and Ireland – as part of its strategy to create a simpler, stronger and more sustainable bank – share their experiences.

Why are banks retrenching?

“Banks around the world are facing regulatory reforms and capital and profitability pressures in their home markets,” says Jan Bellens, Asia Pacific Banking & Capital Markets Leader and Global Emerging Markets Leader at EY. The result is that banks are looking to unwind investments and re-define what is most important to their future business.

“Compliance, anti-money laundering, know your customer and sanction requirements are further pushing banks operating on a global scale to consider reputational issues when evaluating which business lines, territories and customer groups are core to the business,” Bellens adds.

The macroeconomic environment is also piling pressure onto the banks. “Consequently, fewer international brand banks are now aspiring to be truly global and more are re-evaluating where to continue to operate internationally and why,” concludes Bellens.

An unwelcome surprise

“It is not something that you can ever fully prepare for,” says Han Hoestra, Director Cash Management Europe and Capital Markets at Prologis, when reflecting on the day that he was told by RBS that the bank would be pulling out of European transaction banking. “It was certainly a surprise to the corporate community.”

Like many in the market, the Prologis team had heard the rumblings of change at the UK lender – the company’s sole European cash management bank at the time. In fact, the bank had already exited from some European markets, such as Slovakia and Romania, in the months beforehand. However, it was not anticipated that the bank would exit more major markets. “We had no contingency plan in place for such an event,” Hoestra adds.

Multinational publishing and events company, Informa, was also impacted by the bank’s decision. Again, the company was aware of the issues at the bank, but the decision still came as a surprise. “There was no indication beforehand that the bank would be heading down this path,” notes Charley Edwards, Assistant Treasurer at Informa.

Both organisations had long-standing cash management relationships with RBS – and the bank’s decision was to have a significant impact on their operations.

Initial impressions

Changing cash management bank can be a complex and onerous undertaking. The impacts of such a move ripple far beyond the treasury department, forcing other areas of the business to make adjustments.

“Having been informed of the decision, our first thoughts were that this was going to be a big job and require a lot of work across the organisation,” notes Edwards. “We weren’t oblivious to the fact that this would dominate our schedule and require us to put many other projects on hold. What was especially frustrating was that initially we couldn’t see much value that it could add – it was just something that we were being forced to do. We also have a fairly new team at Informa, which made the prospect of the task ahead that more daunting.”

While this unexpected change created significant challenges for treasury, it also presented a tremendous opportunity to re-examine the company’s banking relationships and think about what we would like this to look like in the future.

Han Hoestra, Director Cash Management Europe and Capital Markets, Prologis

In the Prologis treasury department, Hoestra and his team were facing their own challenges. This was mainly due to the company having over 1,000 legal entities in 14 countries – all of which had one or two bank accounts, depending on the currencies used. Moreover, the legal structure of the company is not static and bank accounts are frequently opened and closed.

“Aside from having a vast number of accounts, there were lots of nuanced historical exceptions that had developed in our banking arrangements over time,” Hoestra explains. “Switching banks would not be a simple job and we needed to do this as quickly and seamlessly as possible, while maintaining business-as-usual processes for the organisation.”

Identifying the opportunities

While the situation presented considerable challenges, treasurers often thrive on turning challenges into opportunities. This was certainly the case at Prologis.

“While this unexpected change created significant challenges for treasury, it also presented a tremendous opportunity to re-examine the company’s banking relationships and think about what we would like this to look like in the future,” says Hoestra. “We quickly began to outline a banking strategy that would help drive greater treasury efficiency.”

The view that this was an opportunity more than a challenge was also adopted at Informa. “Our banking arrangements were quite fragmented, with numerous local cash management structures in place across Europe; it worked but it wasn’t ideal,” says Edwards. She explains that Informa had two options: either to shift accounts to another bank, or to review the existing banking arrangements and build a regional banking strategy that better matched the company’s needs.

The treasury decided on the latter approach and leveraged awareness of the bank’s decision across the company to build support for the project. As Edwards explains: “The public nature of the RBS withdrawal meant that we were able to obtain buy-in for our project because people understood the urgency of the situation. If we were to launch such a big project under any other circumstances I am not sure how easy it would have been to get the same level of support.”

Issuing an RFP

With a plan in place not only to switch banks but also to drive numerous process efficiencies, it was time for the hard work to begin. For both organisations, this included mapping out their current banking arrangements, deciding what was required from their new partners and reviewing a host of other factors such as banks fees.

A request for proposal (RFP) then had to be drafted outlining these requirements by both organisations (see the Back to Basics article for more detail on how to draft an RFP). This was then sent out to a shortlist of banks.

“Five of the seven banks that were issued an RFP could meet our requirements,” says Hoestra. “After scoring their responses, we could not decide between them. We therefore decided that the best way to proceed would be to meet them all in person.” Rather than having the banks visit the Prologis office, Hoestra and his team visited them in order to “get a feel for the bank, rather than simply be pitched to.” Following this process, the banks were scored again and, after some negotiation around pricing, a final selection was made.

A similar process took place at Informa. “Given that we wanted to do more than simply lift and shift banks, we constructed a new RFP that incorporated all the elements of the efficient structure that we wanted to build and issued that to the banks,” says Edwards, adding that the subsequent decision was quite straightforward based on the responses received.

Decisions, decisions

Perhaps unsurprisingly, counterparty risk was a significant factor in the final decision for both companies.

