Sanofi: overcoming complexity to implement a global payment factory

Sanofi: overcoming complexity to implement a global payment factory

When the multinational pharma company Sanofi set out to implement a global payment factory based on SAP, the sheer size and scope of the project made it seem a Herculean task. But with meticulous planning, the right expertise and skilled team-building, the treasury team achieved a very successful outcome.

After a decade of expansion through M&A, Sanofi, the pharmaceuticals company headquartered in Paris, France, with a part of group treasury – the in-house bank team – based in Brussels, decided it was time to bring greater centralization to its payments function. With sales of €37 billion in 2015 and with operations in more than 100 countries, the company, which is active in the research & development, manufacturing and marketing of pharmaceutical drugs, vaccines and animal health products, began its journey towards a global payment factory based in SAP.

Need for control and security

This decision was part of an overall initiative to increase centralization in the finance function, according to the company’s head of in-house bank, finance & treasury, Wolfgang Weber. He says: “The reasons for the project went beyond the pharmaceutical industry – the need for control over cash flow, greater security and the pressure for increased efficiency are global trends.”

He explains that Sanofi hoped to gain several benefits from the centralization project, including: lower bank fees and bank connectivity cost; greater transparency over outgoing payments; and an increased level of compliance and control.

“The need for control over cash flow, greater security and the pressure for increase efficiency are global trends”

Following a selection process to appoint an external consultant, Zanders was asked to work on the SAP global payment factory project at the end of 2012. Mark van Ommen, director at Zanders, explains that the firm used its proprietary design methodology, based on best market practices and years of implementation experience, to design the global payment factory, which included a ‘payments on behalf of’ (PoBo) structure.

Sanofi’s decentralized payments structure posed some risks that had to be addressed. The company had several different payment processes, which exposed them to inefficiencies as well as potential risks and security issues. There was a very strong case for implementing global standards and a centralized, harmonized payments process. The project included a request for proposals (RfP) to select four bank partners.

PoBo and PiNo

The global SAP-based payment factory, currently implemented in the largest countries in Europe and with roll-out almost complete in the US, includes PoBo functionality. This allows Sanofi to channel its payments through a single legal entity, which has obvious benefits for a multinational with a presence in numerous countries. The structure enables treasury to rationalize its bank accounts and simplify cash management structures. Zanders consultant Pieter Sermeus explains that PoBo was a key factor for Sanofi in achieving efficiency and business security. He says: “Payments are now routed to one or (in the case of the euro) very few centralized bank accounts, which are mostly in-country so that cross-border fees can be avoided.”

However, PoBo isn’t practical or possible in some jurisdictions with more complex payments environments, so another solution was needed. Together, Sanofi and Zanders worked on what was internally known as the ‘central forwarding model’, which in effect was a ‘Payments in the Name of’ (PiNo) structure.

“Based on Zanders expertise they were well equipped to help us on setting up and designing the PiNo structure”

This model is mainly used in countries with monetary restrictions, such as China, Malaysia and Thailand, as well as in African and Latin American and some eastern European countries. Such countries require the payee to initiate payments from its own bank account. While this does not result in a reduction in the number of bank accounts, the company is able to process payments through a single platform, which brings compliance/security benefits and also allows the harmonization of processes to an extent that makes them more efficient.

The additional security provided by the PiNo structure means there are compelling reasons to extend the use of the payment factory to more countries. Sanofi is currently working on implementing a pilot PiNo structure in Turkey. Weber adds: “Based on Zanders expertise they were well equipped to help us on setting up and designing the PiNo structure.”

Knowledge transfer and team building

One of the key parts of the project was the transfer of knowledge from the small group of consultants appointed to work on the project to the members of staff in Sanofi’s central treasury and IT departments. Laurens Tijdhof, a partner at Zanders, explains: “Our main goal was to transfer knowledge to key members of staff. We set up training sessions and provided training on the job. This enabled them to really develop their in-house capabilities.”

