China is at the forefront of the global robotics revolution and treasury functions in the country are leveraging this technology to drive cutting-edge innovation. Robotics is just one part of next generation treasury management, however. As Industry 4.0 drives the transition towards Treasury 4.0, China and Asia Pacific-based treasury functions are exploring a host of new technologies, and new strategic partnerships, to make the most of this exciting environment.

    The Fourth Industrial Revolution, or Industry 4.0, combines the skills of humans and intelligent machines to drive innovation and deliver process efficiencies, data-driven insights, and new growth opportunities across all industry sectors. Industry 4.0 is also transforming treasury management solutions and strategies, heralding the start of Treasury 4.0.

    This important topic took centre stage at the HSBC Global Liquidity and Cash Management Regional Forum held in April 2019 in Shanghai, China. Opening the event, Todd Wilcox, Senior Executive Vice President & Deputy Chief Executive Officer, HSBC China, explained to the 120 corporates in the audience: “Industry 4.0 is arguably the most important industrial revolution for China. This is because the country is not only benefitting from the changes that new technologies such as artificial intelligence, cloud computing, and biometrics, offer; but because China is also leading these changes at a global level. Nine out of the 27 Fintech Unicorn companies are Chinese companies. And the largest Chinese fintech has a market capitalisation of USD100 billion – comparable to some top tier financial institutions,” he said.

    Technology is also becoming integral to the lives of Chinese citizens, Todd Wilcox explained, “with services such as WeChat and e-wallet becoming daily necessities. Transactions are also moving to e-marketplaces such as Taobao, creating a whole new generation of entrepreneurs.” Todd Wilcox noted that these new digital platforms and payment tools are having profound impact on corporate treasury management in China, creating both opportunities and challenges.

    Adapting to a new environment

    To understand the future risks and potential gains, however, it is important to have a solid grasp of what is driving these changes – namely Industry 4.0. “Every industrial revolution sees a huge advancement in the means of production,” said Lance Kawaguchi, Managing Director, Global Head – Corporates, Global Liquidity and Cash Management, HSBC as he took to the stage to deliver his welcome address.

    “The First Industrial Revolution used water and steam power to mechanise production. The Second used electric power to create mass production. The Third used electronics and information technology to automate production. Now, Industry 4.0 is here – and it is poised to make a huge impact on economies, business and society,” Lance Kawaguchi explained,

    “China is set to be the world’s largest economy by 2030. The country’s push towards robotics could mean higher productivity and even faster GDP growth. This is a perfect example of how Industry 4.0 is driving change through innovation,” said Lance Kawaguchi.

    “While cash and liquidity management has been considered a ‘commoditised’ activity in the past, innovative solutions are creating a set of new dynamics that could transform cash and treasury operations and liquidity and risk management strategies,” he said. “The next generation of treasury functions will be automated, data-driven, real-time, forward-looking, and increasingly strategic.”

    In the transaction banking world, developments such as application programming interfaces (APIs) are lowering the barriers to entry for new payment services providers, explained Lance Kawaguchi. In turn, this is increasing competition and reducing the cost of transactions, leading to greater efficiencies for treasurers.

    Lance Kawaguchi then explained how HSBC will continue to support its clients in their journey towards Treasury 4.0. “As well as helping treasurers to identify practical ways to leverage Industry 4.0 technologies, we will create new business ecosystems, linking our clients with innovative partners, such as fintechs. Through events such as this, we will also deliver insights from different sectors and geographies, sharing best practice from Treasury 4.0 leaders.”

    This was a fitting introduction to the rest of the event, which kicked off with a keynote speech from Lancelot Li, Regional General Manager, Eastern China, Cloud & Smart Industry Group, Tencent Cloud, explaining how advances in the industrial internet are helping to power Industry 4.0.

    The ‘ABCs’ of the industrial internet

    Tencent Cloud is a public cloud service provider that integrates its infrastructure building capabilities with a massive-user platform and ecosystem. The company provides cloud services, including cloud computing, data processing and cloud operation services, to empower businesses.

    Two out of every three Chinese people use the internet every day on a computer, but for mobile internet, this number jumps to 98.6 per cent Lancelot Li noted. Developments such as the 5G data network, which has already been piloted in Shanghai, will lead to increased data transmission from hand-held devices.

    “The mobile internet is one of the great inventions in China today, and 5G will be a game changer. It has already had such a far-reaching impact on Chinese people’s mobility, social life and payment structures, for example. It is also driving changes for traditional sectors, such as banking.”

    And, in fact, the battlefield of internet development is shifting from the consumer segment – where the growth in online users is starting to slow down – to the business and industrial worlds. This is why Tencent is making a strategic move towards Industrial Internet with the launch of its new Cloud & Smart Industries Group, said Lancelot Li.

