Treasury Talent

An assisting role

Published: Jul 2016
View inside a safety ladder tower

What skills and experience are necessary for treasury assistants? How do successful candidates progress? Treasury Today asks these questions and more to shine a light on the role in the first of this new series focused on the different rungs of the treasury career ladder.

Treasury assistants perform an array of tasks which support the daily operations of a treasury department. These could include: multi-currency cash management, bank reconciliation, settlements and the review of payments and receipts, amongst many other responsibilities. Although generally considered an entry level position, they have an important role to play in ensuring operations in treasury run efficiently – so what makes a good treasury assistant?

In this article, Treasury Today talks to recruitment experts, as well as former treasury assistants themselves about the key aspects of a successful candidate. What quickly becomes clear is that the answer to the preceding question is not a straightforward one. A range of skills and wealth of knowledge to build upon, as well as practical ability and softer skills, need to be demonstrated by any professional who wishes to fulfil the role of a treasury assistant.

Gaining exposure

The world of treasury is generally very supportive of new entrants, according to Martha Pierce, Senior Consultant at UK-based recruitment firm Hays Treasury. “Early on, you should be able to get the opportunity to gain exposure to the various elements needed to make a good treasury assistant.”

A common gripe made by candidates to recruiters, she says, is that there are not sufficient opportunities within their current company. But employers, on the other hand, sometimes feel like junior staff are not working hard enough to seize opportunities. “I will be having conversations with line managers, who will say ‘they are great at their job, but are not showing much eagerness to learn’.” Conversations need to start occurring then which ensure employees know their employers are willing to invest in them and, conversely, that employers know their employees are keen to develop professionally. “In my experience, it’s difficult to recruit at the moment so businesses, most of the time, are going to give you that opportunity to gain more experience,” Pierce adds.

Making the most of such opportunities will help individuals counter a mistake Pierce sees occurring too often at the beginning of a career. “I see a lot of people moving from roles too quickly for the wrong positions and a very small wage increase.” Rather, they should, she believes, be making the most out of their current position. “People that are very eager and asking their managers for more responsibility are getting it.”

As a result of such a conversation, Jennifer Gillespie, now Head of Money Markets at Legal & General, started her treasury career at Scottish Widows Bank as a treasury assistant, before later becoming a treasury manager. “As I had no finance or treasury experience, this didn’t come into play at all. It was more who I knew and the conversations I was willing to have – I talked my way into the job!”

A willingness to get involved is also necessary to fulfil a key part of the treasury assistant’s remit: liaising with banks and other senior people outside of the treasury department. For these activities, efficient communication skills – as well as a genuine enjoyment working with others – are absolutely necessary. “As a treasury assistant, you are not a silo. You are reliant upon other people, such as IT, so maintaining good relationships with other areas of the business is incredibly important,” clarifies Gillespie.

What’s more, according to Hays Treasury’s Pierce, being able to show your personality is a necessary part of the recipe for success. “Quite often at this level, personality is what gets somebody the job. Going into an interview and saying the right things – showing how keen and personable you are, for instance – and having the right foundational experience are components for success.”

Nadine Dannenmuller, now Treasury Analyst at Nokia Oyj, notes that when she initially joined the company (formerly Nokia Siemens Networks Finance B.V.) back in 2008, her treasury assistant role consisted of 70% administrative and logistical tasks and 30% treasury tasks. But, by showing a desire to progress and learn, she attracted the attention of a member of the team who believed she could make the step towards a more treasury-orientated role – and offered informal training and guidance. Dannenmuller does point out, though: “The treasury assistant role can be varied so you have to be flexible and ready to accept some uncertainty in the definition of your role which can evolve and develop over the course of time.”

The foundations

But what are the necessary building blocks from which to grow? First of all, the right attitude is important. “Clients looking for treasury assistants don’t want someone to try and run before they can walk. Rather, showing an eagerness to get stuck in and learn will hold you in good stead,” says Pierce.

Initially, those who tend to be successful have experience with multi-currency bank account and loan administration, for instance. They will also be familiar with settlements and confirmations. But the beginning stages of involvement with risk management and forecasting could help further their career development, says Pierce.

When you look at the more manual treasury functions, rather than those at departments with TMSs in place, treasury assistants must have intermediate level Excel skills: experience with pivot tables, the VLOOKUP function and the ability to trace back macros. “Requirements do depend on the company in question, however,” says Pierce. Therefore, treasuries with more automated processes will be looking for familiarity with these systems. However, a fundamental understanding of the underlying processes remains necessary. As Gillespie says: “It’s like understanding the mathematics behind something. We all had to learn multiplication tables. Understanding the processes behind the systems means you can cope if – or when – they break.”

