Citi report underlines increased importance of treasury fundamentals in 2023
Over the past few years, treasurers have navigated unforeseen challenges that placed a spotlight on liquidity, as well as a renewed focus on treasury. In today’s uncertain world, Citi’s new Top Treasury Priorities 2023 report highlights three critical themes for treasurers to consider this year:
- Treasury as a value generator.
- New ways of working and enhanced treasury skillset.
- Continued and increased importance on treasury fundamentals.
2022 was the first year post-pandemic when the world was supposed to return to normal. The world began reopening, trade slowly picked up, people resumed travelling, and life began returning to a new normal. However, there came an increase of geopolitical unrest, ongoing trade tension, supply chain challenges, soaring inflation, rising interest rates, increased FX volatility, an energy crisis and continued impacts from Brexit. With this backdrop, treasurers must find the right path forward in 2023.
Citi Research predicts 2023 to be a challenging year for the global economy with a few positive highlights, such as China’s earlier-than-expected opening. They forecast overall global growth of ~2% and rolling country recessions with a few exceptions in Asia. The recessions are expected to hit first in the eurozone early in 2023, with the US and Canada to follow in the second half of 2023. Central banks’ interest rate policy, as a response to inflation, will be the catalyst as they try to tame inflation at the expense of short-term economic growth. Recessions are expected to be short-lived and not reach 2008/2009 levels. The forecast is for the economy to rebound by 2024, seeing improvements in terms of reduction in interest rates and increased economic growth.
The pandemic reminded companies of the importance of having available cash at the right time and place. As a result, treasury became a central unit and a trusted partner. This year, treasury can seize the opportunity to showcase its role as a value generator in catalysing business growth and development. The report outlines the following ways that treasurers can demonstrate their value to the business, including:
- Optimising working capital.
- Utilising the most recent instant payment and collection opportunities to enhance real-time liquidity management.
- Extend days payable outstanding and shorten days accounts receivable outstanding to take advantage of higher interest rates.
- Ensuring that departments outside the treasury and finance organisation understand the impacts of inefficiencies in end-to-end operations on working capital.
- Aligning policies, procedures, and technology with working capital KPIs.
- Driving a cash culture across the organisation to ensure discipline on the use of cash and influence a broader understanding of how liquidity and working capital can impact financial performance.
- Reviewing trading (invoicing) structures or trading routes to reduce trapped and idle cash.
Treasurers can leverage this momentum to showcase that treasury is more than a support function and that there is added value in engaging treasury in all aspects of financial and operational decision-making.
The second theme on the priority list this year is the complex combination of juggling new ways of working with the future skillset needed in treasury. Last year’s Top Treasury Priorities report touched on attracting and retaining talent within the organisation. This year, companies are still trying to find the right new way of working, combining all benefits of working remotely with being together. Flexibility with hybrid and remote working creates both opportunities but also challenges. This flexibility can open up new possibilities regarding a wider geographical recruiting area, but it can also be exclusionary for those whose physical location or work style is not suitable for remote working.
Combined with the added focus of treasury being a value-generating business partner, treasurers need to consider the skills that will be pertinent in the years ahead. There is no doubt that recent years’ technology developments have already impacted treasury and increased the need for more tech-savvy treasurers who can translate business requirements into technology solutions. Skills that will be useful and in demand include:
- Data science and analytics.
- Financial analysis and scenario planning.
- IT-system integration and system architecture.
- Project management.
Nevertheless, softer skills such as having a broader understanding of the business and industry dynamics, influencing and communication skills, and strategic thinking and planning are also significant additions to an already complex role where core finance and accounting competencies remain essential. The challenge for treasury is that these skills are highly desirable and transferable to other parts of the business and across most industries.
In an already highly competitive market, where attracting and retaining the right talent becomes a strategic imperative, companies can keep up with market dynamics by offering flexibility and career opportunities. With alternative operating models such as hybrid or fully remote working as options, there is an emerging trend where the workforce is recruited regionally and globally (rather than solely locally) and where the concept of 24/7 treasury takes on a new dimension to include the element of people.
The third theme of the report is the continued focus on treasury fundamentals. While this is not a new topic, given the economic outlook, ensuring the fundamentals are in place will be more critical than ever in 2023.
- Fundamental areas that may require the most focus in 2023 are:
- Cash visibility and accessibility.
- Liquidity centralisation.
- Simplification and rationalisation of bank accounts/relationships.
