Although the idea of delivering implementation guidance and treasury advice remotely is not new, the current unprecedented global crisis has generated a surge in demand for remote consulting that will be long-lasting, as Bellin’s Consulting Director, Katja Franz, and Head of Consulting & Implementation, Michael Bach, explain.
Head of Consulting & Implementation
For businesses the world over, COVID-19 has triggered many things that are by and large negative: economic anxiety and uncertainty; crushed sales figures and expectations; and disrupted processes and workflows. But opportunities are starting to emerge from this crisis that may benefit companies long after the world is back to normal. Remote treasury management consulting is one of them.
Indeed, the current remote consulting boom may be born out of necessity, but it comes with a number of general advantages that are entirely unrelated to COVID-19 and its aftermath. Of course, there are some aspects to personal consultation that are hard to replicate in an entirely digital world. But the benefits of receiving support through digital channels far outweigh its limitations, both now and in the longer term.
Bridging time and space
The reason why so many companies are turning to remote consulting in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis appears straightforward: their workforces have been driven into home-offices, separated from one another both through social distancing and different time zones. It’s a scenario that rules out traditional consulting setups, even though this is a time when good advice is crucial. Remote consulting, delivered using state-of-the-art video conferencing technology, offers the obvious alternative.
Even taking away the extraordinary conditions that pass as normal working life at the moment, remote consulting appears to be a viable option for many companies with teams on different continents and in different locations. It may currently be a ‘must’, but for many it is surely an option worth considering even once we are through these challenging times.
Flexibility and efficiency
Treasury management can be hectic and challenging at the best of times. Not only are treasurers expected to maintain an overview of all the financial happenings in their group at all times, they’re also called on to put in place and monitor strategies and contingencies. This is a truth that COVID-19 has definitely hit home. Now, more than ever before, companies all over the world are relying on their financial gatekeepers to see them through these troubled times.
Treasurers need reliable system support and sound guidance and advice to meet these expectations. The nature of the role also means that they have to be incredibly flexible and efficient; the current crisis has emphasised this need too.
Indeed, whilst on-site consulting workshops, scoping sessions or project management meetings do bring great value to companies, their framework can feel constricting in times when ‘all-hands-on-deck’ is the order.
Treasurers are currently under enormous pressure and cannot afford to take their eyes off the ball for too long. A few well-timed and clearly structured three-hour video calls might therefore meet their needs better than an event that ties up capacities all day, including time spent on small talk or coffee breaks.
Again, this clearly applies in the current extraordinary scenario, but stands strong in ‘normal’ times too, especially in smaller companies where fewer staff carry more day-to-day responsibilities.
Focus meets speed
Remote consulting presents information differently, yet delivers the same results. The ability to break down advice and enable treasurers to focus more intently on fewer topics at one time can be invaluable – now and in general.
It’s easier to maintain concentration during shorter sessions, and treasurers can immediately return to their desks, taking care of everyday business and implementing what they’ve just learned.
By having more but shorter and more focused interactions, treasurers will see a direct impact, be able to ask targeted follow-up questions where needed, and adapt their work accordingly. The consultant also receives rapid feedback from which they can fine-tune their advice.
Greater discipline, faster response
Another positive side effect of holding meetings remotely is that attendees tend to show more discipline when it comes to timing. On-site coffee breaks or lunches routinely overrun by at least five to ten minutes, cutting back the general agenda or prolonging the process.
Conversely, video conferencing streamlines the process, encouraging attendees to stick to the agreed times, few wishing to keep anyone waiting on a call. What’s more, consultants delivering their guidance and support remotely cut out a lot of travel time. This frees up capacities and means advice is available faster, with more flexibility.
A consultant can easily have a video conference with a Russian prospect in the morning, and talk to a client in the US in the afternoon – an impossible physical-world scenario. This means more companies can benefit and their requirements can be met with greater flexibility.
It should be clear that remote treasury consulting is a viable option, particularly in times of social distancing and the rise of the home office, but more generally too. The outcome may be the same, but it is hard to ignore the feeling that COVID-19 is robbing us of an important aspect of our work. Despite the many obvious benefits of remote consulting, face-to-face meetings offer one irreplaceable element: the social and emotional side of human interaction.
At a functional level, it’s just as easy to deliver information through technology as it is in person. But it can be much harder to gauge people’s reactions from a distance. Body language and facial expressions matter. Whilst they can come across in a video call, it can be harder to interpret their nuances, especially in a new business relationship.
What’s more, for the individual consultant, speaking to a few people online may prove no match for meeting the whole team in person, seeing their setup firsthand, and experiencing a day in the lives of these people.
In the ‘real world’ – and given the option – it is advisable to hold ‘in-person’ meetings at least at the beginning of the consultation process, half-way through and at the end. Current circumstances dictate that, for many, this is simply not an option, remote treasury consulting suddenly becoming more than just an alternative.
Pathway to success
Here are a few easy-to-follow guidelines that providers should be using to make remote consulting just as successful as in-person guidance:
- Serve the same information but serve it differently: smaller, more focused packages (no more than three – five hours at a time) spread over a few days will be most beneficial.
- Define and implement a clear framework with structured timelines, deliverables and responsibilities. Communicate this upfront.
- Focus on one topic at a time. Deliver targeted, immediately implementable answers that can be revisited in the next session.
- Use flexible, state-of-the-art technology throughout the entire process. Never compromise on security, and always respect the company’s own IT requirements.
- Use video technology to maintain the social and emotional aspects of consulting as much as possible.
Remote treasury consulting could not be more topical. It brings many benefits that can see a company through the current crisis and will continue to hold their value once the skies clear again.
But with structured guidelines and great sensitivity towards all aspects of business relationships, remote treasury consulting is more than an emergency solution. It is a flexible, efficient, fast and successful solution fit for 21st century treasuries, especially in combination with a web-based treasury management system.