For those interested in the role, it is pertinent to remember that treasury assistants are expected to work extremely hard – and this often involves taking responsibility for some of the department’s more administrative tasks. Treasury assistants will be involved in both the day-to-day operations, such as processing payments and receipt posting, as well as having month end responsibilities which could include reviewing the balance sheet or reporting the group currency month end rates. A list of further possibilities duties include:

  • Bank reconciliations.
  • Bank account management.
  • Cash book maintenance.
  • Answering payment related queries.
  • Preparing and processing payments.
  • Compliance activities.
  • Posting of bank transactions.
  • Maintenance and reporting of standing orders and direct debts.
  • Analysing funding needs
  • Ad hoc projects, as required.

A certain level of knowledge regarding international payment processing and time zone differences will need to be maintained too. As Dannenmuller said, the role will evolve and, currently, her main role is to ensure “EMEA cash centralisation and repatriation to avoid local currency devaluation and a better use of this cash centrally. For example, for repaying the central debt or for centralised deposits.” This involves booking inter-company loans and deposits, for instance, and providing the relevant documentation.

Treasury assistants will also be expected to ensure treasury policies are followed during every process and raise liquidity concerns to managers; a strong relationship between these two members of the team is invaluable. “Seeking and sharing macroeconomic knowledge is also about finding solutions to add value,” adds Dannenmuller.

Gillespie, for instance, says that it was perseverance and hard work that helped her gain treasury experience. “Practical experience is the most beneficial. That, and learning when to ask for help.” The role, for her, acted as a springboard for success somewhat. During 14 years at SWIP, Gillespie held various positions – the most senior of which was Investment Director, Money Market Funds where she helped to successfully launch SWIP’s global liquidity funds to bring the assets under management (AUM) from £3bn to £12bn. It would seem that the treasury assistant role provides sufficient exposure to the areas necessary to progress in different areas. “From the position you can build yourself out and boast a broader wealth of knowledge,” says Gillespie.

Beyond expectations

As with any position, the most successful employees bring something additional to the table. For the treasury assistant, one of the most valuable extra skills is experience with cash flow forecasting. According to Pierce, this will see your salary rise and more opportunities come your way.

Treasury-specific education is not a ‘must have’ at this level – as Gillespie’s success demonstrates – but employers do now tend to require graduates with a degree in a financial field. Those that are enrolled, or are close to sitting or have sat, their first paper of a treasury qualification are the ones in the strongest position. For instance, the Association of Corporate Treasurers (ACT) qualifications or the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA). Some also look into the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA), but it is important to be aware that this isn’t as treasury focused. “For a foot in the door, and to really show your interest in treasury, I think the ACT is the one that helps people massively,” says Pierce.

Training courses over shorter time frames also offer opportunities suitable for working life. Dannenmuller, who attended one of Eurofinance’s programmes, typically no longer than a week, says: “Although they are intense, you aren’t away from your daily tasks for too long. This training helped me see how my work is linked together with the work of other departments, and injected me with motivation and confidence through theory, real life case studies and group exercises.”

When it all goes wrong

As with any career, however, there are bound to be stumbling blocks along the way. As treasury assistants tend to be more junior, making mistakes can be daunting. “But it will come out that an error was made,” says Gillespie. “Therefore, make sure you have integrity.” This entails, she says, owning up to mistakes and, most importantly, thinking about how you are going to amend them. Being able to fix something is far better than hiding your head in the sand, pretending you weren’t at fault. “What this does mean is that when other responsibilities come to the forefront, people will trust you to do it correctly – and if you don’t, they feel confident that you won’t try and hide problems that need amending quickly.” Even the most senior executives, Gillespie continues, started from somewhere – and that isn’t a bad thing. In a recent conversation Treasury Today had with BP’s VP, Global Treasury Services, Debra Todd, she mentioned a remark which she makes to her team: “I’m not telepathic.” If they require something, or spot a problem, they need to tell her about it, Todd says. “Then I can either sort something out, or work with them to fix the problem.”

