Corporate View: Pulat Yunusmetov, Associate Director, Treasury

Published: May 2024
Pulat Yunusmetov, Associate Director, Treasury

A focus on transformation

Over the course of his treasury career Pulat Yunusmetov has developed a focus on treasury transformation and has learned that many ingredients are necessary for a successful project. Here he discusses how both hard and soft skills ensure that projects get off on the right foot – and stay on track.

There’s a saying that if you want something done, ask the busy person to do it. And Pulat Yunusmetov, Associate Director, Treasury, is the kind of person you’d ask. He’s often busy – sometimes too busy – but he will find a way to get it done. It’s in his nature to go above and beyond in his day job, study in his spare time, and then find himself being asked to do even more. You could describe it as the ‘curse’ of being competent – the busy person always seems to be doing a lot of the work – but that is how Yunusmetov has found himself at the forefront of a number of treasury transformation projects in his career.

While he worked at Danone, for example, he was working hard in his day job, took on extra responsibilities, was studying for his Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) certification, and also embarked on a number of treasury transformation projects. “I had a lot of projects with transforming treasury and always going the extra mile – I was expected to do certain things and I was trying to do additional work for myself. It was quite tough and a challenge to manage both that and my education,” he says. He was very busy but managed to pull through. In fact, the fruits of his labour matured months later when the team was awarded nine industry awards (including Treasury Today’s Adam Smith A Rising Star award), the CFA letters after his name, and a reputation for treasury transformation that led to him being hired for his current role.

The CFA exams are notoriously gruelling. Many people comment on the volume of work in the first level, the difficulty in the second, and if you make it to the third level things get really tough. This is the stage that Yunusmetov found the hardest, and while he was undertaking the CFA Level 3 exams, he was also delivering a number of transformation projects. These included a Kyriba implementation that dramatically decreased operational workloads and increased visibility, transparency and security of his company’s treasury flows. Also, the execution of foreign exchange (FX) deals was automated via the TMS [treasury management system], FX operations were streamlined and standardised, deposit reporting was automated, and daily visibility over liquidity positions achieved. Meanwhile, Yunusmetov improved the management of the treasury’s banking relationships. Although automation was saving his treasury 50,000 minutes per year, Yunusmetov didn’t seem to gain any time for himself. Rather he was working on his own transformation to develop his skills so he could build his career.

Being busy and working hard are themes that run through Yunusmetov’s working life. Originally from Uzbekistan, he moved to Singapore in 2009 and was awarded first-class honours for a degree in Business, Management and Marketing from the University of Bradford, which he completed while in Singapore. Many of Treasury Today’s interviewees wander into other career paths before landing in treasury. Not Yunusmetov, who landed on his feet in treasury right after graduation. In fact, he was so busy pursuing his treasury career that he was unable to attend his formal graduation ceremony in the UK.

Building communication skills

His first role upon graduating was at an engineering firm that serves the oil and gas industry. He was a treasury analyst and was involved in cash forecasting, FX exposure reporting, hedging, financing banking control and the management of banking relationships. His focus was Eastern Europe and he later stepped up to become the treasurer for the whole region of Europe, Middle East and Africa. “It was not an easy scope,” he comments, explaining that with countries like Ukraine, Russia and Kazakhstan in his patch, he had a lot to keep on top of in terms of the various regulations of each of the markets. On top of understanding how treasury operations could be optimised, he also had a number of cultural differences that needed to be overcome.

Another key learning was keeping the funding and liquidity in line with the group expectations that were set by the head office in Switzerland. The company had strict targets on cash management and cash flow, he explains, which had to be delivered by the month end. This sometimes meant that he had to work hard when the deadlines came around, juggling the time zones – with him in Singapore and overseeing markets in Europe. “Communication with the stakeholders was key in order to deliver the cash targets,” he says. This was his first taste of managing internal stakeholders and the soft skills that are necessary to effectively deliver on targets that have been set by group management.

After five years with the engineering company, he moved to a global role for a financial technology company, which had different demands when it came to managing the company’s liquidity. In this money and airtime transfer business, liquidity management was critical to the daily operations of the firm, and Yunusmetov set out to improve the treasury’s operational efficiencies. One of the highlights of his time there was increasing the importance and utilisation of the TMS, which was an implementation project that was achieved in a short space of time.

Working on transformation

Yunusmetov got a taste for transformation projects and took his learnings onto his next role, at Danone, the French food products multinational corporation. Here he focused on Asia and the Middle East, and his priorities were on digitalisation, automation and centralisation of key operations and tasks. “During the five years I was there, a lot of transformation was done in treasury,” he says. In companies where treasury is seen as a function and a cost centre, it can be difficult to get the buy-in – and investment – necessary to get major transformation projects off the ground. In such cases, Yunusmetov argues that it is important to be a visionary, to not give up and work hard to get the backing of the internal stakeholders to push ahead with treasury transformation.

Yunusmetov had already learned the importance of communication skills and building relationships with key stakeholders in his previous roles, and during his time at Danone he was able to hone his project management skills. These skills, however, are not solely about delivering a project on time. Before even undertaking a transformation, it is necessary to assess first what needs to be done, what can be done, and ensure that everyone involved has the same understanding of what the project’s objectives are.

