This tale begins much as it does with many global treasuries: de-centralisation, with too many banks and complex processes stifling optimisation. Conscious of the hazards of such a set-up, around 15 years ago, Roche’s treasury switched its focus to stronger risk management, and protection of the company, steering a course towards centralisation, leveraging the best solutions of the day and embracing the ongoing and rapid pace of development in both technology and regulation.
Having largely centralised by the time of the 2008 financial crisis, Roche’s treasury had already seen how its transformation could keep it on an even keel. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the imposition of home-working presented major operational challenges for many. But for Roche, having established “clear accountabilities” within its centralised structure, these have been largely overcome, says Stephan Bohner, the firm’s Head of Financing & Markets.
Alongside empowerment to take action, under central control, he feels that having the clarity and transparency to know the group’s liquidity status intraday, and being able to execute funding and liquidity management through one platform, has been “extremely helpful”.
Of course, remote working, especially in treasury, can raise security concerns. With Roche’s centralised treasury system overseeing all processes, and with a bank-agnostic environment limiting the use of external technologies, Martin Schlageter, Roche’s Head of Treasury Operations, explains that Roche’s secure eco-system has long-since enabled secure remote-working. As the lockdown deepened, switching to home-working has been “completely seamless”. Such preparedness, he adds, has enabled treasury to immediately concentrate on the needs of the business.
With today’s set-up having been tested under pressure, the team is looking for further enhancements. There is scope for increased automation here, possibly applying it, for example, to the trading platform to facilitate deal execution. And as well as exploring custom reporting within Roche’s SAP core system, Schlageter has identified as a priority, access to as much daily liquidity management data as is available through that platform.
In this context, deployment of artificial intelligence and data analytics is being investigated, and treasury is keen to extract real-time information because, as Bohner explains, “for liquidity, yesterday’s data is no longer good enough”.
Roche has not travelled this path alone. One of its key partners is Citi. With liquidity paramount, Melanie Girouard, Treasury and Trade Solutions Sales Head for Corporates and Public Sector, Switzerland, says the bank continues to enhance its offering through the design and application of real-time solutions.
From delivering standard intra-day statements, to the automation of liquidity concentration and leveraging data and analytics, she says the aim is to help all clients make more informed decisions. “Straight-through processing is something on which we are very focused in the bank, so helping clients such as Roche achieve that is something we naturally strive for”.
Treasury centralisation and digitalisation is an ongoing project for Roche. Strong banking partners help standardise processes across the enterprise, says Bohner. With this support, he says treasury is bringing the complexity of its global operations under control and into one place.
As a service provider with a huge variety of processes to capture digitally (not least banking some 80 subsidiaries in-house) the team has its work cut out. In order to reap the benefits of a holistic system, Schlageter knows all stakeholder expectations must be met.
But for treasury to be wholly relevant as a service provider, it needs to leverage technology to help business colleagues better understand core treasury elements such as cash flow. In doing so, Schlageter says it helps unlock synergies, empowering business units to focus more effectively on their own specialisms.
Nowhere is treasury more relevant today than in the wider understanding of working capital. With some of Roche’s suppliers pressured in this respect, treasury stepped up its existing supply-chain finance programme. From day one, says Schlageter, “we have been able to support suppliers in accessing additional financing, adding value to the financial supply-chain of the company.” It is, he adds, true to the nature of its centralised set-up that Roche can scale up such solutions around the globe.
Girouard believes that programmes such as these will become a “gamechanger”, ensuring supply-chain resilience in challenging times. But few would have thought that at the start of its journey, the centralisation and digitalisation of Roche’s treasury would have such a far-reaching impact.