    “Tencent aims to facilitate digital transformation and system upgrades across all industries, focusing on its role as a network connector, digital assistant and ecosystem builder. Tencent is also working in close co-operation with HSBC to leverage new digital interfaces and technologies to deliver even better service levels for customers

    During his presentation, Lancelot Li also talked about the ‘ABC’ of Industry 4.0: Artificial Intelligence (AI), Big Data, and Cloud. For Tencent Cloud’s AI capacity, Lancelot Li explained that the company prefers to use the term ‘human-machine intelligence.’ “AI means that a robot does it all for you; whereas human-machine intelligence means that you deliver some of the complicated algorithms or calculations to robots and the robots then help you to execute complicated tasks. However, a robot cannot make decisions on its own from day one – a huge learning period is required, so human input is still needed, and still extremely valuable.”

    Turning to big data, Lancelot Li noted that while many companies say they utilise big data, in reality, they often so not have a data centre or know how to aggregate their data properly in order to extract useful insights from it. “As well as being able to label data, you need to have the capacity to mine big data. Simply rolling out Industry 4.0 developments will not reap the rewards – you have to put effort in behind the scenes.

    Finally, Lancelot Li touched on the cloud, and the importance of cybersecurity in this environment. “There is no such thing as 100 per cent security, but we simulate hacking attacks on a daily basis. When you embrace developing technologies, you also have to be prepared to tackle evolving threats,” he concluded.

    China is set to be the world’s largest economy by 2030. The country’s push towards robotics could mean higher productivity and even faster GDP growth. This is a perfect example of how Industry 4.0 is driving change through innovation

    A tangible revolution

    Panel Session 1: Treasury 4.0: From Theory to Practice

    Jason Tan, Head of Treasury & Credit Management, Asia, Continental
    Jessica Jin, Treasury Director of Greater China, Schneider Electric SA
    Karen Bai, Executive Director, Treasury Centre, Fosun

    Danny Lim, Head of Sales, MNC Global Banking, Global Liquidity and Cash
    Management, HSBC China

    Following the keynote presentation, a panel of notable treasury professionals took to the stage to discuss how the idea of Treasury 4.0 is moving from theory to practice. The panel discussion was moderated by Danny Lim, Country Head of Sales MNC, Global Banking, Global Liquidity and Cash Management, HSBC China.

    Jessica Jin, Treasury Director of Greater China, Schneider Electric SA, opened up the discussion by outlining her team’s approach to digitisation, namely upgrading its digital systems in order to increase efficiency in areas such as cash management. “Today, we have two cash pooling systems in place, one in collaboration with HSBC,” Jessica Jin said. “We have inbound cash integration and auto-sweeping, resulting in cash concentration. Digitising these flows has made a significant impact in terms of cash application and utilisation.”

    Reporting efficiency at Schneider has also dramatically improved as the company has developed robotic process automation (RPA)-based reporting systems. “We use RPA to integrate and aggregate data, allowing our staff to be more concentrated and focused on analytics of the data,” Jessica Jin commented. “This is tremendously efficient – in the past we spent a whole day doing this, but now it only takes us one or two hours to produce the relevant report. The accuracy of each report is also vastly improved.”

    Elsewhere, Schneider is also rolling out a new treasury management system (TMS), which will help with hedging efficiency, whereby monthly hedging will be replaced by daily conversion in deregulated regions like Hong Kong, thanks to technology. In addition, Jessica Jin is exploring digital developments in the trade finance space and has implemented a system to reduce the approval time of bank guarantees. She is hoping to fully automate this process with her banks in the future.

    Meanwhile, at Fosun, digitisation is progressing at an equally impressive pace. Karen Bai, Executive Director, Treasury Centre, Fosun explained why the company has set up a shared service centre (SSC) for treasury management and what benefits this has provided. “Fosun is an industrial group with operations in 17 countries around the world. The company has large scale, diversified portfolios to manage. We are very demanding when it comes to digitisation within Fosun,” Karen Bai said.

    “In 2016, we started to set up the SSC, so that the 600+ companies we have stakes in share the same treasury and finance practices. After three years of setting up the framework, there are now more than 100 employees in the team, providing services to circa 300 Chinese companies we have invested, and the numerous organisations we have invested overseas.”

    All payments and financial statements are managed via one system at the SSC. Using this single system, treasury can receive different inputs from the various organisations the company has stakes in, thanks to an integration with each business unit. At the same time, the system is connected to the company’s office automation (OA) system and more besides.

    “It is connected to our payment streams, and tax and tariff-related practices are also integrated,” Karen Bai said. “It is a fully integrated chain, and it is totally paperless. Through three years of setting up the smart and intelligent systems, we have achieved an innovative TMS and this approach can be replicated in the different industries that we are investing in.”

    To bring this point to life, Karen Bai explained that Fosun’s treasury is collaborating with more than 100 financial institutions, banks, insurance companies and investors. Together, they are building up a treasury management system based on Fosun’s cloud system, which allows for real time monitoring of the facility limit and credit lines of the companies in which it is invested.

    The third treasurer on the panel, Jason Tan, Head of Treasury and Credit Management, Asia, Continental, observed there is a company-wide focus on digital transformation, and treasury is one of the key departments enacting this vision.

    “We are very much focused on automation of procedures,” Jason Tan said. “We are actively engaged in discussion around RPA and working with software developers and banking partners to come up with solutions around acceptance bills, for example. Through automation, we want to deliver more proactive decision-making and improve liquidity management.”

