Major capital goods (CG) corporates are often early adopters of new treasury techniques and technology largely due to their substantial size, as the corresponding extent of potential cost savings and efficiency gains are attractive. As Jared Smith, Global Sector Head of Capital Goods and Automotives at HSBC Global Liquidity and Cash Management, describes, because their needs are often more pronounced than treasuries in other sectors with less diverse geography and product need, CG corporates are paving the way forward in treasury transformation.
The largest members of the CG sector were among the first corporates globally to focus on treasury centralisation. As global, highly-diversified industrial companies, they could see the substantial potential benefits of migrating to SWIFT and common message standards, while also streamlining their banking relationships. The overhead of supporting multiple proprietary message types could be removed, central treasury’s visibility of cash globally could be enhanced and banking costs could be minimised by closing surplus accounts. In addition, their ERP systems were able to run more efficiently in terms of both processing and providing valuable management information. Essentially, these CG corporates completed Treasury Transformation 1.0 10 to 15 years ago and over the intervening period have already evolved to Treasury Transformation 2.0 or beyond.
Reducing cost and change barriers for later adopters
A major change since the largest CG companies undertook the first stage of treasury transformation is that the costs associated with that first stage transformation have declined considerably. Smaller companies, which might have found the costs of such a transformation hard to justify 10 to 15 years ago, now have a far easier decision to make. Technology costs have fallen substantially, with lighter, or software as a service, versions of ERP and treasury management systems (TMS) now available. In addition, these smaller companies are able to work from an established road map defined and refined by the larger early adopters. In addition, some smaller companies may have already undertaken some of the preliminary rationalisation needed before they embark on their treasury transformation, so they are not starting from the absolute zero point of their predecessors.
These smaller companies may therefore look to their banks for a slightly different set of skills and services than their larger peers. Many of them could be moving into new and unfamiliar territories, so the extent and depth of their bank’s physical network will be crucial in offering support and guidance on local regulation, clearing mechanisms and payment practices. More generally, they may be looking for a consultative banking relationship, as well as local language support from qualified ERP, TMS and SWIFT specialists.
Larger companies will be looking for some of the same qualities in their banks; however because of their size, diversified brands and geographies serviced, they will often already know about relevant local regulation, clearing mechanisms and payment practices.
Expectations of banking partners: single point consistency
Large diversified CG companies have additional priorities in other areas, with one of the most important being global consistency of servicing. Partly due to their highly centralised nature, they place a premium on being able to interact with their key banks in the same manner, using the same interfaces, regardless of location. While local market conditions may occasionally prevent this, it also applies to bank products and services, where a consistent user experience and operation is highly valued.
In the case of a specific project, this consistency needs to apply across all phases of the bank interaction, starting with the relationship sales engagement. The same consistent messaging and service level then needs to be maintained by the bank’s implementation team, as well as post-implementation with the client service team.
Overlaid upon this is a need for the bank to be able to focus its expertise and delivery down to a single point. In a complex global cash management engagement, multiple bank teams around the world may be supporting and working with multiple local corporate teams. Nevertheless, for global treasury to be able monitor and manage their daily activity efficiently, it needs all the information relating to the project focused to a single local point of delivery. The inefficient alternative is for treasury to have to contact multiple local centres individually, many of which may be in entirely different time zones.
An interesting distinction regarding large companies, such as the largest CG corporates, is that some may now view their banks less as transaction organisations and more as the owners and purveyors of information and data. This challenges their banking partners to deliver data in a way that matches the client’s approach to its consumption of that data, given the sophistication of the data management and analytical tools now at clients’ disposal. The data expectations of global CG treasuries include exceptional granularity and detail. For instance, rather than aggregated data, they will be looking for individual transaction level data, coupled with as much detail as possible about each transaction. If they have this, they are not constrained in how they slice and analyse the data by multiple criteria, such as payment type, beneficiary/remitter type, ancillary payment information (eg invoice numbers) or processing time.
Large CG treasuries expect that all this information should be made available by their bank in a single consistent format that can be automatically streamed via application programming interface (API) into their ERP or TMS. They definitely do not wish to receive a mixture of CSV files, XML formats and binary files that they will have to normalise themselves.
The historic focus of a bank’s transaction banking organisation has been to deliver extremely robust and equally efficient transaction processing. Its systems were therefore entirely fit for the purpose originally intended. However, they were implemented at a time when the focus was primarily on processing just the transaction, but not upon collecting and sharing information relating to the transaction with multiple other systems, including those on the client side. Therefore, extracting the information that CG treasuries want from these processing systems is not a trivial task. A further hurdle in a global context is that these core processing systems may vary from region to region both in terms of transaction detail and internal format, so an additional task for the bank is the necessary data normalisation.
