Insight & Analysis

Be prepared – and other life lessons

Published: Jun 2024

In this fourth article in a series about the treasury team at Roche, we explore the impact of the global pandemic; how being prepared and trusting each other stood the treasury in good stead; and how the company came together to serve a common purpose that was at the forefront of tackling Covid-19.

Global pandemic concept with virus surrounding the earth

Britta Döttger

Head of Treasury
Franca Aeby, Treasury Manager Front Office, Roche

Franca Aeby

Treasury Manager Front Office

The Covid-19 global pandemic was a defining period for many reasons, a time when professional lives and working practices were tested to their limit. Now, along with the accelerated shift to digitalisation, working habits have changed. In the corporate treasury world, for example, it’s no longer necessary for transaction bankers to see their clients face-to-face – as it turns out, communicating virtually is often just as good.

Remote working, being flexible, trusting each other and being able to react in any situation are also some of the lessons that have emerged from working through the pandemic. For the treasury team at Roche, however, these were not new ways of working. Franca Aeby, Treasury Manager Front Office at the Swiss healthcare company, elaborates that the treasury team was able to overcome the challenges of the pandemic for three main reasons.

First, the company had systems readiness, which allows the team to log on remotely. Aeby says: “It doesn’t make a difference whether I am in the office or not; I don’t need 20 systems and I don’t need to call someone to get all the data I need. We didn’t work like this because of the pandemic – we did it because it was part of our vision of how we wanted treasury to be.”

Secondly, Roche has a fully-centralised treasury, which means they have visibility of the whole organisation and this enables them to act quickly during times of stress. “The fact that we had an entire overview allowed us to react very fast. We did not just react – we were able to act and focus on the business. Because we are centralised, we were not waiting for the Americas to wake up or waiting for Asia Pacific to hand over. Everything was already there and aligned to enable decision-making,” Aeby says.

And thirdly, Aeby adds, they have highly-skilled and well-trained people. “We have tried to empower people, so they know what they are allowed to make decisions on, and they know the limits of that. Also, we have close collaboration within the core treasury team and it can be helpful to call people and talk, regardless of where they sit,” she says. So in essence, the pandemic was ‘business as usual’? “More or less,” Aeby laughs.

The pandemic hit at a time when the company was preparing for its annual general meeting (AGM) and dividend payments. This was a period that caused stress for many corporates who were nervous about their liquidity in such a volatile macro environment. Many erred on the side of caution and strengthened their positions to keep their organisations on the safe side – and their reputations intact.

Meanwhile, this was happening amid one of the biggest public health crises the world has seen – one in which Roche had a key role to play. Britta Döttger, Head of Treasury at Roche, is passionate about working for a company that has such a clear social purpose and was able to pull together to deliver testing kits and machines to where they were needed. “I really remember how proud I was of my colleagues in logistics and supply chain – we wanted to help societies and help direct the right resources and prioritise them,” she says. It was particularly challenging, she adds, because her colleagues were inundated with phone calls and requests.

This period really showed how Roche’s ethos filtered through the organisation and how the various teams came together for a common purpose. And on the lessons learned that can be taken away to help adapt to other challenges in the future? Flexibility is a key one, says Aeby. “We had a lot of flexibility and have always been able to work remotely – that was never questioned and it’s been a big asset for the team and helped us prepare for such a situation,” she says. Trust made that flexibility possible – in the company, in its leadership and in each other.

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