With almost two decades of professional experience under his belt, Himanshu Kher is steeped in the world of global brokerages, banks and consulting organisations. But he tackles complex treasury problems with the fast-thinking structured approach of a formally-qualified engineer and the intuitive mind of a trained Indian percussionist.
LMAX Exchange Group (LMAX Exchange) is a leading player in the global capital markets and the only independent operator of institutional exchanges for electronic FX trading and crypto currencies. Servicing funds, banks, brokerages, asset managers and proprietary trading firms, the company has a global client base and matching engines in London, New York and Tokyo. Over US$3trn is traded annually across all LMAX Exchange execution venues. In 2018, it racked up gross revenues of US$50m, up 27% from 2017.
“Part-accident and part destiny.” This is how Kher describes his journey to the top. With treasury, corporate finance, risk management and stakeholder management at the heart of his career for almost two decades, having recently been appointed to the newly-created role of Group Treasurer at LMAX Exchange, it seems like he has been gifted the kind of professional scenario to which most treasurers aspire.
It’s been a progressive ascent, Kher arriving at LMAX Exchange from the Group Treasury role at FTSE 250-listed international financial derivatives trader, IG Group. Prior to this, he was a Director within Group Treasury at Barclays. He also previously occupied senior risk management consulting roles at Boston Consulting Group and PwC LLP, having started his career as an M&A banker with Nomura Securities in Hong Kong.
Kher joined LMAX Exchange Group at the start of 2019, where he assumed responsibility for funding management, liquidity management, risk management, and providing advice to senior management on risk management strategies for foreign exchange.
Indeed, having started his professional life in banking before moving through trading and consultancy positions, Kher’s transition to treasury was the result of some rapid thinking on his part. In somewhat understated fashion, he declares of his switch to treasury “there was some luck involved”.
Following on from his tenure at Nomura, he took on a role as an index options trader at BNP Paribas in London. Then, the 2008 financial crisis happened. The impact this had on all the major investment banks cannot be overstated. Sensing a major change in the air, Kher decided it was time for a career transformation.
His first step was to take on treasury advisory roles at consultancy companies, first with PwC and then the Boston Consulting Group. The experience gained here evidently signalled the right direction for him. “Through my years of advising treasurers and chief risk officers as a consultant, it became clear to me that the real action was in being a treasurer rather than a consultant,” he recalls. “When the opportunity arose to become group treasurer of IG, I immediately said yes.”
There were some serious tests coming Kher’s way as part of that transition. However, determined to drive his career forwards, his sense of purpose enabled him to call upon his entire breadth and depth of prior experience to bear on his new direction. “As Group Treasurer, you are entrusted with a much higher level of responsibility than a consultant, and just having a big picture view of treasury doesn’t work,” he notes.
In making the transition, he recollects that one of the main challenges for him was in picking up the complexities and nuances of a new industry – retail leveraged trading – as well as understanding the underlying processes that made the treasury function work in that context. “I was able to draw upon my strong financial services background and years of experience and, ultimately, it turned out to be a great opportunity that enabled me to grow as a professional and reach the next level of my chosen career.”
A different route
Kher was not always set on a finance and treasury career pathway. In fact, he trained as an engineer before moving into financial services, graduating with First Class Honours in Manufacturing Science and Engineering. As a Member of the governing body of the Society of Mechanical Engineers, he has even published papers on truly specialist subjects such as ‘Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) of Pure Metal Powders’ (for the curious, SLS is one of the technologies used in 3D printing).
Despite the seemingly ‘at-odds’ professions, Kher recognises that there are a number of similarities and transferrable skills at play here. “Engineering is all about developing structured solutions to complex problems. That is an essential skill for anyone in a financial services role,” he states. In addition to this, he says the successful treasury professional needs abundant technical skills, a well-honed ability to work under pressure, boundless creativity and a highly developed team-working spirit.
I was able to draw upon my strong financial services background and years of experience and, ultimately, it turned out to be a great opportunity that enabled me to grow as a professional and reach the next level of my chosen career.
With this in mind then, the direction of travel taken by Kher is perhaps not so unexpected after all. Indeed, it is his structured approach to his work, and his desire to learn, that has also seen him undertake a Masters in Finance at the London Business School, and the MCT Advanced Diploma of the Association of Corporate Treasurers that grants him Fellowship of that body.
However, it would be entirely justified to feel that the practice of treasury in financial services differs from that of industry. Kher concurs, noting that the main differentiator for the financial services industry is that it is more regulated that several other industries, resulting in “a greater level of constraints”.