One of a major Capital Goods treasury’s key expectations of a consultative banking relationship is proactive support and scenario planning
Transaction banks have therefore had to invest heavily in transformation projects to deliver access to the large pools of data that clients generate, thereby enabling clients to access and analyse that data conveniently. For example, HSBC has made a major commitment with its global Digital Transformation for Corporates (DTC) programme. A core part of DTC is the development of a range of APIs that streamline the extraction and normalisation of granular data from the various transaction processing systems. Furthermore, in addition to delivering on corporate data needs, DTC also provides the sort of consistent user experience clients now also require. Innovation investment like DTC also eases the path to future enhancements, such as the incorporation of blockchain technology.
Integrating change through acquisition/divestiture
CG corporates often reshape themselves by acquiring or selling off business units. This obviously has implications for treasury, which (among other tasks) will have to open/close bank accounts, make ERP/TMS changes and reshape liquidity structures – in addition to day-to-day treasury activities.
As a result, leading CG treasuries expect their core transaction banking partners to be expert in streamlining the tasks and processes associated with integrating or detaching a business. Anything the bank can do to shorten the timeline, reduce the treasury workload and introduce efficiencies, will be welcome. This is also closely linked with the point mentioned earlier regarding the bank being able to focus its global expertise and network to a location convenient to the corporate treasury.
By the same token, if the bank is internally well coordinated among its various disciplines, it can leverage this to support the client in developing the optimal integration/detachment strategy. If the bank’s M&A team works closely with its transaction banking team early enough in the deal process (obviously subject to confidentiality/regulatory and market constraints) it can more readily identify and neutralise potential issues before they become real – potentially saving the client time and cost.
An interesting angle within the acquisition/disposal process is that it is not uncommon for large global CG companies buy/sell business units between each other, sometimes simultaneously or near-simultaneously. This poses a rather different set of challenges for the banks involved than when a large acquirer simply buys a smaller entity. A particular added-value point here is if the bank has an existing relationship with either (or ideally both) CG companies. If it does, it should be able to leverage its existing knowledge of their processes and technology to expedite and smooth the integration/detachment of the business unit(s) concerned.
As already mentioned, major CG companies are already highly centralised, but one comparatively recent innovation that has the potential to extend this is the Next Generation Virtual Account (ngVA). These companies have already heavily rationalised the number of physical bank accounts they hold, but ngVAs could allow them to take this a step further. Multiple physical accounts could be replaced with far fewer physical accounts, each at the top of a structure of virtual accounts. Combining this with the self-service capability now available with ngVA offerings enables CG treasuries to use ngVAs to further streamline the acquisition/disposal of business units, by minimising the number of changes involving physical bank accounts.
In addition to the traditional advantage of virtual accounts for improving receivables reconciliation, ngVAs can also be used to build structures representing a group of business units that treasury can then manage centrally. Potential efficiencies here include the opportunity for treasury to manage payments and/or receivables across business units, plus in-house banking.
On the liquidity management side, ngVAs have certain functional characteristics of both cash concentration and notional pooling. In this context, cash can be allocated to virtual accounts, in the name of different group entities, as ledger entries while the funds still sit in a physical bank account in the name of a single entity. Historically, some corporate treasuries have used notional pools to centralise cash and to enable them to easily distinguish between each entity’s cash without the co-mingling of funds. Since ngVAs allow the reporting of balance allocation on an entity basis within one physical bank account, they could therefore provide a less costly and flexible alternative to notional pooling.
Proactivity and the unexpected
One of a major CG treasury’s key expectations of a consultative banking relationship is proactive support and scenario planning. If an unexpected geopolitical event takes place, it naturally looks to its major banking partners for support. It expects that these banks will have anticipated the possibility of such an eventuality (at least in the general sense) and will have also already formulated various suitable client-specific response strategies for consideration. However, in order to deliver this, the bank will require sufficient depth of infrastructure, resilience, and market commitment/influence. It will then not only be able suggest relevant strategies, but also to support clients in actioning them in the event of geopolitical issues and global volatility, should this prove necessary.
CG treasuries also look to their banking partners for early warning of possible lower profile events that might still have a business impact. These could be anything from potential regulatory changes to new payment systems. Again, these treasuries will expect their banks to have considered these in the context of their business, to have scoped possible suitable responses and have the ability to support their implementation if needed.
The advanced state of many CG treasuries means that they have similarly advanced expectations of their banking partners. A consistent global client experience coupled with a single point of access to that experience is not easy to deliver, nor is the provision of global granular access to client data in a consistent format. The same applies to these treasuries’ expectations of their banks’ market intelligence. Not only must this be of high quality and timely, it should be accompanied by relevant strategy suggestions that have been developed in the context of deep knowledge of the client’s business – not simply something generic. CG corporates continue to pave the way to a central treasury operation with visibility of cash globally, efficient use of ERP systems, and the more effective use of data that can be delivered through their banking partners. Banks are taking note as they plan their investments in new solutions, and the efforts of both will push the boundaries of treasury into its next transformation.
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Published: January 2018
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