During the project, there was an emphasis on collaboration between the consultant and the client and preparing Sanofi to become self-sufficient.

“The initial roadmap needs to be adjustable because you may have to reset priorities”

Zanders used a ‘train the trainer’ approach, providing training in this way for upwards of 30 key members of staff. The training aspect of the project was a success – an outcome that Weber ascribes in part to the expertise and teaching methods and in part to having the ‘right people’ on Sanofi’s team. He points out that the timing of the training was also important: “We needed to transfer knowledge and IT/SAP expertise to the different departments. This was valuable from two angles: it guarantees stability of the operations and reduces consulting costs over time.

The timing of this was crucial because, in a project of this size and scope, you spend a lot of time simply ‘firefighting’ – and you forget about the training. This didn’t happen and Zanders did a good job.” While training was an important part of the project, Sanofi also had to focus on building up its internal team. Weber says: “When hiring for the project, we looked for project management skills and SAP In-House Cash technical skills. We found some very good people. We looked internally – Sanofi has 110,000 employees – as well as externally. We now have a team of 22 hard-working, committed experts.

It took a while to get the right team together but I am very pleased with the result.”

Handling the complexity

The nature of the project and the sheer size of Sanofi’s organization meant that planning and coordinating the approach to the global payment factory implementation was no mean feat. Weber says: “It’s easy to underestimate the complexity and size of such a project in such a large organization. The major difficulty is to coordinate internal resources so that people don’t get lost in the complexity of the project.”

There were three defining factors to the project, namely: the size of Sanofi’s organization; the geographical scope of the project (worldwide); and the complexity of Sanofi’s requirements.

“Taking care of the details can be one of the most important aspects of such a complex project”

Weber underlines that, along with meticulous planning and a very capable team, a flexible approach is also needed to manage an endeavor of this size: “The initial roadmap needs to be adjustable because you may have to reset priorities. Resources may have to be shifted to another area of the project.”

Van Ommen agrees that taking care of the details can be one of the most important aspects of such a complex project: “Sanofi did this really well and they recognized their need for change management – they took a realistic view on the planning and timelines. Wolfgang and his colleague Isabelle really brought the project to the ground, providing a lot of practical input.”

Weber adds: “It’s important to have proper project governance, including senior management support up to board level, in our case represented by the group CFO.”

Security and compliance

The implementation of the payment factory also enables Sanofi to keep tighter control and visibility over its global payments. Regulations around payments are continually changing as problems and conflicts arise or dissipate in different parts of the world. Companies need to be able to react to the everevolving regulatory environment. Having a global payment factory in place helps to address these challenges. Cybercrime is also an increasing problem for treasury and the payment factory enables corporates to react quickly, with a centralized, secure platform.

“We will hear a lot more about restricted party screening in the corporate world going forward”

Weber notes that the project will also help his company to keep abreast of regulatory requirements for monitoring third parties: “The implementation of ‘restricted party screening’ – an essential compliance requirement to ensure that Sanofi does not make payments to blacklisted parties – was added to the team’s responsibilities in late 2014. Although it covers master data screening and therefore is only partly related to the payment factory activities, in the Sanofi context the in-house bank team has been identified as the most appropriate place in the organization to both implement the screening as well as carry out the ongoing operations. I believe that we will hear a lot more about restricted party screening in the corporate world going forward.”

Successful outcome

Since the global payment factory was rolled out in Europe and the US, it now processes more than 30,000 fully automated payments each month, from more than 50 affiliates, with an equivalent value of more than €1 billion per month, in 30 different currencies. To help reduce the number of payment rejections, Sanofi also centralized the management of the bank key tables: the master data is constantly updated to avoid rejection due to wrong bank master data.

Weber concludes by expressing his satisfaction with the outcome of the project: “We have really succeeded in implementing a sustainable process that is safer, cheaper, more efficient, providing higher transparency, and which we can roll out across our different areas of operation.”