As a finance professional in the logistics sector, it seems appropriate that the career of Helen Toh progressed on a circuitous route before she arrived in treasury and assumed the role of Treasury Director, Corporate Finance for Deutsche Post DHL’s Regional Treasury Asia Pacific office in Singapore.
Helen, a graduate in business administration from the National University of Singapore, joined DHL back in 1998. She made her mark in a number of different business divisions, taking on a roster of finance roles that included Credit Control Team Leader and Regional Cost Control Team Leader. Prior to joining treasury, she was to be found developing and implementing centralised billing solutions for regional customers in her remit as Regional Billing and Credit Manager. “This role put me in touch with the Regional Treasury team; my first encounter with treasury piqued my interest,” she explains.
Describing treasury as a niche area, “very different from the usual finance operations”, Helen, undaunted by the prospect, spotted an opportunity in May 2007 to transfer her skills within the organisation. She would bring with her a unique perspective and understanding of the organisation’s wider finance function which has since served her well in her work at the company’s Regional Treasury Centre Asia Pacific. “The scope in treasury is very wide and while I am already in my seventh year in the profession, I am still picking up new knowledge every day,” she notes.
It is the “continuous learning environment as well as a great team” that keeps Helen’s professional inspiration fresh. But she knows too that within Deutsche Post DHL there are always opportunities for career progression, be it within or outside Treasury, globally or across Asia Pacific. Not least of the reasons for this is because of the sheer geographic scope of treasury in the firm’s Asia Pacific function, extending as it does to some 41 countries.
However, this broad sweep of the region has a more immediate impact on Helen’s work. “It means that we are continuously impacted by central banks and tax regulations,” she notes. Naturally, with such diversity, it is not always plain sailing ahead. “These regulations sometimes hamper the deployment of our in-house banking platform and the repatriation and deployment of trapped cash from highly regulated economies.” But treasurers are a valuable resource within any business when it comes to tackling issues such as regulatory impact and risk management. It is a good reason why Helen is adamant that the profession must maintain and even increase the strength of its voice within business.
Within many organisations, whilst there will be policies and guidelines to deal with risk, treasurers have a duty to “exercise flexibility” in their approach to management. “Our focus should also be highlighting and managing risk for the benefit of the business; we should not be the controllers or the policemen, but we can support the business in new initiatives and use every opportunity to bring value by applying business intelligence to the data and numbers we see every day.” In fact, the core reason for setting up the Regional Treasury Centre in Asia Pacific was that it could serve as the key contact for all treasury and corporate finance matters for the business, divisions and countries in Asia Pacific. As Helen says, “being close to the business is very important”.
As a corporate treasurer operating in a necessarily far-reaching business, the biggest challenge faced by Helen and her team is around global visibility and access to cash held locally in all the subsidiaries worldwide. With different sets of regulations in force in each jurisdiction, she acknowledges that it is a continual demand to maintain that visibility and access to cash in each country. “Within Deutsche Post DHL, we make great use of treasury tools,” she says.
The company has rolled out many solutions such as in-house banking, a cash pooling structure, centralised FX management, a payment factory, SWIFT gateway and electronic FX management. As part of its quest for clarity, Deutsche Post DHL is aiming high. “Ideally we would like 100% visibility over cash, bank guarantees and other financial exposures of our subsidiaries on a real-time basis – and at a click of a button.” In a perfect world, Helen continues, it would not only be able to bring on board mature markets like Singapore and Tokyo, but also exotic geographies such as Xi’an in the Shaanxi province of China or Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
It is satisfying for Helen being a trusted source of information and advice for the whole regional finance function of a major multinational, but when it comes to career moves and personal growth, she has some equally solid words of wisdom to impart. “My best advice is not to give up, no matter how difficult the project is,” she says. In fact, she appreciates colleagues who add value to their work by taking on any project that comes their way – even if it is difficult or has been shunned by others – not least because that knowledge stays with them forever. “If they share their knowledge generously and continue to progress steadfastly in their career, they contribute value to their team, achieving deeper fulfilment in their own work,” she explains. For Helen, nowhere is this better summed up than in the old saying “the more you give, the more you receive”. For a treasurer in logistics, this somehow seems appropriate too.