Treasury Talent

Talent management

Published: Mar 2015
Portrait of Tzeitel Fernandes
Tzeitel Fernandes, Principal, Performance & Rewards, Aon Hewitt in Asia Pacific:

Treasury skills like liquidity and risk management have always been ‘hot skills’ in Asia. Yet, increased collaboration with banks has meant a reduction in the size of treasury teams, leaving them more vulnerable in case of attrition. While firms continue to have large finance teams, the specialised skills of the treasury function are not easily found in the traditional finance professional.

Attracting talent into the treasury is tricky, as the correct skills are very difficult to find. Most employers are now using a combination of social media and traditional methods to root out qualified professionals for their treasury teams. However, most firms prefer to grow talent from within, especially in the case of ‘hot’ areas like treasury.

Aon Hewitt’s research shows that the best employers tend to fill just under half (43%) of their managerial vacancies internally, versus approximately only a third (34%) for employers in general. This strategy works much better than hiring from outside; not only is it more cost effective, but it comes with reduced training time and smoother transitions. It also demonstrates the organisation’s commitment to providing career opportunities to its employees, thereby increasing the engagement of the team as a whole. As we have known for a while, ‘career opportunities’ have long been a key driver of employee engagement in Asia Pacific.

In order to maximise return on investment in talent, firms need to identify their high potential employees in the treasury, and adopt proactive measures to keep them engaged. Typical strategies used by the best employers to retain and motivate high potentials include leadership development programmes, developmental assignments, special projects and increased access and interaction with senior executives.

Besides these, there are certain specific steps that firms could take to develop, retain and motivate staff in their treasury departments. One of the most effective is to send high potential, high performing staff for treasury-related certification courses. These courses are offered by various reputed associations or educational organisations and have a three to 12 month duration. Employees value them enormously, not only for the learning opportunity they provide, but also as they enhance the message that the organisation is willing to invest in their development to help them build a career within the treasury.

In larger firms, junior to mid-level professionals are often rotated between teams within the treasury. This promotes collaboration between teams, enhances the teams’ skills and knowledge about the working of the function, and enlarges the talent pool which the firm can draw from when it needs to fill a position. Increased centralisation of the treasury teams has made this more possible in hub locations, such as Hong Kong and Singapore, in the last few years.

Finally, the most successful firms are those that understand the importance of internal recognition. Through a combination of rewards, special projects and even ‘meet the leadership’ events, firms that are able to demonstrate appreciation for their employees also have a higher chance to engage and retain them.

Tim Raiswell, Managing Director, CEB and Alex Bant, Research Director, CEB:

Despite an ongoing war for talent in many geographies, 50% of finance leaders say that their current teams lack the right mix of skills to meet evolving business demands. Essentially, business leaders want finance partners who can tell a clear story about the drivers of business performance and guide them to better decisions and processes. However, the typical finance team’s strengths tend to be functional and technical capabilities. So it’s not surprising that we see many finance leaders searching desperately for better partnership, communication and leadership capabilities in their people. Unfortunately, CEB finds that it is exceptionally rare to find all of these skills in individuals, which is why the best finance functions focus on building better teams, not finding individual stars.

Companies have pressed ‘pause’ on finance talent development. During the lean years between 2008 and 2011, we found that 63% of finance teams paused recruitment efforts, 52% put training and development programmes on hold, and 51% reduced their learning and development budget.

There is a growing gap between HR-led strategies and finance needs. HR competency designations, such as “soft skills” or “leadership skills,” are often applied broadly across corporate functions without tailoring to finance’s unique needs. There is also a lack of leadership training. The middle management layer for many finance teams is decreasing, leading to managers who are unprepared to take on additional responsibilities and train junior staff. In fact, we found that 81% of finance executives are dissatisfied with the strength of their leadership pipeline.

The skills that matter most for treasury

Treasury executives are worried about the impact of these widening skill gaps on corporate and individual performance, but they find it difficult to identify which skills are missing within their team and what to do about it. We surveyed more than 2,200 finance professionals to identify the non-technical competencies that are critical to bridging this gap in treasury:

  1. Builder:

    An ability to develop talent, manage and utilise a portfolio of skill sets, and manage teams.

  2. Persuader:

    Strong communication skills, such as using narratives and graphics to convey messages.

  3. Strategist:

    Understanding of business operations and technology.

  4. Learner:

    Flexibility, learning, and improvement skills.

  5. Doer:

    Strong functional expertise combined with problem solving and judgment skills.

Most finance teams have a surplus of people with ‘doer’ and ‘learner’ competencies, but the best teams over-invest in ‘builder’, ‘strategist’, and ‘persuader’ competencies. Most finance leaders will need to change their current hiring strategy if they are to find people with these skill sets.

