Francisco Meyo’s treasury career began in Mexico at PwC. Following a stint in Silicon Valley, he’s landed in New York overseeing treasury at the art investment platform Masterworks in a cutting-edge role that speaks to his enthusiasm and knowledge of treasury technology.
New York headquartered Masterworks is the first and leading firm for buying and trading shares in multi-million dollar, blue-chip artworks. It allows investors to build a diversified portfolio of iconic works of art curated by its industry-leading research and acquisition teams that includes artists like Basquiat, Picasso and Banksy. Masterworks was launched in 2017 and has 200 employees.
If Francisco Meyo, Corporate Controller at Masterworks, the tech start-up that allows people to invest in fine art, was granted three treasury wishes they would all be related to technology. First-and-foremost, he dreams of worldwide payment rails suitable and cost efficient enough to enable small, fast-growing companies like Masterworks to send and receive money from around the world at high speed and low cost. Secondly, he wants a sweeping take-up of Blockchain that would enable treasury teams to track money transfers and money balances in a reliable, stored ledger. His final wish is for all banks to have APIs and the ability to support instant, visible payments for their corporate customers.
Meyo’s response offers a window not only into his own digital and tech acumen and a future where leveraging technology in corporate treasury is as natural as breathing – especially at new companies creating processes from scratch. His wish-list also reveals his treasury priorities around leadership and investment, and the importance of ploughing resources now into the manpower, technology and innovation that will shape the future. Witness how Masterworks’ five-person treasury and finance team includes a dedicated software engineer, recently hired with the enthusiastic support of the CFO and CEO to ensure the best, time-saving treasury tech ideas the team come up with are developed and put in production.
“My dream treasury functions like a Swiss watch with minimum human interaction,” he says, speaking in an interview with Treasury Today from the firm’s New York offices. “We are not there quite yet, but I’m enjoying the journey.”
Meyo’s treasury journey began in his native country, Mexico. He studied finance and accounting at Universidad de las Américas Puebla (UDLAP) just outside the city of Cholula after which, fresh out of college, he joined PwC where he would stay until 2021. His first job kept him in Puebla, spending most of his time working with the consultancy’s biggest client and Cholula’s largest employer, VW.
A six-year stint in Cancun on the Caribbean came next, this time supporting corporate clients in the hospitality and retail sector in a role where he was tasked with building up a portfolio of clients and recruiting staff for PwC’s new office. He supported multinational corporates navigating technical accounting protocols and conversion between Mexican GAAP to US GAAP and IFRS, revenue recognition, inventory costing and tax compliance. “I had an amazing mentor and learnt how to build an office from scratch from a client and team perspective,” he recalls.
In 2014, a move with PwC to Silicon Valley marked his first, significant, step into the tech space that now shapes his career. He served clients in tech and biotech startups, as well as working with the Valley’s venture capital funds where he was involved in IPO advisory and secondary offerings, debt/equity sales and complex accounting advisory that included valuing VC portfolio companies and coordinating multiple teams and specialists.
Selection onto PwC’s coveted Digital Accelerator Programme cemented and fast-tracked his growing interest in technology. The internal programme takes candidates out of their day job, putting them through a two-year immersive training programme that teaches automation, machine learning, design, digital storytelling, and everything in between. He learnt about data analysis, smart workflows, and Alteryx; how to automate repetitive manual processes utilising Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and got comfy with the tools that provide the business insights that ultimately saved PwC thousands of hours on audit processing for its Bay Area clients. “I had always had an inclination for technology and was very fortunate to be chosen for the programme,” he says.
It was a two-year period that also laid the foundations for his next career move. After 17 years at PwC, Meyo took the plunge. Leaving to not only begin a master’s in data science at Berkeley School of Information but also to take up a new role at Masterworks. Studying and working at the same time has involved an arduous schedule of weekend and evening classes for his masters (a three-year course that he hopes to finish this year) alongside a new job that landed him in the corporate world for the first time in his career. Add in moving to New York and raising a two-year old, and he admits it hasn’t been easy. “We have been on a bit of a roller coaster.”
The ups and downs that come with joining a new company on the cutting edge of the tech, investment and art worlds has certainly added to the ride. Founded in 2017, Masterworks is the first platform for buying and selling shares in iconic art of its kind. It allows investors to build a diversified portfolio curated by an industry-leading research team, tapping into an alternative asset class valued at US$1.7trn and where growth more than doubled returns from the S&P 500 between 1995-2021.
Masterworks selects artwork according to what will have the greatest momentum. It then buys and securitises it before selling fractions of the work to investors on its platform. Investors typically wait three to ten years before Masterworks then sells the art, and they can take their profit – unless they find a willing buyer for their stake before on its secondary market. Each new painting is an SPV with its own IPO under US securities law, creating a regulatory framework that treats an artwork the same way as a listed company.
Behind the scenes, Meyo’s treasury team pull the levers facilitating the platform. Masterworks has around 600,000 users in 200 countries and to date it has offerings (the fractions of an individual piece of art for sale to investors) on around 230 artworks. The finance function is responsible for launching around four to six new pieces for sale every week and overseeing smooth distributions behind the IPOs. Daily flows coming into the platform equate to thousands of deposits and the team are responsible for receiving and reconciling funds from new and existing customers dotted around the world on five different payment rails spanning ACH wire transfers to credit cards. Just as important is sending cash out when paintings are finally sold.
