Firstly, let’s tackle the Big One. Treasurers across the region will be keeping a close eye on the unfolding events following the outbreak of a novel coronavirus, Covid-19. Its economic impact is already being felt, with countries across the globe downgrading their economic growth forecasts. Supply chains are being disrupted, with factory closures in China affecting companies around the world, whilst diverse sectors are seeing a considerable impact, and many businesses take steps to minimise staff travel.
In 2019, political risk-watchers were spoilt for choice. But from the Brexit saga, to drone strikes in Saudi Arabia, the conflict in Syria, the US-China trade war, protests in Hong Kong, the threat of a global recession et al – it all added up to one big headache for treasurers.
Life has its risks, without which, arguably, we wouldn’t progress. Think how far we have come in the worlds of medicine and travel, for example, as previous generations have wrestled the odds and overcome life-threatening hurdles, just so we can have life a bit easier.
Treasury once resided in an ivory tower within its own organisation; an inscrutable technical wizard that somehow made sure the bills were paid. Often the only time people knew it was there was when something went wrong.
In a recent FT interview, Vladimir Putin said that “the liberal idea” has “outlived its purpose”. With the rise of anti-immigration sentiment, the will to shut down borders and end multiculturalism, it has certainly been tested.
The whole is often greater than the sum of its parts
At this point in 2019, those in the UK who voted to leave the EU should have been cheering as they finally threw off the shackles of EU membership, whilst those who voted remain would be ruing the day former Prime Minister Cameron decided to play political games with the country’s future. It has not happened yet. It might not. The truth is that nobody knows.
The whole Brexit experience for the business community has been characterised by an expanding series of unknowns (both known and unknown, as former US Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld would say), playing out at length. The uncertainty that this has foisted upon many sectors across the UK, Europe and beyond has been challenging, to say the least. It is one that many treasurers will have had to manage, despite the lack of hard facts.
In ‘The Gumball Rally’, a 1970s comedy film about an illegal US coast-to-coast road race, the Ferrari Daytona-driving Italian, Franco Bertollini, rips off his rear-view mirror exclaiming “what’s behind doesn’t matter”.
Was it by accident or design that this issue has more than a few articles geared to helping treasurers prepare for and overcome adverse situations? The world has been gearing up over the past year with some interesting challenges, so perhaps for the final publication of the year such an editorial schedule was inevitable, however it came about.
There may be many contenders for “the project of the century”. The worlds of computing, healthcare, automotive and aeronautics for example may all lay claim to the most important missions for the benefit of humanity. And let’s not forget the ‘project’ to save the planet itself from mankind’s best efforts to make it uninhabitable through pollutants.
When President Trump took to the stage to deliver his 16-minute speech on the closing day of the 2018 World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, was there a feeling that his hitherto hard-boiled “America First” manifesto had softened?
So, farewell then bank branch; the end is nigh. Is that a problem? When NatWest in the UK recently announced the closure of 197 branches as part of a major cost-saver by its parent company, RBS (along with 62 of RBS’s own branches), the hue and cry from those who still see value in bank branches was loud and clear.
Is the world speeding up? Here we are, in the last two months of a year that has seemingly passed by in a flash. We know the world is not spinning any faster, but the pace of life has increased exponentially over the past decade. As a result, we have all become time-poor, spending our days feeling rushed and, perhaps as a result, demanding instant gratification.
The annual EuroFinance jamboree heads to Barcelona this year and one topic that is, without doubt, going to dominate discussions is technology. However, we stand at an interesting point in time where treasury professionals have heard enough about the promise of technology and are beginning to demand solutions that can help them today.
It’s ten years since the crisis. A lot has changed
It’s been a decade since the financial crisis transformed the lives of all of us that work in financial markets. Looking back now, few could have imagined the sizeable impact the crisis had and still has on the world today.
Risk management is a strong theme throughout this edition of Treasury Today, and with good reason. Risk management is a key concern for treasurers around the world, with many struggling to understand the direction the world is heading and what this means for their operations.
The global financial crisis and its fallout are often cited as having enabled treasury departments around the world to become strategic partners to the business. And whilst this may be true to a certain extent – the crisis certainly provided treasury with a platform to shine – the department could have easily fallen out of the spotlight once the crisis abated.
We have certainly come a long way since our Adam Smith Awards for Best Practice and Innovation was launched in 2008. Not only is this awards programme acknowledged as the industry benchmark for corporate treasury achievement, it is also now synonymous with best practice and innovation.
Treasurers have always played a valuable role in the corporate machine but, as most participants and observers now know, the role has taken on greater operational significance. What’s more, it now bears the kind of strategic importance that once was reserved for the C-suite. In essence, treasurers have far greater responsibility than ever before.