    Jason Tan also has hopes to make more of treasury data – whether that be ERP data or financial markets information. “How do we process and mine the value out of our internal and external data? Internally, we want to better connect all the data we have for automobiles. But we also want to have better connectivity of external data so that we can improve our liquidity management and risk management. So that integration a priority for us going forward, and APIs are likely to play a part.”

    With Treasury 4.0 on the horizon, Danny Lim asked the panelists what their big challenges were in getting to this level of treasury operations. For Jessica Jin, the biggest challenge relates to people. “Digitisation is something that is more demanding for humans than ever,” she said. “We need to reinvent procedures and the structures. Treasury cannot simply conduct automation in isolation; there needs to be a synchronised, holistic approach. People must learn how to work better together, and how to work in harmony with machines.”

    Karen Bai agreed with Jessica Jin on the point around people, stating that connecting humans, machines and procedures is critical. If you can work out how to connect these elements together, then you have a high chance of success.” Interestingly, to tackle this issue, Schneider Electric has built up a business of excellence organisation within the firm. A business process owner (BPO) is identified and all requirements go to the BPO, who will work with the company’s Digital department to realise workflow solutions to the issues raised.

    Finally, Jason Tan said that the scale of digitisation projects and the disruption they cause can be a challenge for some treasurers. He therefore suggested that banks might consider launching lightweight ‘plug and play’ digital solutions that enable treasurers to move towards the Treasury 4.0 environment without too much upheaval.

    The new treasury management ecosystem

    Panel Session 2: Ecosystem for Treasury Management: A Win Game in The New Era

    Naturel Xu, Greater China CFO, Godiva
    Wu Wei, President, Fuiou
    Larry Campbell, Partner, KPMG China
    Liu Qi, Country Head of Sales, Commercial Banking, Global Liquidity and Cash
    Management, HSBC China

    Eleanor Hill, Editor, Treasury Management International

    The scale of the opportunity of digitisation, and the inherent challenge, was further outlined by Wu Wei, President of third-party payment solution provider Fuiou. Sharing some recent daily data, he said that Fuiou had processed over 10 million QR code-related transactions from around 500,000-600,000 offline stores and outlets. Card transactions in stores over the same period came in at only 60,000.

    “This is the biggest comparison that you can get,” Wei said. “People don’t use cash or bank cards that much today, they use mobile phones to conduct any transaction and payment in their daily life. I think, in future, this will be a driver for more changes in the way we organise production and manufacturing, as well as treasury.”

    Naturel Xu, Greater China CFO, Godiva agreed, saying: “Technology has reshaped our industry, changing consumer demands, as well as the competition.” Naturel Xu went on to highlight the vital role that technology plays across each of Godiva’ business lines. “We have an e-commerce channel, but we have shops and cafes too. The different channels and the technology have enabled us to gain more market share – and if we did not invest in technology, growth would be much more difficult.”

    Customer traffic at Godiva’s physical stores is tracked as soon as they enter the premises, Naturel Xu said. “We track the store traffic and the auto-conversion rate. Customer behaviour can be understood through technology and, if we act on this information correctly, we can make sure a customer’s visit ends in a payment: that’s treasury’s responsibility. As such, Godiva’s Greater China IT department is actually under part of my departmental structure. The technology function should be a business solution provider, a strategic partner in the corporate structure, and going forward IT needs to be closely integrated with treasury.”

    This led in to the final conversation of the panel discussion, looking at how treasurers should approach the concept of Treasury 4.0 in their own organisations. With technologies changing the entire concept of the role of the treasurer, Larry Campbell, Partner, KPMG China, explained that: “With Treasury 4.0, information and automation can improve or replace repetitive tasks and processes. The knock-on effect for treasurers is to understand how they can then further extend their capabilities and reach to become true strategic partners to the business – ultimately adding value to the bottom line.” Larry Campbell also highlighted the need for treasurers to take a frontline role in cybersecurity, protecting the organisation’s cash and data against evolving cyber threats.

    Liu Qi, Country Head of Sales, Commercial Banking, Global Liquidity and Cash Management, HSBC China, closed the panel, by explaining the role of banks within the 4.0 world. “The two main drivers of Treasury 4.0 are technology and customers. Technological evolution, industrial evolution and ecosystem evolution will require bank services to be integrated to the specific operations of our clients. We will achieve this through close collaboration with our clients, but also through new partnerships with fintechs, and emerging payments services providers, all whilst observing local regulations. By doing this, we will be able to pave the way for our clients to transition towards Treasury 4.0.”

    A brave new world

    Patrick Zhu , Head of Global Liquidity and Cash Management

    This message was echoed by Patrick Zhu, Head of Global Liquidity and Cash Management, HSBC China, in his closing remarks: “HSBC is not just a banking partner, we are a strategic partner too. In the Treasury 4.0 era, where open banking and open platforms are the order of the day, we will build bridges to connect you to new partners who can help you to make the most of this digital ecosystem. And we will continue to bring together the best technologies, best practices, and best minds, through forums like this, to help you to maximise the value you are achieving from your technology, as well as your people and partners.”


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