What first comes to mind when you think of a day in the life of a treasurer? Cash management? Transaction processing? Hedging risk? In reality, the first thing you should think of is data, which underpins every treasury activity. Now more than ever, the quality, timeliness and consistency of data that treasury produces, receives, manages and analyses is critical to its ability to fulfil the liquidity and risk management demands of the business, and offer new ways to add value.

    The fact that these demands on treasury – and the opportunities to address them – have emerged now is not coincidental. Companies across all industries are at varying stages of digital transformation. This creates new business demands as companies embrace digital business models and target new supplier and customer segments. Treasurers are already responding, such as by devising new payment and collection strategies and restructuring working capital, financing and risk models. These demands will continue to emerge and evolve, but what is clear is that they will rely on data.

    The data dilemma

    Data has been a double-edged sword for treasurers in the past. In theory, the data linked to incoming cash flows has made it possible to reconcile bank account statements automatically. However, truncation and omission has often restricted the success of these initiatives due to a large number of exceptions. Data on future cash flows from across the business enables treasurers to produce consolidated cash flow forecasts, but the differences in formats, timing and transmission methods have often resulted in inaccurate or out-of-date analysis.

    Until recently, ‘big data’ has been a buzzword, bringing with it visions of building and accessing huge data warehouses. Many treasurers have found ‘big data’ a problematic concept. How should they process and manage enormous volumes of data? What is this data in the first place, and how can they harness it to be meaningful and useful? In reality, what matters is not the quantity of data, it is the relevance, reliability and timeliness of data that enables treasurers to make better decisions.

    Today, however, the opportunities for treasurers – and their banks – to build a realistic and achievable data strategy are unprecedented, enabled through technology (figure 1). Many have already invested substantially in treasury technology and banking communications, and are seeking ways to optimise these investments and bring together disparate data and processes in a cost-effective way to deliver additional value to the business.

    Figure 1: The data-driven treasury

      

    Real-time data for a dynamic approach to liquidity and risk

    Taking place in tandem with the growing focus on quality and relevance of data is the acceleration of both transactions and the associated data. Clearing and settlement mechanisms increasingly operate in real time and Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) offer the potential for treasurers to obtain and exchange banking data, dynamically.

    One of the key advantages of emerging technologies such as APIs is that the onboarding and maintenance is far more straightforward than in the past

    Real-time payment schemes are emerging globally, with 40 schemes now live and a further 13 planned (source: www.instapay.com) and SWIFT gpi (Global Payments Innovation) is expanding rapidly, so the speed with which transactions and data are exchanged and processed will only increase. This will have major implications for treasurers both operationally and in terms of how they take advantage of more dynamic data. Liquidity management will increasingly take place in real time. Treasurers will rely on banking and supply chain data across multiple systems to make intraday funding and investment decisions and determine how to optimise their account structure to minimise working capital buffers and reduce the risk of underfunding.

    The new technology: intuitive, convenient, invisible

    With the combination of increasing business demands and real time opportunities, many treasurers are turning to their banks to help leverage data held in both internal and external systems and bring this back to the treasurer in a consistent way through their channel of choice. Having done so, data can then be transformed into information and intelligence to enable better decision-making. The use of open APIs is key to this, enabling real time, bespoke data exchange directly between systems and financial counterparties (figure 2).

    One of the key advantages of emerging technologies such as APIs is that the onboarding and maintenance is far more straightforward than in the past. Increasingly, banks and established technology vendors are either developing or partnering with other financial technology (fintech) providers to embed new capabilities and technologies into existing solutions or building cloudbased networks that enable ‘plug and play’ access to new functionality. Treasurers can then take advantage of the substantial and growing opportunities to bring together banking, supply chain and external data into their Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Treasury Management Systems (TMS) or specialist systems to make better decisions, whether for cash position and working capital management, cash and liquidity forecasting, risk management or supply chain financing.

    Larger treasury departments are already embracing some of these new opportunities and developing sophisticated data strategies. They also expect the same of their banks. Given that cash management and transaction banking has become increasingly commoditised, banks’ data strategy is fast becoming an essential differentiator. In particular, treasurers are seeking to work with banks that are actively harnessing the wealth of data they hold, whether for benchmarking, forecasting, risk hedging, yield optimisation through automated investment or supply chain financing, among many others.

    Figure 2: APIs in practice

    By personalising information and solutions more effectively, and accelerating processes, banks can enhance the quality of the client experience and enable treasurers to give better intelligence back to the business to drive growth and reduce risk. For example, HSBC’s global liquidity portal is becoming a focal point for many clients, providing a ‘canvas’ for treasury and finance personnel from junior cash managers through to group treasurers and CFOs to visualise liquidity information through bespoke dashboards, and access the utilities and tools that they need to fulfil their role effectively, from boardroom decision to cash management execution.

    A catalyst for a changing treasury mindset

    The combination of better, increasingly real-time data and easier, more bespoke ways of exchanging this data, has an alchemic effect. Increasingly, treasurers’ role becomes less one of transaction execution and more one of analysis to drive value-added decision-making. In the past, data has often been held in silos, such as reconciliation, in-house banking, working capital and liquidity, supply chain finance and external funding.

    By bringing both commercial and financial transactions and market data into a single dashboard, and leveraging new opportunities based on machine learning and artificial intelligence, treasurers can transform data into insights. They can take a more integrated and automated approach to transaction execution, such as automatic funding adjustments and transfers to smooth working capital, liquidity and risk exposures across the business. They can support business growth more effectively with more targeted funding and risk solutions. They can leverage bank and external data to benchmark their activities more effectively, understand customer behaviour, and identify and address pockets of financial supply chain inefficiency.

    This is just the start of a new virtuous cycle of treasury management in which data drives decisions, which in turn drive transactions, which then result in data, and so on. Treasurers should now be considering how far that virtuous cycle could extend in their own business, and the additional value they can deliver as a result.

    Disclaimer

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