What are the most important skills for a corporate treasurer?
A highly skilled treasurer needs to be both an expert on the technical aspects of treasury and an expert on the wider business. One of my jobs when recruiting is to persuade business finance experts that they need to learn treasury, and treasury experts that they need to learn more about the business they support and facilitate.
Someone who really understands IFRS 9 and derivative hedging has a valuable niche skill. But it’s pointless if they don’t also know what the business is trying to achieve. It’s one thing to know what hedge documentation looks like, but if they don’t understand the purpose behind the hedge and can’t explain it to colleagues in the business or the board, it is pointless. If you look at CFOs in leading corporates, some became CFO having been Group Treasurer and most have worked in treasury. Every CFO needs to have worked in treasury because a business succeeds or fails on its ability to manage cash.
People who come into my treasury team are a mixture of those who want to work in treasury and those who want a career in a multinational, and treasury really needs both. At Shell, we support both those who want a career in finance and want to understand how treasury works, and those who want to be treasury experts.
Someone managing our treasury operations has been in the Upstream business and they know a great deal about Shell’s business. One of my managers is a finance generalist who has great skill in managing stakeholder relationships. Our Head of Cash Management is a renowned expert in the field. My recent experience includes a couple of years running our asset management company in the Netherlands. I was also heavily involved in the LIBOR transition. My point is that people have different interests and no one person can do everything in treasury, but as a team, between us we have all we need. It’s becoming harder to be a generalist. People are under pressure to hone specific skills and having a portfolio of skills seems to be going out of fashion, but this leads to really good people.
Recruiting people and persuading them treasury is a great place to work, can be difficult. Many people interested in finance either want to work for their own company or not work in a central function managing cash. But we need the entrepreneur mindset in corporate treasury just as much as we need them in the country as a whole.
Does modern treasury require new kinds of skills?
I’ve worked in treasury for a long time and am slightly cynical about “new skills”. We’ve been talking about digitisation, AI and automation for over 20 years – it’s not new. The current buzz-phrase, “strategic treasury” is similar, but I believe the role of treasury has always been strategic. If you don’t come to treasury, your corner of the business won’t get funded.
For me it’s more a question of, do the people we have in the team have enough curiosity and interest? It’s possible for people to get ossified if they’ve been doing the same job for a long time. So, it’s not really about training people but ensuring we are recruiting people who have the capacity and interest to try new things.
How does networking help treasury recruitment?
It’s important that people in treasury spend time networking and developing relationships outside treasury because it is a way of advertising what a great job treasury is. It’s an opportunity to share how things have changed in treasury and what it’s possible to learn. Treasury alumni are usually spread throughout an organisation and help build our reputation.
Corporate treasury teams are often more diverse than other areas of finance and this also comes out through networking. Diverse role models play an important part encouraging others to join treasury – and the wider corporate world.