Antti Kyyrö, Bio-Rad’s EMEA Treasurer explains how automation is driving change at the US life science and clinical diagnostic company. And why he has always sought to work for companies on a transformation path.
Bio-Rad is a global leader in developing, manufacturing, and marketing a broad range of innovative products for the life science research and clinical diagnostic markets. With a focus on quality and customer service for 70 years, its products advance the discovery process and improve healthcare. Customers include university and research institutions, hospitals, public health and commercial laboratories, biotechnology, pharmaceutical, as well as applied laboratories that include food safety and environmental quality.
In March 2020 Antti Kyyrö and his wife found themselves bundling their young family into a car in the middle of the night. It was the eve of the pandemic and as Europe began to shut its borders, Kyyrö, who spent weekends in London with his family and the working week in Basel as EMEA Treasurer for Bio-Rad Laboratories, a US life science and clinical diagnostic company, realised his next commute could end up cutting him off from his family. “We had planned a less rushed return to Switzerland,” laughs Kyyrö whose career has included a seven-year stint in Geneva as well as treasury and banking posts in Singapore and London. As it was, they reached France before the border closed, heading onto Switzerland where they’ve made a new home in the lakeside-town of Zug close to Zurich.
Challenging months followed as the pandemic swept through Europe and the key footprint markets on Kyyrö’s watch, sending demand for the company’s products and services, many destined for government entities and private laboratories fighting the virus and developing vaccines, through the roof. “A lot of the work Bio-Rad does on the ground and in laboratories is hard to understand in treasury,” says Kyyrö, who dates wanting to work in finance from his early teens growing up in Finland and listening to his mother talk about the family business. “My job was ensuring we remained operational from a treasury perspective and that regional entities had enough financial capacity on-hand to meet accelerated demand. Fighting Covid was, and still is, a big part of what we do, and we are very proud of being part of the effort to contain the virus.”
Facilitating Bio-Rad’s ability to meet unprecedented demand was a catalyst for change in the company’s treasury function. The pandemic exposed some of the department’s older, paper heavy, processes at a time when speed and controlled decision making was key. Today, new efficiencies and capability span in-house banking operations across the region to electronic bank account management. Elsewhere, treasury has moved to an electronic platform for transactions across trade finance including letters of credit and guarantees; introduced efficiencies to customer credit assessment processes and continued simplifying the regional legal entity structure. “The pandemic has switched our focus to making sure we have the capability from a business perspective,” he says.
“In three words: busy, diverse and exciting,” describes Kyyrö who, like many treasurers, thrives off the variety of his job, further enhanced by a smaller, regional treasury function typically requiring a more hands-on and broader role. Bio-Rad runs a centralised risk management operation and all trading activities out of its head office in California. Kyyrö is responsible for the group’s local European operations spanning overseeing funding and liquidity requirements, capital structure decisions and following and advising on regulatory topics for around 40 legal entities. He also works closely with recently founded centralised finance teams in Watford (just outside London) and Budapest on various standardisation initiatives. “As general manager, it is my job to ensure policies are followed, efficiencies created and automation encouraged,” he says.
Other day-to-day tasks include managing a project to overhaul global payroll payment processes introducing the latest banking and payment technology and managing Bio-Rad’s business through ongoing macro-economic and political uncertainties. Kyyrö is tasked with ensuring that transactions continue to flow and that any changes to the banking environment are dealt with proactively in compliance with local and international rules.
It also involves close contact with head office, just the type of bridging role between the two entities that Kyyrö most enjoys. Ultimate corporate decision-making rests in the US, but regional treasury plays a vital role feeding insights from EMEA into that process, Kyyrö acting as a sparring partner in general discussions with the clout to recommend broad finance and treasury initiatives and provide legal and macro insights. Most recently on the strong global investor appetite for a US$1.2bn five and ten year bond issuance, perfectly timed earlier this year before central banks started withdrawing stimulus. “We were looking for cash in 1Q at a good time and got it at optimal price.”
