The treasury’s evolving role and the impact of the pandemic on team engagement were key areas of focus in the latest Future Treasurer roundtable, hosted by Treasury Today and State Street Global Advisors.
Opening the event, Sophie Jackson, Publisher & Head of Strategic Content at Treasury Today Group, spoke about the silver linings of the pandemic, including the way people are willing to offer their advice, guidance and time at a moment when they are under great pressure. She also cited the “newly enlightened conversations” organisations are now having in light of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Kim Hochfeld, Global Head of Cash at State Street Global Advisors, explained how the firm has expanded its focus since launching the Fearless Girl campaign three years ago to include both racial and ethnic diversity. She added that as an activist shareholder, State Street Global Advisors is now applying pressure to companies on this topic, just as it has on gender.
Evolving role of the treasurer
Next up was a thought-provoking discussion with Susan Gaughan, MD, Prime Services Clearing Collateral Management at Societe Generale, and David Deranek, Director of Treasury, Enterprise Treasury Operations at BlueCross and BlueShield, a division of HCSC.
Speaking about the evolving role of the treasurer, Deranek explained how he has seen treasury change during his career. “The greatest opportunity for somebody working in treasury is moving from a reactive to a proactive force in the organisation,” he commented. “This comes from an understanding of what treasury really does – and that’s drive value in the organisation.”
He explained that reaching this point takes a number of steps, from achieving efficiency through the use of suitable tools and policies to developing better financial controls “Treasury can then take a third step, which is to become more proactive, gaining greater visibility into financial data,” he added, noting that the three steps “enable treasury to better understand the value it has to offer the organisation, and then be more proactive in delivering value.”
Next, Gaughan talked about the evolution of her own role, with a particular focus on the importance of mentorship. “Mentors have always been important for my development for many reasons,” she said, adding that these include providing advice, expanding her professional network and acting as a sounding board, as well as encouraging her to “reach up”.
Even more important, she said, is the role of the sponsor – namely “an executive or senior manager within your organisation who advocates on your behalf for promotions or new job opportunities you may not even know about – I would almost call them your campaign manager.”
Understanding unconscious bias
Turning to the topic of diversity and inclusion, Gaughan observed that there is still room for improvement, particularly where inclusion is concerned. She commented that this needs to be a long-term commitment from top management, including initiatives such as unconscious bias training.
Deranek said that his organisation has adopted a department diversity and inclusion goal for treasury – and that the team has proactively explored the issue of unconscious bias as part of this.
“Everyone instinctively categorises people based on how they look, their gender, their education level, their accent – maybe even their social status and so on – and assign them assumed traits, which is very unfair,” he said. As such, “we realised we needed to become more aware that we’re being influenced by bias.”
Impact of the pandemic
Focusing on the pandemic, Gaughan described her experience of shifting to a remote working environment, and the importance of technology in enabling the team to stay in close communication.
“My takeaway so far from 2020 is to really sit down and understand what is a want, versus a need,” she said. While concluding that few things really count as ‘needs’, she noted that many people don’t have their basic needs met. As such, she underlined the importance of coming together as a society to correct the inequalities that exist today.
Deranek, meanwhile, said that HCSC has long been proactive about the issue of business continuity, with treasury identified as a key area that would need to be up and running in the case of an interruption. Treasury staff were therefore already in the habit of working once or twice a week from home by the time the pandemic hit – “so it was rather seamless.”
Impact of the ‘new normal’
Moving on from the discussion, Treasury Today’s Jackson invited attendees to move into virtual breakout rooms to discuss the impact that working from home is having on the topics of diversity, inclusion and female representation.
One theme that emerged was the impact of home working on people’s ability to build connections. One participant said that she had built more connections within the businesses as a result of home working. But another noted that while her organisation is still holding diversity and inclusion events, the virtual nature of those events means that it is no longer possible to have impromptu conversations afterwards with other attendees.
In the second breakout session, participants discussed the importance of motivating teams and managing productivity in the current challenging environment. One observation was that in the first couple of months, the focus had been on tackling challenges on a day-by-day basis. But now, with people looking at remote working as a longer-term situation, they are being more creative in finding ways to keep teams engaged, from virtual cookery classes to ‘walk and talk’ meetings.
In closing the event, Kevin Zimmerman, Head of US Cash, Direct Channel at State Street Global Advisors, encouraged participants to take any actionable items they had heard back to their own organisations, and to use the insights they had heard to further their own personal development journeys.