Alongside operating the company’s end-to-end cash processing and reconciliation function his team also maintain the investor ledger and are responsible for accounting all transactions, financial reporting and maintaining bank relationships.
Of all Meyo’s varied and complex tasks, international payments are his biggest bugbear. “Frictionless payment to bank accounts around the world still have a long way to go,” he says, in a nod to that first wish. “The most difficult part of my job is creating an easy process whereby investors can send us a payment that we can reconcile, and then for us to send money back to those investors in a way that is cheap and efficient.” Masterworks is in the process of moving most of its international payments/payouts into cross border ACH in a bid to avoid the disadvantages of SWIFT that Meyo says are an enduring treasury pain point. “We want to avoid high fees, slow processing times and currency conversion charges which are in fact a hidden fee,” he says.
He is convinced technology will make payments easier in the future. For example, international investors on the platform increasingly use local payment rails, paying into regional bank accounts Masterworks has opened with its banking partner Goldman Sachs. “The banking industry has come a long way. Things like this are making it easier for us.”
He also notices that payment vendors and banks are boosting investment in technology, particularly APIs, giving treasury the ability to see live information and real-time transactions. “It’s not cheap for banks or vendors to make APIs available to their customers, but it is a gamechanger,” he says. “The first question we ask any new vendor that is offering a payment-related service is if they have an API. It makes such a big difference using APIs compared to a system whereby you must download Contract & Service Billing (CSB) to get a hold of your bank transactions.”
We must solve the problems with technology. The pace we are growing means we will outgrow our traditional finance operation.
Masterworks is also developing its own, bespoke solutions. Like T-Rec, its award-winning, in-house, API-powered, investor payment reconciliation system that acts as both a data processor and as a visualisation tool on all payments coming in and out of the business. No outsourced payment operations, administration option would have been cost-effective or able to seamlessly integrate into our investor experience, explains Meyo. “We built our payment operations entirely in-house.”
Treasury’s ability to develop internal solutions rests in the skills Meyo has recruited to build Masterworks’ small but expert team. For example, the company’s Accounting Manager has a background in programming and Python; the Payments Manager’s grasp of technology and automation includes comfortably using tools like Zapier, and the finance team’s dedicated Software Engineer ensures every new function and process the team develops gets into production. “We have assembled a truly modern finance team,” he says, adding that working with such a close-knit team (in the office five days a week) is one of the most enjoyable aspects of the job. “I enjoy the face-to-face contact but also for the way it speeds up processes. I can look up and see the person I need to talk to. Things move faster when you are in the office.”
Building out the treasury function has drawn on all his tech expertise. “For a regular accountant, a lot of this would be unknown,” he laughs, reflecting that just a few years ago he was exactly that. Now it’s a different story. “I’m not writing the code or setting up a new system in production, I’m not that person, but I can speak the same language as the developers.”
Perhaps most importantly he has a level of understanding that means he knows what the treasury function needs and can articulate the way ahead. “What I enjoy most is the opportunity to innovate,” he says. “Particularly listening to new trends amongst payment processors and being able to say yes, let’s explore that.”
Still, despite the steady stream of people seeking to work at the company, he says finding tech and programme savvy treasury expertise is challenging. Treasury applicants with accounting and operations skills who understand APIs and can comfortably navigate an SQL database are thin on the ground. “We can’t rely on traditional manual accounting or spreadsheets,” he says. “It’s hard finding the right people, although I do notice more people are seeing the importance of shifting towards these skill sets.”
But, in contrast to his time back at PwC when he was tasked with staffing the new Cancun office, Meyo reflects that building Masterworks’ treasury headcount may not be the solution to the growing workload. Today the company has 240 paintings in its portfolio, but this is predicted to grow to 500 in the next few years. “It is unsustainable to keep recruiting people to do all these tasks manually,” he says. “We must solve the problems with technology. The pace we are growing means we will outgrow our traditional finance operation.”
The solution, he says, is AI. Although the pace of progress in advanced artificial intelligence systems, such as OpenAI’s GPT, sparks alarm in many quarters, including global tech leaders, in a treasury context he believes the benefits will be profound. Natural language recognition and processing could be applied to everything from payments and reconciliation to customer services and marketing. Accurate Chatbots that go into a company’s knowledge base and give the same response that a human would are something to celebrate. He believes the arrival of widely used countless applications are just around the corner. “We are not applying it now, but we are willing to explore it. I’m not scared, I’m excited and think it is just going to make our life easier.”
The conversation draws to a close with Meyo reflecting on his career highs. He counts the times he has embraced change as pivotal, namely moving from Mexico to Silicon Valley and more recently jumping from PwC into the corporate world. “Moving to a fast-growing fintech like Masterworks has been a lifechanging experience,” he says. Other memorable moments are a nod to his academic prowess. They include graduating first, nationwide, in Mexico’s 2011 Contador Público Certificado (CPA) cohort when he was still at PwC. “It was a big deal at the firm,” he recalls. Selection for the Digital Accelerator Programme was equally important. “It really was a life changing programme. I was trained in data tools which was the inspiration to pursue my degree in data science and ultimately land a job in industry where I have been able to innovate,” he concludes.