Being caught between head office and local divisions isn’t always easy, but Kyyrö is passionate that all aspiring Group Treasurers should garner regional treasury experience before climbing the next rung of the ladder. “Understanding the issues frontline business and finance teams face, and tying the inputs to broader treasury strategy, is vital to our success,” he says. “Being in the region puts you in the middle of the business, and our task is to act as the deep generalist, providing actionable insights and advisory to the business.”
Like many treasurers, Kyyrö’s already hectic day-to-day runs in parallel with long-term, complex projects. He has spent the last three years rolling out an in-house bank facility at Bio-Rad, drawing on expertise from ten years in Nokia’s treasury function, with a celebrated IHB structure. Bio-Rad’s IHB covers all treasury processes including pooling, a netting service, POBO, plus a centralised banking and risk management structure while liquidity management operations are now all automated, ensuring standard, day-to-day liquidity centralisation. Once the intricacies of the scale, framework and functionality were settled, Kyyrö could pass much of the build to IT and accounting teams to structure. “It has been a major focus for us in the last three years,” he says.
A next step in IHB evolution at the company aims to improve visibility and control, he explains. “At the moment, our core treasury processes run in SAP including our in-house bank operations. We would like to have better visibility and control of the transactions and functions treasury manages. We also want to build additional functionality in areas such as cash forecasting and exposure identification, so we are reviewing offerings and scoping options for SaaS TMS.”
A critical element of the process has involved liaising with US colleagues for whom IHB structures are often less known. Still, he predicts more US companies, particularly multinationals hunting efficiency and looking to free up resources for their European operations, will go down the IHB route. Moreover, the cost of building IHB solutions falls with every technological leap, reflecting software’s deflationary pull. “SaaS TMS solutions are a great example of how technology changes our industry in a democratising way. Latest finance software is no longer for the largest corporates only.”
Talking about the project reveals Kyyrö’s enthusiasm and passion for automation and his conviction that it lies at the heart of treasury’s future. Only by losing paper and manual processes, can treasury focus on ways to add value, provide the services and solutions to help companies compete, and be a true value adding partner to the business. “Automation leaves less room for treasury to hide in an ivory tower,” he says.
Treasury’s specific value-add will depend on the nature of the business in which the company is involved, he continues. For example, an FMCG or e-commerce business will look to treasury to leverage latest developments in instant payment tech, online sales channels, and mobile wallets. For a B2B business with large bulky cash flows, the focus should be in latest risk management technology or providing API based tools to optimise working capital through better integration of various finance systems.
Setting up an IHB structure has also enabled Kyyrö to continue to streamline the company’s banking group. The process began before the pandemic and aims to centralise all transactions under the umbrella of the company’s main cash management bank in Europe. “Managing fragmented banking relationships in a complex region like EMEA is not efficient,” he explains. “It’s also worth remembering that this complexity manifests in various other finance functions outside treasury like the audit.”
Re-organising the company’s banking partners has been run alongside moving to a shared service model, handing in-country banking relationships back to regional treasury for management. Only those relationships which are required from a regulation perspective, or if a local bank is providing specific tasks around, say, payroll, tax, or clearing and reporting access for counterparties, will remain. “We only have local bank relationships in case our global providers can’t provide a service in the given market; unutilised bank accounts are a cost both for the corporate and the provider.”
For all technology’s transformative power, Kyyrö is keenly aware that people are just as fundamental to treasury success. “Treasury is ultimately a people business, and after establishing an operational base through technology, our effectiveness is determined by our ability to connect and communicate effectively with a large set of stakeholders who, more often than not, are from outside treasury.” He is currently on the search for a treasury analyst in a quest to build out the company’s European team that has so far been thwarted by fierce competition for talent. “It’s not an easy market to hire in, but we are getting there,” he says.
Casting back over his own career, Kyyrö sees a clear pattern. He always seeks the opportunity to travel, and he has mostly chosen to work at companies on a transformation path, getting involved in one of the most exciting phases of corporate life. His focus on technology is a third seam in a career that began in a specialist, risk management role but has since expanded to general management and deep expertise, working up close to the beating heart of the company. His advice to others? “Remain curious throughout your steps in treasury, ask questions and get involved,” he concludes. “After looking around and finding your genuine interests, build unique value adding skills that differentiate. Take chances!”