Insight & Analysis

The reinvention of treasury: part two

Published: May 2017

Last week, we reported how speakers at the recent ACT conference in Manchester looked at how the world has changed economically and politically. This week we explore the impact of technology on treasury and why a diverse workforce is a must.

The world is changing at breakneck speed and for corporate treasury professionals this creates numerous opportunities, but also challenges. What then are the opportunities and how can treasury teams embrace the change that will see them realise this opportunity.

AI want your job

Alex Tatham, Managing Director of UK based global IT distributor, Westcoast is a firm believer that “innovation owns the future”. His pitch at the recent ACT conference in Manchester on disruptive technology gave us the definition of “applying new ideas to achieve new and better outcomes”. Better for whom though?

As we see the rise of robotics and AI in many commercial activities – replacing in many cases human activity – Tatham said 50% of current 12 to 13 year olds will take up jobs “that haven’t even been invented yet”. Just as well. PwC says around 10m UK jobs will be taken by technology in the next decade.

New model army

“Just when you think your done, something comes along to disrupt you,” warned Tatham. It’s a restless world indeed, and the likes of the next Amazon (basically a logistics disruptor that doesn’t even need to make a profit) and Shop Direct (a finance proposition with an online shop attached) are just around the corner. Uber and Airbnb have shown that the simple ‘channel and partner’ model can make huge waves.

It could be down to treasurers and risk professionals to help businesses sell more, argues Tatham, because treasurers know how finance connects to distribution and all other points across an organisation.

But if the old model of success was about strong and stable management of finance, the new is about using uncertainty to help create opportunity. Business has plenty of uncertainty, so opportunity should naturally follow for those brave enough to take it.

For Tatham then, treasurers should be looking to redefine their roles, “before someone does it for you”. Cycles of innovation are rapid and accelerating, and finance has a key role to play, he added. “You have to act fast and now because unless you are disrupting, you are in trouble.”

Diversity rules

One way in which treasury has already shown the way is in its approach to diversity. With programmes such as Treasury Today’s Women in Treasury initiative bringing people together, it encourages “fresh perspectives”, said Caroline Stockmann, the new Chief Executive of the ACT.

“If a group is diverse, and accepts that diversity, it will outperform other groups,” she asserted. The danger of ‘group think’ increases without diversity. Suggestions that companies employ ‘the best person for the job’ must take this understanding into account.

Indeed, without challenging voices to offer new ways of seeing and thinking, stagnation can quickly occur. When other, hugely successful, speakers such as Tatham are urging quick action on disruptive models, diversity is clearly a path to success.

But it takes time, commitment and true leadership for a policy of diversity to come to fruition, stated Stockmann. Reason enough then to get started now, surely. There must be effort to ensure it is neither forced nor merely a box-ticking exercise. Or “nice words and little action”, as she expressed it.

“The key is to work out what the hook is for the business,” suggested Jane Franklin, Deputy Head, Equality, Diversity & Inclusion, British Council. Companies should be asking and discovering ‘why are we doing this’ because without buy-in and support across the organisation, she feels it will never work.

Needs must

There will be plenty more for readers of Treasury Today to uncover from this year’s ACT themes over the next few months. Topics such as open banking and APIs, automating corporate risk management and whether blockchain actually has a use or not, are all up for grabs.

Treasurers today need to be more aware of innovation and disruption than ever before. It’s not all about IT but its role is significant. “Keep an eye on technology in your personal life because it will creep into your professional life,” urged Louise Beaumont, Co-Chair, Open Bank Working Group, techUK. “You will have needs met that you don’t even know need meeting.”

And on blockchain, Richard Crook, Head of Innovation Engineering, NatWest, has some encouraging words for those of you who have no wish to hear the word ever again. “In a few years’ time, we won’t be talking about it, only the things it does to help us. And we will only use it if it helps us.” And that, really, is what drives innovation and disruption.

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