Insight & Analysis

Making a difference

Published: Apr 2024

Joanna Bonnett, President of the ACT and the former Group Treasurer of PageGroup, discusses how treasurers can support sustainability within their organisations, and explains why treasury professionals of all backgrounds should consider putting themselves forward for the ACT council.

Joanna Bonnett, President of the ACT

Tell us about your background and career history.

I’ve been a treasury professional for about 25 years. In the early days, I held a variety of back office, middle office and front office roles. In 2009, I joined the Australian Department of Defence, which was an incredible opportunity to help not only the government, but also war-torn countries overseas. From a treasury perspective, the work was complicated and fascinating, typically at the forefront of regulations and banking transformation.

In 2014, I came to the UK and worked as a senior contractor for IMI, which included a variety of project roles, and latterly as interim group treasurer. In 2017, I was appointed group treasurer at PageGroup, where I worked for seven years – my role initially included typical treasury responsibilities as well as insurance, pensions and compliance risk, and after two years, my role expanded massively to include sustainability. Managing both roles allowed me to extend my skillset into investor relations, strategy and commercial business partnering.

I’m now looking for my next opportunity, and while doing so I am doing a lot of voluntary work, particularly for the Association of Corporate Treasurers (ACT).

What do you see as your greatest achievements in your career so far?

For most of my career, I’ve focused on transformation and automation. At PageGroup we undertook a major transformation exercise and built for growth. By taking advantage as the business implemented a new accounting ERP system, we leveraged our position as banking experts by refreshing our banking partnerships and automating our payments and payment gateways globally.

I’m also proud of the work that we undertook through Covid – this included making sure that liquidity was preserved within the organisation and getting emergency funding in place through the Covid Corporate Financing Facility (CCFF). We were one of the first unrated organisations to get that in place. Good governance and due process, arguably the foundation of any treasury function, allowed the treasury team greater visibility with the Executive and the main Board, and ultimately paved the way for me to deliver the inaugural sustainability strategy to shareholders.

Which treasury topics are you most passionate about?

I’m really interested in what AI will look like within the context of treasury, how industry leaders will push treasury boundaries and how treasury AI will complement our ability to be business partners to the CFO and the wider business. Will AI finally remove Excel spreadsheets from treasury processes?

I’m also passionate about the impact of sustainability on treasury and the treasury profession, which I look at through several different lenses:

  • As a treasurer, no matter what organisation I work for, I like to ensure that treasury complements and aligns to the ESG and sustainability strategy, for example through sustainable finance. On the other hand, few treasurers focus on sustainability on the investment side. With company Scope 3 emissions a hot topic, many treasurers may not recognise the environmental impact of their investment products, and even fewer ensure that their portfolio is aligned with their company’s sustainability strategy. This agenda will become increasingly important.

  • As a business leader, trust, integrity and empathy are virtues at the heart of most treasurers. Building on this ethos, treasurers need credibility, resilience and leadership as a conduit between their organisation and the financial markets. As pillars of the business world, I believe treasurers should also make sure their teams are behaving in an ethically sound way: that they are being socially (and financially) responsible.

  • From my position as president of the ACT, another perspective is that we need to upskill treasurers to understand what sustainability means for treasury and make sure that the treasury community is inclusive.

How have you approached your presidency of the ACT?

In part, my presidency has been shaped by the need to work with an interim chief executive, and then onboard the permanent chief executive. So I’ve spent a lot of time making sure that the new chief executive understands treasury, our stakeholders and what we do as a community. This means understanding the treasurer’s role not just at the largest companies, but also the nuances faced by those in a FTSE 250, treasury teams in banks, charities and in government.

Equally, I like to think my term has been about highlighting the roles of council and president, making sure that these are visible to other people, and inspiring people to get involved. By doing so, people can make a difference not just to their own careers, but also to the community as a whole.

What have you learned during your presidency so far?

Leadership. My role as president has made me step outside my role in finance. Recruiting and on-boarding a chief executive, undertaking a governance review, establishing a set of guiding principles for diversity, all the way through to setting a new direction for the treasury profession with a new three-year strategic plan. The year has been part of my learning journey and I am a better treasurer for it!

In years to come, I will be most proud of the three-year strategy we created in early 2024. The strategy ‘day’ does not do the amount of work involved justice: it was a combination of months of work by the ACT executive team and council. Fundamental changes within the treasury profession, how we educate treasurers and engage with the wider finance community will all tie back to that moment. So, watch out for more news in this space!

As president, I’ve seen how passionate and proud people are to call themselves treasurers, no matter the stage of their career journey. I am also delighted that treasurers have anchored the ACT professional qualifications in their respective journeys.

What advice would you give treasury professionals about how to progress their careers?

I encourage people to engage with the ACT, particularly if they want to progress to the highest level of the treasury profession. We’re currently electing our next council members, and it’s a great time to reach out to the ACT to start early conversations on how to be part of next year’s election cycle.

Becoming a council member is highly rewarding – it’s great to network and become a guardian of the entire treasury profession. By doing so you will expand your skills quickly, learn leadership and fine-tune different communication styles. On the other hand, being on the council also helps you develop as a treasurer. You understand your own board better, which can be particularly valuable for people who are planning to be CFO or take on a non-executive director role in the future.

In particular, I would like to inspire people from diverse backgrounds and from all corners of the globe. Put your hand up, because anyone can do it! The council needs to represent the community that we are today, and that we want to be in the future. Diversity of thought is so important when it comes to strengthening the solutions on behalf of the industry, ultimately paving the way for more successful and proud treasurers in the future!

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