Senior colleagues also have a wealth of knowledge others can tap into. An official mentoring programme doesn’t need to be in place for employees to be able to ask those senior to them for advice. The reoccurring thoughts Treasury Today hears concur that most professionals are more than willing to share their understanding – and time – with others. And aptly so, as Dannenmuller says: “Treasury can be a mysterious world for a novice.”

Moving sideways

Gaining further experience could involve a sideways step. There are, of course, many different roles within the treasury function. What’s more, there are other departments where transferable skills can be applied – record-keeping skills or bank fee analysis, for instance. “It’s the people that have done their research and know what their transferable skills from their current role are that are the most successful,” says Pierce. For example, those in an accounts payable (AP) position that have gained exposure to relevant cash flow analysis could begin to transition into a treasury assistant role. “Over the last year or so, there has been an increasing emphasis on personal development in treasury,” says Pierce. This makes it a great time to consider how to progress your career, whilst bearing in mind this might not be immediately in an upwards direction.

A sideways career move will build out your breadth of knowledge in treasury which, higher up the ladder, could make all the difference. “You have to figure out what you are good at and you are only going to do that if you try different things,” says Legal & General’s Gillespie. And the opportunities are out there. According to her, treasury is a great place to meet other professionals, make friends and learn from others. You also hear of suitable vacancies and are more likely to receive recommendations from those who have worked alongside you in the industry.

This comes as a result of being someone who has a cooperative approach particularly important, as referenced earlier, to the treasury assistant. “It works both ways, however. If you ask AP people, for instance, for help, they are much more likely to do so knowing you’d do the same, rather than if you had sat in an ivory tower,” says Gillespie. People remember those that are willing to go out of their way to support the overall progress and efficiency of the whole organisation.

Staying put

Whilst the preceding focus has largely been on progression and how professionals can expand their breath of experience, treasury assistants can generally be split into two kinds. There are a number that have found their place in this position – and are achieving great things for treasury departments.

Practical experience is the most beneficial. That, and learning when to ask for help.

Jennifer Gillespie, Head of Money Markets, Legal & General

“Corporate clients do highlight succession planning as a key criteria, but they are always looking for stability and candidates that want to stay in the role for the next five to ten years,” says Hays’ Pierce. “These professionals tend to prove themselves in one company, rather than move every year or so.” During which time, of course, they will see their responsibilities grow. More experienced treasury assistants will, for example, liaise with treasury managers about the company’s funding responsibilities and will be more involved in the decisions which ensure effective use of cash than those at an earlier stage of their career. Dannenmuller, for example, controls and monitors the excess cash, instructing and facilitating local entities on cash repatriation, as well as optimising the liquidity of EMEA entities in accordance with local regulations and treasury policy. Also, the earlier operational skills gained will allow senior treasury assistants to manage and guide others at this later stage.

The department, in fact, relies upon the treasury assistant to be able to collaborate and communicate developments to all of the affected parties. It is well documented that treasurers today should act as strategic partners to the business, and these lines of communication are crucial to the meeting of this goal. A successful treasury assistant should have their finger on the pulse of all of the department’s activities. “You have to be a good communicator and coordinator. By talking to colleagues and interacting with multiple stakeholders, you can visualise where you stand in the chain and figure out where and how you can help,” says Dannenmuller. “It develops responsiveness and reactivity, traits that often prove valuable.”

In the midst

This supporting skill, acting somewhat as the seam between parts, is particularly in-demand when employers are looking for a treasury assistant on a contractual basis. For example, over busy periods, large treasury departments may need additional support. These new recruits will have to fit in fast – and keep up multiple communication links to ensure efficient operations. They will not be afforded a lengthy adjustment period. “When recruiting for contractors, employers will typically seek an experienced candidate who can hit the ground running rather than somebody who will need extensive support or training,” says Pierce. Contracting also provides greater exposure to a variety of different areas, she adds.

But regardless of whether someone is new to the role, a seasoned professional or taking on contractual work, the conventional activities treasury assistants undertake form key cogs in the treasury machine. A smoothly run department rests on a treasury assistant that can deliver.

Top tips for climbing the career ladder

  1. Do not be afraid to ask for advice.
  2. Experience may not be found where you expected. Taking on short-term roles or projects outside of the department can give you new perspectives.
  3. Try and make sure you stand out by going the extra mile for colleagues.
  4. Plan where you’d like to be, and how best to get there – but don’t expect it to always be a straightforward route. You can learn from bumps in the road.
  5. Know where your strengths lie, and make sure to keep a record of accomplishments.
  6. Maintain a healthy balance between your work and home life.

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