“We wanted to use a bank whom we did not have a cash management relationship with in the US to ensure that we have a diverse banking arrangement,” notes Hoestra. “It was therefore decided that Deutsche Bank and J.P. Morgan would win a 50/50 share our European business given the product suite, footprint and commitment to the market of both banks.”

ING would also hold management accounts in all the countries in which Prologis operates. “A large part of the thinking behind this structure was to enable us to have flexibility,” explains Hoestra. “In today’s banking landscape nothing is certain, so while we hope that our new banks will remain committed to the market, if they do decide to pull out we would be able to switch fairly effortlessly to another bank.”

Informa, while opting for a less complex banking structure, also put counterparty risk at the centre of its decision making process. “We chose BNP Paribas as our core regional cash management bank,” says Edwards. “They best matched our geographical footprint and because Europe is their home market we don’t believe that they will retrench. The other bank in contention was American and we couldn’t be as sure about their future plans. And even if the worst did happen, we have found with the RBS experience that we have sufficient time to move. There was no need to reduce efficacy by using more than one banking provider.”

It is worth noting that Informa’s decision was made independently of the much publicised referral agreement between RBS and BNP Paribas. The arrangement was put in place to provide support to those RBS customer seeking a new bank and was reported to create streamlined migration process. However, Edwards reports that this was not her experience. “There was no difference using the process outlined by the referral agreement, nothing was directly handed over,” she says. “The only impact I saw this having was that it made BNP Paribas very busy as they were dealing with lots of implementations at once.”

Taking the time

At the time of writing Informa is in the middle of its migration – a process that Edwards says has not been as quick as she would have liked due to numerous factors, including needing to provide a host of new KYC information. “As well as this, we are also having to make sure that all of our customers are aware of the change,” she says. “This process can be quite slow and it is just a case of continuous education.”

Prologis, meanwhile, has completed its migration, but this also took longer than was first anticipated. “We made the move ahead of the market, but there are always unanticipated delays due to KYC and so forth,” Hoestra explains. “My advice to anybody in a similar position would be to make sure that you give yourself enough time to account for these delays without creating any unnecessary risk.”

Edwards likewise advises that extra time should be taken throughout the process. “Make sure that you know how busy the bank you are switching to is and then take a step back and extend your timelines accordingly,” she says. “Also, it would be prudent to talk to peers going through a similar process to hear about their experiences of switching to the banks that you are considering. This can help to build a clear picture of what to expect.”

Looking to the future

Given the pressures on the banking industry at present it would be optimistic to assume that others will not follow the move taken by RBS to withdraw from transaction banking outside of its core markets at some stage. It will therefore be vital for corporate treasurers to keep abreast of what is happening in the banking industry to ensure they are not caught off guard.

Treasurers may wish to maintain constant dialogue with key banking counterparties to get a better idea of their long-term strategies. Treasurers should also be honest and open around their own strategy to ensure that their bankers fully understand what is expected of them and to ensure they can continue to support their operations moving forward.

In the short term treasurers should also expect banks to become increasingly unwilling to accept non-operating deposits and to lower the rate of return. Planning for such changes should now be something that all corporate treasury departments have in place.

To do this Bob Stark, VP of Strategy at Kyriba advises that treasurers be proactive in their approach and begin by understanding their cash balances. “Separating cash balances into operating and non-operating tranches is a must,” he says. Following this, he advises that treasurers speak to banks to understand what is important to them. “Banks care about two time periods: 30 days (for the liquidity coverage ratio requirements) and one year (for the net stable funding ratio). Corporates need to think of these timeframes when planning how to manage their cash,” he adds.

A prudent next step is to improve cash flow forecasting. “The old excuse that I’m cash rich so I don’t need to forecast goes out the window,” notes Stark. “If you are cash rich then you have excess non-operational cash and the banks banks value it differently than before, so it is important to know how much cash you will have on the books at any particular point in time.”

The final step is to consider other investment options. “Money market funds, tri-party repos, separately managed accounts all generally stay within existing investment policies,” says Stark. “In addition, some treasurers will look at more creative options such as collaborating with A/P and procurement to take advantage of higher yielding supplier discounts.”

Whether it is a bank withdrawing from transaction banking, reducing its presence in certain geographies, or simply being unwilling to accept non-operating cash deposits, it is clear that these are challenging times for the corporate treasury. Indeed, when speaking about banking relationships the questions that were typically hypothetical and prefixed with “what if” have now become real issues that have to be dealt with today.

The future of RBS

Jerry Pearce, Head of Global Transaction Services

Royal Bank of Scotland

As part of our strategy to create a bank firmly focussed on the needs of its customers in the UK and Ireland, we announced in February 2015 that we would be closing all Transactional Services operations outside of these jurisdictions.

This has been an unprecedented exercise and, once completed, approximately 7,000 customers across 32 countries will have moved to a new bank.

Our focus has been to ensure that we treat all our customers fairly. We have taken steps to ease the transition to new providers, including signing a referral agreement with BNP Paribas and exceeding contractual notice periods.

We have clearly communicated the exit throughout the process and encouraged customers to move well ahead of their final termination date. They understand that our operations are scaling back and why.

As we approach the end of 2016 – the point at which all cash management, payments and trade-related services will cease – the bank continues to make every effort to ensure that remaining affected clients have transitioned away.

We strongly encourage our remaining customers to prioritise any final actions required to ensure that they have uninterrupted banking services as they switch to their new provider.

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