Portrait of Christine Wright
Christine Wright, Managing Director, Hays, Asia

Staffing demand is intensifying in Asia and the labour market is becoming exceedingly tight in many areas, including treasury departments. Given ongoing demand for highly skilled professionals, employers need to look at more innovative strategies to attract and retain talent in treasury departments.

With more businesses centralising the treasury function where possible, there has been an increase in control over cash management across the region. This has offered treasury professionals the opportunity to work in larger teams, which is a positive retention measure as staff gain access to more career development opportunities. Also, increased project exposure has been a critical driver in retaining talent with many individuals now regularly involved with acquisitions and integrations.

Attracting and retaining employees in treasury departments also involves understanding the recruiting equation. This is made up of branding, promoting what your organisation can offer and demonstrating honesty and respect. You also need to promote the ongoing learning and development on offer. This is otherwise known as the Employee Value Proposition (EVP). Every organisation should have its own unique EVP that can communicate to potential employees the experience of working for your company and distinguish it from others. To come up with something that truly appeals to the type of person who will thrive in your department, it helps to think of your EVP as a description of why your business is the right place for the type of people who succeed there, and nobody else.

Next, seek the opinion of your successful employees by asking them why they chose to join you – and what keeps them there. You may be surprised at what attracted them to your organisation in the first place. Then, make sure your company statement reflects reality. You want people who are attracted by what you say and find it’s true when they get there. Don’t run the risk of saying one thing and delivering another. People will share their experience on social media if you do and your department and the company’s reputation will be tarnished.

In-house talent can be developed to add more value to the company in a number of ways. Performance management is central to development and can be as simple as a robust, regular appraisal system that is user friendly and which managers are committed to. Formal performance feedback is also an excellent opportunity to ensure talent is engaged.

Secondly, provide career progression opportunities for your treasury team. Lack of career progression is often the primary reason given by candidates when asked why they are looking for a new job, followed by a desire for new challenges. Candidates often rank it above the salary on offer.

Training and development doesn’t necessarily mean formal courses, although it can. One-on-one training and taking on additional duties can be just as effective. Investing in your employees’ skills development allows them to be the best they can be, which has obvious rewards for both them and you. Mentorships are a useful training and development tool to aid in retention and they can also be used to develop, retain and pass corporate insight on to other employees. A trend we have noticed is an increase in regional coverage with many treasury professionals taking on broader portfolios in order to develop their skills.

Finally, reward and recognition programmes can be used as part of a successful retention programme, as long as there is a fair and equal system of processes for rewards. Despite your best efforts, some staff may still go. Making leaving a positive experience can be a challenge but it is very powerful for leavers to speak highly of an organisation even though they no longer work there.

Portrait of Jeff Tang
Jeff Tang, Hong Kong Managing Director at Towers Watson

Being innovative must begin with an open mind, and the courage to be, and act differently. This requires deep insight into what motivates an organisation’s talent in terms of attracting, retaining and engaging staff.

The treasurer’s role continues to evolve and is becoming multi-dimensional beyond its traditionally technical aspects. This is leading to a wider and diverse talent pool, which is a blessing, but could also be a curse, as it presents its own challenges in terms of understanding and matching the variety of attraction and engagement drivers such as healthcare and wellness benefits, job security, base pay, career advancement opportunities, relationship with manager and management of work-related stress.

High performing organisations tend to have a deep knowledge of their organisation, including what it stands for, and have a clear employment proposition that reflects the organisation’s values. This should also be formally articulated and well executed.

Often, Towers Watson has advised clients who have poorly communicated employment deals or elements of the deal that are contradictory. This makes one wonder whether the organisation is better off not having one at all. Towers Watson research shows organisations with highly evolved employment deals (well articulated, well communicated, customised for different employee segments, and differentiated) have less challenges in retaining critical skills compared to less well thought out ones.

Our research tells us that there is often a mismatch between what employers understand and employees prefer, in terms of drivers of attraction and retention. Understanding what drives employees to be attracted and retained by an employer is equally crucial.

Employers are taking a more robust approach by adopting deeper analytics to develop solutions that match the employees’ preferences. Total rewards optimisation analytics enable employers to understand preferences, perceived values and “trade-offs” that employees are prepared to make. This provides powerful insights for employers to design the “right” deal.

Solutions around the theme of “choice and ownership” are becoming more popular, and this is partly a result of diverse lifestyles experienced by the current workforce that has evolved from multiple generations of workers.

The next question:

Given the drive towards ‘green business’, is e-invoicing a technology that corporates in Asia should be embracing? If so, what recommendations can be made about successfully adopting e-invoicing solutions? Also, are there any specific developments in this space for treasurers to be aware of?

Please send your comments and responses to

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