What many people, industry experts, politicians, the media and professional commentators thought would never happen, has. On 24th June we all awoke to the news that the British people had voted by a margin of 52% to 48% in favour of leaving the European Union and financial markets around the world went into meltdown. UK Prime Minister David Cameron resigned. There was a coup to oust the leader of the Labour Party and a meeting of the European Union in Brussels came to no real decision as to exactly when the UK will invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty which would start the divorce process.
Our Corporate Treasury Benchmarking Studies have been leading the industry since 2009. Thanks to the 3,500 of you who have taken part, we have built up a very clear picture of the key issues and challenges affecting corporate treasury and, importantly, provided some of the KPI metrics against which you have been able to benchmark yourselves.
Treasury Today’s Adam Smith Awards is the largest corporate treasury awards programme and recognises the very best and brightest in the industry. For 2016, our panel of judges will again be looking for solutions that truly demonstrate exceptional best practice and innovation in the corporate treasury arena.
As we start a new year, the global financial crisis seems like a distant memory – or does it? At the beginning of January 2008, The World Bank predicted global economic growth would slow as the credit crunch hit the richest nations. By mid-January, global stock markets had suffered their biggest falls since the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Centre and the US Fed had slashed rates by three quarters of a percentage point to 3.5% – its biggest cut in 25 years. At the end of the month, major bond insurer, MBIA, announced losses of $2.3bn, blaming its exposure to the US subprime mortgage crisis.
October 21st 2015 has just passed. Those of you who are familiar with the American science-fiction adventure movie ‘Back to the Future’ will appreciate the significance of this date. For those of you who aren’t, it is interesting to observe that some of the predictions in the film have actually come true. Personal drones, tablets and mobile payment technology, biometric devices, hands-free gaming consoles, smart clothing and wearable technology, video phones, waste-fuelled cars, hover-boards and video glasses are all a reality. Wal-Mart Stores is even applying to US regulators for permission to test drones for home delivery, curb-side pickup and checking warehouse inventories, as it goes head-to-head with Amazon in using these aerial devices to fulfil online orders.
Having just returned from the EuroFinance International Cash and Treasury Management conference in Copenhagen, it is perhaps worth reflecting on some of the key themes that emerged. The focus of this year’s event was fitness; keeping your treasury function fit for purpose, fit for growth and fit for the future. These themes were addressed on consecutive days under the banners of flexibility, strength and speed, and sustainability.
This issue of Treasury Today coincides with our attendance at EuroFinance’s International Cash and Treasury Management Conference 2015 in Copenhagen, Denmark. Indeed, we expect many of you may be attending the conference too. The theme this year is ‘keeping treasury fit for purpose, fit for growth and fit for the future’ – something that many treasurers will be thinking about as they take the time to step away from their desks and look towards 2016.
It’s a standing joke that the industry needs a ‘Women in Treasury’ initiative because every day at the office is just like a ‘Men in Treasury’ forum. And whilst one of the drivers behind Treasury Today’s pioneering Women in Treasury campaign – which began in 2013 – was, and still is, to give women in the (male-dominated) profession greater recognition and a platform for inspiration, as counterintuitive as it might seem, it’s not all aimed at the fairer sex.
It’s no secret that companies are firmly focusing on growth again. Yet, at a time when market volatility is high, geopolitical stability is being rocked, and international regulatory regimes are growing ever tighter, growth can be tricky to find.
You only have to talk to a banker these days and the increasing cost of regulation is the first or second topic of conversation. In fact, it is sometimes the first and the second topic of conversation.
Being good at your job isn’t the only prerequisite for getting ahead in your career. Today, it’s not just what you know that matters; it’s also who you know. Having a good profile at work is essential for your career. It means being trusted with the best projects and being first in line for promotion.
In recent weeks, regulatory talk has understandably turned to the European Parliament’s proposed money market reforms. And with ongoing concerns around the knock-on effect of Basel III, bank ring-fencing measures in the UK, and the US’s Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), for example, it is little surprise that the Single Euro Payments Area (SEPA) has fallen under the radar of late. Yet the next SEPA deadline is now less than 12 months away and some corporates have much to achieve in that time.
With the prospect of transformative regulation still hanging over the sector, Europe’s money market funds (MMFs) continue to operate against a backdrop of uncertainty. Recent moves by the European Central Bank (ECB) and Swiss National Bank (SNB) are only making matters more complex – for those in the industry, and for corporate treasurers who invest in the funds.
At the start of a New Year, it’s traditional to review our priorities and path for the future. We often think about what we’d like to achieve and what we can do better over the next 12 months – both in a personal and professional capacity. But to make this review a truly useful process, it’s important to take a ‘warts and all’ approach. Frequently, the biggest mistake people, and companies, make when looking to improve their situation is sugar-coating their current predicament or refusing to fully acknowledge their weaknesses.