Insight & Analysis

Powering Change: Vandana Vajir, Head of Treasury Systems & Processes Transformation, Heathrow Airport Ltd

Published: May 2024

Vandana Vajir, Head of Treasury Systems & Processes Transformation at Heathrow Airport Ltd says treasury combines her twin passions of technology and treasury. And she believes team success depends on a decent level of technology expertise alongside the ability to collaborate and communicate.

Vandana Vajir, Head of Treasury Systems & Processes Transformation, Heathrow Airport Ltd

What are you spending most of your time on at the moment?

Currently, I’m most focused on transformation and optimising our processes. We implemented a new Treasury Management System (TMS) a year ago, and now the focus is increasing digitalisation, automation and integrating processes to simplify and create efficiencies wherever possible. We are looking to migrate some of our treasury activities to a business service centre, and I want to ensure all our processes are well documented to make the transition as smooth as possible.

I am also focused on finding out what other technology is out there and how we can use AI to enhance productivity. Our cash flow forecasting already has AI and machine learning integrated into it.

We are still using some Excel spreadsheets, and I am working on finding out if there are better ways of doing things, looking at best practices, and automating repeatable processes.

Where are the key risks for treasurers today?

Risks are always the same but the priority of the risk changes depending on conditions. Refinancing risk is a key one in the current climate – whether we will have to refinance debt at a higher rate, therefore increasing our overall cost.

Cyber risk is also a significant concern; ensuring robust measures is essential to protect sensitive financial data, prevent unauthorised access and breaches. It requires a strong internal IT programme and constant ongoing training for employees. Cyber risk is the most prominent operational risk that could disrupt the whole business. This risk is likely to be even more pronounced in coming years with the increased use of AI.

Liquidity risk is not a key concern for us currently, but during COVID-19, it was our highest risk.

In our industry, unforeseen events can also cause severe disruptions, for example, look at what happened recently to Dubai Airport with the recent flooding.

Risk management is all about identifying, assessing, and mitigating potential risks that could impact stability and our performance. At Heathrow this includes interest risks, credit risk, foreign exchange risk, and liquidity risk. Strategies to manage risk include hedging, setting, and monitoring limits, and having robust internal controls.

The key is to monitor risks on a regular basis, prioritise them and have a comprehensive plan to mitigate them, or even to determine what risks we are willing to accept.

What does a good treasury team look like?

Good treasury teams requires innovation, creativity, strong leadership, and assurance that the team is engaged and empowered to do their job so they can contribute to the success of the whole organisation.

It is important to be proactive and to be able to react to changes in markets and prioritise. It is also crucial to have access to information in a timely manner. A good team is supported by well-defined policies and metrics to manage performance.

Heathrow’s treasury is divided into five different areas. Each area requires a combination of technology expertise and the ability to collaborate, communicate, and work as a team. I work closely with our market & liquidity team, corporate finance team and other parts of the business including finance, tax, and legal, as well as Board members, senior managers, and external partners.

What are the most important skills in treasury?

Financial analysis and the ability to interpret data to assess different options and make judgements are essential skills. Attention to detail is also critical because one mistake could have a huge impact: financially and/or reputationally.

It is also important to understand the markets and knowledge of the types of products that are out there. You need to be flexible and have a growth mindset that supports continued learning.

For effective treasury operations, you also need an understanding of treasury systems, SWIFT, different portals, and MMFs. Treasury is a complex area, and you do need stay on top of it because six months down the line, products, systems, and markets could have changed.

In the future, treasury will increasingly require different skills. With new technology, such as AI and Copilot, a lot of the tedious tasks will be automated. Analysts today spend time on processing and creating reports, but going forward they will be focused on interpreting them.

What do you enjoy most about treasury?

For me, it’s the fast-paced environment, that treasury is dynamic, and that every day is different. I enjoy the solving problems, streamlining operations, optimising cash management, and gaining insights into risk management.

I love transformations and continuous improvements; I really enjoy working with new technology and seeing how I can make it work for me. Treasury combines my two passions of treasury and technology, and I feel valued playing a crucial role in managing risk and supporting the success of the company.

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