Firstly, treasurers can aim for full visibility and accessibility of cash by utilising both external and internal technology solutions. Solutions like multi-bank reporting, TMS and ERP platforms supported by the newest APIs and Swift connectivity allow organisations to free up time and resources. This effort has a secondary benefit in that it ensures that treasury is utilising up-to-date systems and solutions, thereby helping to avoid system and process redundancy.
Secondly, it may be an excellent time to evaluate any existing pooling structures focusing on optimising liquidity by considering participating legal entities, countries, currencies and regulations – taking a second look at restrictive markets that historically have been left out of pooling structures as things may have changed since the structure was implemented or when it was last reviewed. For companies that do not currently utilise pooling, 2023 could be the right time to evaluate if implementing a cash concentration structure can support working capital and operational efficiency.
Additionally, treasurers can consider approaches that automate manual tasks associated with liquidity management. A potential area is cross-currency sweeps to automate liquidity centralisation, and another is focusing on FX payments to automate and reduce operational risk. This in turn drives automation allowing for efficient centralisation of cash that can be used for intercompany lending, paying down debt or investing to take advantage of higher global interest rates.
Lastly, performing bank account rationalisation and simplification where accounts no longer serve a substantial business purpose. By adding active KPIs along with rationalisation, treasurers can actively work to reduce the number of bank accounts – lowering cost, risk, and operational complexity.
Elsewhere, themes such as ESG, blockchain, and big data remain relevant topics for treasurers, although with a more observational or backseat position than in previous years. Operational activities such as cash flow forecasting and payments have not disappeared from treasurers’ radar and are always important. However, 2023 is a year to focus on value-generating priorities that enable organisations to achieve their strategic objectives.
Most items on this watchlist have been talked about for years. However, in the ever-competing market of priorities, they keep taking “second place.” ESG is an important topic and is always top of mind. Based on the data collected by Citi Treasury Diagnostics, 70% of companies answered that ESG was moderate, very, or extremely important. However, only 20% have their treasury KPIs associated with ESG objectives. With the introduction of Scope 3 emissions and reporting standardisation, ESG will be one to watch in the future for treasury with a potential shift in focus from ‘E’ to ‘G’.
Conglomerates in Southeast Asia need strategic refinement to win in the next decade
Conglomerates in Southeast Asia (SEA) have historically outperformed their global counterparts in total shareholder returns (TSR), but this outperformance has since been eroding, according to a recent EY-Parthenon report, ‘Defining a winning strategy for Southeast Asia’s conglomerates’, which studied 262 publicly listed conglomerates globally (including 36 in SEA).
The annual 10-year average TSR between 2002 and 2011 of conglomerates in SEA was a staggering 34%, compared to conglomerates in the rest of the world, which stood at only 14%. This 20% difference dropped to 3% between 2012 and 2021, with the average annual TSR for conglomerates in SEA slipping to 14%, compared to their global counterparts at 10%.
“The gap in TSR is a clear indicator of the underperformance of conglomerates,” noted Sriram Changali, EY Asean Value Creation Leader. “Having said that, a deeper study of the companies revealed that some were able to consistently outperform their peers. Hence, there are opportunities for conglomerates in SEA to better understand their attributes and strengths and enhance their performance.”
The historically high returns of these conglomerates in SEA can be attributed to their inherent advantages in the 2000s. These include easy access to capital, strong government relations and early exposure to high-growth sectors like energy, commodities, and industrials in the region. However, the upsides of these advantages are rapidly fading.
According to the report, the portfolio mix for SEA conglomerates had centred in industrials, energy and consumer products sectors since 2001, which had been performing strongly. However, over the past decade, these sectors saw diminishing returns, leading to a dip in the business performance of SEA conglomerates. Yet, SEA conglomerates did not engage in any material reallocation exercises or expand their focus to other sectors. The report revealed that SEA conglomerates had limited exposure to emerging sectors, such as health care or technology, media and telecommunications, which generated very high returns in the past decade.
Also, conglomerates in SEA are increasingly challenged by pure-plays and a growing ecosystem of startups with innovative business models. In the past decade, pure-plays were able to generate better returns in both traditional and emerging sectors; in fact, they now outperform conglomerates in SEA, with TSR higher by as high as 37% in some sectors.
The study also reveals the characteristics of conglomerates in SEA compared to their global counterparts:
- They are less diversified, with the top three sectors they operate in representing some 90% of the total revenues, compared to 75% for global conglomerates.
