Recently, HSBC evacuated around 100 staff from its London office after an employee tested positive. Other firms have asked their employees to work from home: Twitter, for example, said it was “strongly encouraging all employees globally to work from home if they’re able”.
Where treasury is concerned, Francois-Dominique Doll, Executive Director, Global Treasury Advisory Services, Deloitte Southeast Asia, says he has seen treasury clients in Singapore implementing segregation of critical business units to minimise the risk of contagion. “This includes separating the workforce into two groups, with one based in the office and the other at home, on a rotational basis,” he says. “Social distancing in workplaces was also observed.”
Deloitte, likewise, has implemented team segregation as part of its business continuity measures: internal meetings are being held using video conferencing apps, with staff encouraged to use teleconferencing for client project meetings.
Such measures can play an important role in slowing the spread of the new disease. Cloud-based systems can lend themselves to home working, while collaborative tools can help people work together remotely. But if treasury professionals are encouraged or required to work from home at short notice, what challenges may arise – and how can these be mitigated?
Constraints and considerations
There are certainly some constraints that treasurers need to bear in mind. “It is true that the treasurer, by nature of his/her work, likes to stay in the office and needs to be present on site – sometimes for technical, security and organisational reasons,” says François Masquelier, founder of advisory firm SimplyTREASURY and the former Head of Corporate Finance, Treasury and Enterprise Risk Management at RTL Group.
Masquelier notes that that the tools used by treasury, including information tools such as Refinitiv and Bloomberg, “requires sharing them on the spot and in the workplace.” He also points out that security measures including segregation of duties and internal controls are better suited to working in the office. Consequently, while Masquelier says it is feasible for treasurers to work from home if circumstances require it, he argues this is likely to be practical only on a temporary basis.
On a human note, meanwhile, Deloitte’s Doll observes that people can miss social interactions with the boss, co-workers and business associates when working from home. He recommends that people “pick up the phone and call to check in with them.”
While there may be challenges to overcome, in the current climate treasurers may need to be able to facilitate working from home arrangements if the need arises. Doll notes that treasury often deals with sensitive information, “so proper set up of IT systems or VPNs is essential to safeguard such information. Clients we worked with who have invested in technology and cyber fortification capabilities are now reaping the benefits.”
He adds: “It’s all about readiness – what a treasury professional needs is his/her sign-on passwords to the application systems on their laptops such as the treasury management system (TMS), trading platforms, e-banking portals and ERP system.”
Fortunately, developments in technology mean that working from home is more feasible than it used to be. “At Deloitte, we have implemented cloud-based TMS solutions that are mobile enabled so that clients can work from home securely and obtain real-time information,” says Doll. “This is now the opportune time to test and hone the use of technology as a means of communication and remote connectivity.”
Masquelier, likewise, points out that today’s technology enables working from home to an extent that may not have been possible in the past. In the current climate, he says, treasurers should take the opportunity to undertake business continuity planning (BCP): “It is an opportunity for the less well-organised treasuries to revisit their BCP processes and demonstrate their ability to work, if necessary, remotely with the same efficiency.”
Inevitably, some companies will be more prepared for a work from home scenario than others – but in the current climate it’s important to make sure the right measures are in place for this eventuality. As Masquelier concludes, “When the health crisis requires it, what other choice do we have?”