Finding resilience amid chaos: The 5 observations defining the treasury function in 2024

March 2024
4 min read

Economic instability, a pandemic, geopolitical turbulence, rising urgency to get to net zero – a continuousstream of demands and disruption have pushed businesses to their limits in recent years.

Economic instability, a pandemic, geopolitical turbulence, rising urgency to get to net zero – a continuousstream of demands and disruption have pushed businesses to their limits in recent years. What this has proven without doubt is that treasury can no longer continue to be an invisible part of the finance function. After all, accurate cash flow forecasting, working capital and liquidity management are all critical C-suite issues. So, with the case for a more strategic treasury accepted, CFOs are now looking to their corporate treasurer more than ever for help with building financial resilience and steering the business towards success.

The future form of corporate treasury is evolving at pace to meet the demands, so to bring you up to speed, we discuss in this article five key observations we believe will have the most significant impact on the treasury function in the coming year(s).

1. A sharper focus on productivity and performance

Except for some headcount reductions, treasury has remained fairly protected from the harsh cost-cutting measures of recent years. However, with many OPEX and CAPEX budgets for corporate functions under pressure, corporate treasurers need to be prepared to justify or quantify the added value of their function and demonstrate how treasury technology is contributing to operational efficiencies and cost savings. This requires a sharper focus on improving productivity and enhancing performance.

To deliver maximum performance in 2024, treasury must focus on optimizing structures, processes, and implementation methods. Further digitalization (guided by the blueprint provided by Treasury 4.0) will naturally have an influential role in process optimization and workflow efficiency. But to maintain treasury budgets and escape an endless spiral of cost-cutting programs will take a more holistic approach to improving productivity. This needs to incorporate developments in three factors of production – personnel, capital, and data (in this context, knowledge).

In addition, a stronger emphasis on the contribution of treasury to financial performance is also required. Creating this direct link between treasury output and company financial performance strengthens the function’s position in budget discussions and reinforces its role both in finance transformation processes and throughout the financial supply chain.

2. Treasury resilience, geopolitical risk and glocalization

Elevated levels of geopolitical risk are triggering heightened caution around operational and financial resilience within multinationals. As a result, many corporations are rethinking their geographical footprint and seeking ways to tackle overdependence on certain geographical markets and core suppliers. This has led to the rise of ‘glocalization’ strategies, which typically involve moving away from the traditional approach of offshoring operations to low-cost destinations to a more regional approach that’s closer to the end market.

The rise of glocalization is forcing treasury to recalibrate its target operating model to adopt a more regionalized approach. This typically involves changing from a ‘hub and spoke’ model to multiple hubs. But the impact on treasury is not only structural. Operating in many emerging and frontier markets creates heightened risks around currency restrictions, lack of local funding and the inability to repatriate cash. Geopolitical tensions can also have spillover effects to the financial markets in these countries. This necessitates the application of more financial resilience thinking from treasury.

3. Cash is king, data is queen

Cash flow forecasting remains a top priority for corporate treasurers. This is driving the rise of technology capable of producing more accurate cash flow predictions, faster and more efficiently. Predictive and prescriptive analytics and AI-based forecasting provide more precise and detailed outcomes compared to human forecasting. While interfaces or APIs can be applied to accelerate information gathering, facilitating faster and automated decision-making. But to leverage the benefits of these advanced applications of technology requires robust data foundations. In other words, while technology plays a role in improving the cash flow forecasting process, it relies on an accurate and timely source of real-time data. As such, one can say that cash may still be king, but data is queen.

In addition, a 2023 Zanders survey underscored the critical importance of high-quality data in financial risk management. In particular, the survey highlighted the criticality of accurate exposure data and pointed out the difficulties faced by multinational corporations in consolidating and interpreting information. This stressed the necessity of robust financial risk management through organizational data design, leveraging existing ERP or TMS technology or establishing a data lake for processing unstructured data.

4. The third wave of treasury digitalization

We’ve taken the three waves of digitalization coined by Steve Case (former CEO of US internet giant AOL) and applied them to the treasury function. The first wave was the development of stand-alone treasury and finance solutions, followed by the second wave bringing internal interfaces and external connectivity between treasury systems. The third wave is about how to leverage all the data coming from this connected treasury ecosystem. With generative AI predicted to have an influential role in this third phase, corporate treasurers need to incorporate the opportunities and challenges it poses into their organizations' digital transformation journeys and into discussions and decisions related to other technologies within their companies, such as TMS, ERP, and banking tools.

We also predict the impact and success of this third wave in treasury digitalization will be dependent on having the right regulatory frameworks to support its implementation and operation. The reality is, although we all aspire to work in a digital, connected world, we must be prepared to encounter many analogue frictions – like regulatory requirements for paper-based proof, sometimes in combination with ‘wet’ signatures and stamped documents. This makes the adoption of mandates, such as the MLETR (Model Law on Electronic Transferable Records) a priority.

5. Fragmentation and interoperability of the payment landscape

A side effect of the increasing momentum around digital transformation is fragmentation across the payments ecosystem. This is largely triggered by a rapid acceleration in the use of digital payments in various forms. We’ve now seen successful trials of Central Bank Digital Currency, Distributed Ledger Technology to enable cross border payments, a rise in the use of digital wallets not requiring a bank account, and the application of cross border instant payments. All of these developments lead us to believe that international banking via SWIFT will be challenged in the future and treasurers should prepare for a more fragmented international payment ecosystem that supports a multitude of different payment types. To benefit from this development, interoperability will be crucial.

Conclusion: A turning point for treasury

A succession of black swan events in recent years has exposed a deep need for greater financial resilience. The treasury function plays a vital role in helping their CFO build this. This is accelerating both the scale and pace of transformation across the treasury function, with wide-ranging effects on its role in the C-suite, position in finance, the priorities and structure of the function, and the investment required to support much-needed digitalization.

For more information on the five observations outline here, you can read the extended version of this article.


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