Participating in corporate treasury events is key – you can build your network, make contacts, and shed light on what others are doing.

Yunusmetov explains that one of the first steps in the transformation process is to benchmark against what other companies are doing in terms of their treasury set-ups. This benchmarking can be done with the help of banking partners, who are able to advise on the products and solutions that are available based on a company’s industry and business profile. Also, much can be learned by talking to other treasurers: “Participating in corporate treasury events is key – you can build your network, make contacts, and shed light on what others are doing,” he says.

Developing soft skills

When there is a vision for the treasury transformation, communication skills come into play and Yunusmetov is well aware of how important it is to develop soft skills. He points out that it is essential to get everyone on the same page so that everyone understands from the outset what the project is setting out to achieve and what its scope is.

“Communicating with the stakeholders, especially when it is a regional or global role, is important. Often there is a mismatch of expectations with the local operations and group management,” he says. This can lead to a disconnect between the vision that is set by the stakeholders and what can actually be delivered by the local teams on the ground. This can also manifest itself in misaligned key performance indicators (KPIs) between the local staff and the group management. Often, he explains, there is a lack of communication between the two and this is where the project manager in charge of the transformation can step in and provide the bridge between what the project is aiming for, and what is actually possible to deliver. “A good treasurer will need to have an understanding of what group management wants and what local teams are able to deliver – clear communication is vital,” he says.

Also, change management is an important part of the process as there will always be resistance to new ways of working. “Communication has to be aligned well before any workflows or processes are changed,” he adds. Sometimes, there can be disagreements about what can be achieved, and the local operations teams may say certain things are not possible to deliver. “The first line of defence is often saying that it is against the local regulations,” Yunusmetov comments. That may be the case, but on closer inspection it may be this is simply a default response to being asked to do something different, and the regulations are being used as an excuse. A good treasurer, and project manager, will know the difference between this and whether group management is expecting something that isn’t possible to deliver. “There is no one size fits all,” explains Yunusmetov. “Some things might not work – it might not be applicable just because of a cultural difference or because of the geographical location.”

Gaining technical skills

In managing transformation projects, Yunusmetov has developed his communication skills well. He has also been working on his personal transformation and developing other skills that he believes have been necessary for him in his career. “I built my technical skills to gain trust,” he explains. These included various certifications such as the Certified Treasury Professional accreditation from the Association for Financial Professionals and also an International Treasury and Cash Management certification to improve his technical understanding of the industry. It has also improved his standing among his peers and stakeholders who recognise the importance of such knowledge. On top of that, he says his CFA certification has given him credibility among his stakeholders and helped when discussing risk management and hedging activities, for example. He has also improved his management skills with a course in leadership skills and also the Lean Six Sigma Green Belt qualification.

The Lean Six Sigma approach focuses on process improvement and removing operational waste – looking for inefficiencies and fixing them, and focusing on processes that are essential and add value. These are learnings that he has taken on to his current role, where he is continuing his career of focusing on treasury transformation, and looking for efficiencies and ways to add value.

Continuing the transformation

These days Yunusmetov is working in the financial services industry, for a firm that is a fund manager and provider of corporate services. Working in treasury for this kind of company differs from a fast-moving consumer goods company, where treasury is typically viewed as a cost centre. Now, in this financial services company, the efficiencies that can be gained in liquidity management or foreign exchange can be directly passed onto the end client, meaning that the treasury team is a key contributor to the business. His current remit is to transform various treasury processes and make more efficient use of the TMS. He was hired because of his expertise in transformation, and so his skills have already been recognised by his managers. However, he has been keen to demonstrate and build trust among his new colleagues. Yunusmetov explains that trust has to be earned, and this can be done through constant communication and expectation management. When he started on the transformation project there were ambitious timelines and expectations, he says, and it was critical for him to manage expectations to ensure that he can be effective. “Delivering a project with realistic expectations is very important.” He has also had additional challenges as the company recently merged with another and so there are different ways of working that need to be consolidated. “Getting everyone on the same workflow has been quite a challenge – it has been a big change in the company,” he says.

During this time, in the early days of his new role, Yunusmetov has been focusing on stakeholder management and leveraging his previous experience to sharpen his communication skills. Part of that is asking the internal stakeholders questions, ensuring that he understands the deliverables and expectations, as well as speaking to business leaders in other departments. And sometimes the easiest way to communicate is by picking up the phone rather than getting involved in a long email chain: “A five-minute phone call can clear up a lot – it is easy to get misaligned over email,” he says.

Looking to the future, Yunusmetov expects to see more professionals get involved in treasury. He comments that more finance directors and chief financial officers will be turning their attention to treasury roles and focusing on cash management and cash flow forecasting. With this will come more enablement and usage of systems, including the use of APIs [application programming interfaces] to provide instant visibility and automated processes, as well as cash forecasting that makes use of artificial intelligence. Many companies are still using Excel, Yunusmetov comments, and in the future, “people will be digitising and automating and will be doing more with less.” For this reason, he argues it is important for treasurers to keep their skills up and improve their qualifications – and get busy with transforming treasury.

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