3rd Dec 2019

Treasury Leaders Summit 2019: A story of topics notable by their absence…

Designed by treasurers for treasurers, The Treasury Leaders Summit is a gathering of minds which provides senior treasury and finance professionals with access to in-depth research, analysis and the opportunity to discuss key issues impacting the profession with senior level peers.

The 2019 Treasury Leaders Summit in November was as informative and educational as always and included insights from industry experts and thought leaders. Senior–level corporate treasury and finance professionals, including Group Treasurers, Treasury Directors and CFOs were in attendance.

This year’s summit was significant for a number of reasons. There was the absence of big topics over the last few years – notable absentees being Open Banking and blockchain – and the return of a familiar face, Automation. Particularly the case for investment.

Here are our key takeaways…

So, was blockchain just hype?

It was a question once piercing the surface tension of debate with increasing regularity. Appearing back 2008, blockchain serves as a public transaction ledger of the cryptocurrency bitcoin. In recent years, it has emerged as a means of completing transactions with sufficient pervasiveness that it became a feature of many conversations held within financial communities as to its ultimate impact. However, at this year’s Summit, it barely featured at all. Why?

Short answer: though individuals may be using blockchain, nowhere near enough businesses are. In May 2018, global research and advisory firm, Gartner, found that only 1% of CIOs indicated any kind of blockchain adoption within their organisations, and only 8% of CIOs were in the short-term phase of planning or even contemplating active experimentation with blockchain.

Scant corporate uptake, difficult to measure, intangible and with no real regulation implemented, though it may be unfair to dismiss blockchain simply as ‘hype’, it understandably was nudged out of the spotlight this year.

Fear of the unknown

An undercurrent that ran through the two-day Summit, was one of fear. Specifically, the fear of the unknown. More specifically, how a tech company could develop an as yet unknown piece of software to completely disrupt the treasury sector.

Think, for example, how Uber turned the taxi industry on its head.

Hilary Allen, part of the Sheffield University Management School research consortium for “Next-Gen Services” (funded by Economic & Social Research Council) gave it particular attention.  Leading the conversation on understanding and addressing the challenges facing mid-sized professional services firms in adopting and implementing AI technologies.

Driving the debate was the growing emergence of increasingly sophisticated AI. The worry is that an AI-powered platform could learn how to perform the role of a corporate treasurer. A scary thought for those who draw their wage from being a corporate treasurer.

Scary though that thought may be, some comfort was derived that the consensus points towards there being little evidence of the technology approaching that level of capability. For how long this will be the case, remains to be seen.

A bridge too far

As conversation within treasury circles gravitates towards the migration to saas-based technologies, speakers at the Summit spoke of the extent to which this is actually happening within business. The picture painted was of a tentative profession.

FinTech firms, who are currently riding the crest of a formidable wave, are promoting the benefits of large-scale digital transformations, which provide undoubted advantages. These advantages notwithstanding, there appears to be a hesitancy amongst treasury departments towards taking the leap and making wholesale switches to Cloud alternatives, driven in part by senior leaders taking ownership and the old adage of cost.

However, this isn’t to say there is no movement.

As was explained by various speakers, what we are seeing are more iterative processes. In other words, treasurers are preferring to adopt individual technologies on a small scale, and should they see sufficient proof of concept, scale up and/or adopt other solutions.

It’s an understandable position. Treasury functions are so critical to a business’ performance that changing the whole way it is managed overnight would be nail-biting for even the most buccaneering of leaders. Consensus did exist on one front though, those treasurers who persist with legacy, analogue apparatuses will soon be left behind, if they aren’t already.

Back to the basics

In terms of themes dominating the two days, familiar friends returned in the form of payments and automation. Their return to the centre of the debate makes sense. Topics such as blockchain, as yet unknown technologies and wholesale switches to the Cloud are vague, even hypothetical. Payments and automation are neither.

Throughout the summit, a key takeaway was that change is an iterative process. Yes, automation can come with a heavy price tag, the benefits are infinite, and crucially it can come in bite size chunks.

As treasury departments across the country see the reality of what it means to have computer programmes complete in seconds tasks that used to take treasurers themselves hours, uptake has been widespread. Similarly, the abilities new financial technologies have to process cross-border payments in record time and provide real-time visibility of cash positions are proving too irresistible.

If anything, the take home message from the 2019 Treasury Leaders Summit was one of consolidation. Though there are myriad technologies out there, some of which are still only in development, faster payments and automation remain the solutions driving the profession forward.

Think integration

The AccessPay approach isn’t about more arbitrary tech investment and more layering on top of existing stacks. It’s an approach based on consolidation and integration. We also understand the need for developing comprehensive investment cases so treasury departments can benefit from our solutions.

While discussions at this year’s Summit prove that building these investment cases is something of an uphill task for many treasurers, when it can be shown that efficiencies are improved across finance and treasury functions, that visibility of finance is enhanced, bank connectivity is streamlined and proactive risk management is put in place, the case becomes easier to build.