However, he adds, across all businesses and industries, treasurers “must strike the right balance between security of funds, and manage liquidity risk whilst trying to maximise returns made by the business given a set of constraints”. Treasury, it seems, is in a permanent state of being what he refers to neatly as “constrained optimisation”.
With the mindset very much to the fore that challenges are in fact opportunities, Kher brought all his previous experience to bear when he undertook the newly created role of Group Treasurer at LMAX Exchange. The opportunity to scale up a treasury function and pivot it to the next stage at a fast growing fintech company was the kind of offer he could not resist. “What excited me about LMAX Exchange was the opportunity it provided to shape the role and make a mark in a fast-growing, innovative and successful company,” he says. “The high growth level of the business means the rate of change will be immense but I view this as an exciting challenge.”
With the work ongoing, he is currently focusing on automating a number of treasury processes to improve the quality of information, and how that information is communicated to management. This, he believes, will result in better-informed decision making and will also translate to greater visibility of cash and risks in the business, “bolstering our ability to manage the balance sheet”. There is more: “As our Asia Pacific offering continues to expand, we will continue to find new and innovative ways of handling clients’ funds in a frictionless way,” he adds.
It’s always an interesting decision as to why a company decides to hire a new Group Treasurer. Grant Pomeroy, LMAX Exchange’s CFO, says that ultimately it was the rapid growth in the business that led to this position being created.
“We have a growing pool of liquid cash, held in multiple currencies which needed more efficient management,” he explains. “Also, as the business matures and as the economy hopefully recovers from a long period of low interest rates, we will focus more effort on optimising returns from surplus funds.”
Skill, judgement and more
Barely a treasury article or conference presentation these days goes by without alluding in some way to the ‘strategic role of the treasurer’. Kher recognises the increasing level of importance the role has at the higher organisational level, but he is also deeply mindful of the ‘day job’.
Indeed, he notes that the strategic role of treasury in financial services can be particularly challenging due to the larger number of constraints imposed by the sector’s regulators. To this end, he suggests that a strong understanding of markets, economics and politics and how these affect cash, capital, costs and controls, is the key to success at LMAX Exchange, as it allows the company to manage its day-to-day financing and its FX risk, both of which are growing in tandem as the business expands.
It is therefore the role of the treasurer to look at the short- medium- and long-term risks “and come up with solutions on how we can maximise creation of value for the business”. This, for Kher, makes it both a strategic and very much hands-on position.
I’m proud of my ability to have met challenges head-on in my career, and now I’m looking at taking on the new challenge of building up the group treasury function at LMAX Exchange. It’s a high-growth business that’s transforming global financial markets, and that makes it a very exciting prospect for me. I have no doubt there will be more successes to be enjoyed here in the coming months.
But it’s not just technical skills that are needed to be effective in this arena, he says; the kind of personal skills a successful treasury professional needs are varied. When speaking with those taking the first steps on their career path, he always advises building an understanding of the wider context of treasury. “They need to look at and understand how treasury fits into finance, as well as across the whole organisation.”
It perhaps goes without saying that every treasurer will have a love for numbers, but for Kher, those coming into the profession should ideally also have a formal treasury qualification. “This will give them a good understanding of the company’s balance sheet and cash flow statements.” Additionally, he says newcomers – and indeed everyone already in a treasury position – should be “excited to learn new things, understand what makes the business tick, and have an eye for detail”. He also feels that “treasury professionals should be passionate about automation and technology”.
Peaks of performance
Having developed the key skills and immersed himself in the role, Kher can highlight a number of specific successes in his own career. His appointment as Group Treasurer of IG – his first senior role – is a prime example of how he has risen to the challenge and relished the opportunity.
“I’m proud of my ability to have met challenges head-on in my career, and now I’m looking at taking on the new challenge of building up the group treasury function at LMAX Exchange,” he comments. “It’s a high-growth business that’s transforming global financial markets, and that makes it a very exciting prospect for me. I have no doubt there will be more successes to be enjoyed here in the coming months.”
Of course, the excitement and, at times, pressure that characterises the group treasury role almost demands that the incumbent gets the work/life balance right. A break from the rarefied atmosphere of corporate life for Kher often involves his love of photography. “I am also trained in Indian percussion and want to try and develop my skills further on that front,” he continues.
As anyone who has ever studied this artform will attest, the complexity of the Indian rhythmic system – the rhythmic structures, forms of improvisation and formulas for rhythmic composition – can be challenging. But, as Kher says, taking on a challenge is all in a day’s work. And as far as his work/life balance is concerned, he concludes that “if you love your work, balance will come, and everything will sort itself out”.