- Three-quarters (75%) of SEA conglomerates are family-owned, compared with 50% among their global conglomerates.
- SEA conglomerates have fewer portfolio companies, controlling about 50 compared to the global conglomerates operating nearly 175 portfolio companies. They also have an average revenue of US$4.5bn, compared to over US$50bn for international conglomerates covered in this study.
- SEA conglomerates have a smaller footprint, operating in less than ten countries, compared with over 60 countries on average for their global counterparts.
The EY-Parthenon study proposes four strategic pillars that SEA conglomerates can focus on to help them achieve success:
- Develop an agile capital allocation strategy to future-proof their portfolio and increase exposure to higher-growth sectors such as technology and health care while balancing that with exposure to dividend-yielding, lower-risk and capital-heavy sectors.
- Build a digital ecosystem to drive productivity and new revenue streams and start investing in venture-building capabilities.
- Build a mindset of creating long-term value by integrating sustainability as a long-term group strategy embedded in each conglomerate business.
- Move toward asset-light business models and improve valuation multiples by shifting toward deployment of third-party capital.
Swift successfully trials solution to remove frictions from corporate actions
Together with six securities industry participants, Swift says it has successfully piloted a blockchain-based solution that could reduce costly frictions associated with communicating significant corporate events to investors.
The testing concluded that the experimental solution could benefit the industry, providing a clear and consistent view of corporate actions throughout the investor ecosystem, and quickly alerting when changes or updates occur. The solution demonstrated the potential to significantly reduce manual effort and errors in corporate action processing and deliver operational efficiencies for market participants.
Based on the results, Swift intends to move to the next exploration phase with its broader community to assess the requirements for a fully viable and scalable solution, as well as additional features and use cases.
When an event occurs at a publicly listed company - such as a merger, general meeting, dividend payment or other corporate actions - the information must be quickly shared with investors, creditors, and all other relevant stakeholders. Due to the number of players involved in any given investment chain, performing this task is a highly complex business for market participants.
Each intermediary - e.g. central securities depositories (CSDs), local and global custodians, fund managers, and paying agents - has to pass on information about the event and, because they follow different data standards, may communicate the information slightly differently. This creates complexity for recipients downstream as they may receive information about the same event from multiple issuers and, in some instances, with missing, contradictory or inaccurate data. They then need to manually compare and clean the data to arrive at a single accurate picture of the event to make the relevant decisions. This is a growing challenge.
Swift data shows corporate action volumes have increased two-fold since the Covid-19 pandemic. And according to a recent survey by The ValueExchange with the support of ISSA, inefficiencies in communicating about corporate actions are costing each market participant US$3-5m a year on average.
“Our analysis found that asset managers often receive notifications from up to 100 different sources about the same corporate event, and the data is often different or contradictory from one source to another,” said Jonathan Ehrenfeld, Securities Strategy Director at Swift. “This means asset managers need to manually comb through the different sources to a gain single view of the event before they can make necessary decisions.”
As part of Swift’s strategy to enable instant and frictionless transactions globally, it identified the need to tackle this securities industry pain point and find a fresh approach to corporate actions processing - one that’s capable of reducing data errors, removing manual intervention, and significantly lowering costs for market participants. As such, it brought together six custodians and asset managers to pilot a peer-to-peer matching solution to clarify some of the most complex events - such as tender offers, full calls, stock splits and Dutch auctions - that can often lead to ambiguity.
With sensitive account numbers and holdings redacted, the participants provided extracts of Swift MT 564 messages for the selected event types. Swift’s Translator tool was used to convert the data into a blockchain-system readable format, which was uploaded onto a dedicated platform developed for the pilot. Participants then performed peer-to-peer event comparisons, with smart contracts matching common data fields and flagging unmatched exceptions. A single, accurate ‘shared copy’ was then generated with composite data about the corporate action.
“Our experiments harnessed the power of blockchain technology to give all market participants a single, accurate view of a corporate action event,” explained Tom Zschach, Chief Innovation Officer at Swift. “We will now work closely with our community to assess all the features that are needed for developing a scalable industry-wide solution to this longstanding problem.”
The peer-to-peer matching functionality demonstrated the ability to give participants a clear view of any given corporate action, quickly alerting them if there are any changes to an event and highlighting any remaining inconsistencies in the data for further investigation. The solution could also enrich and refine the event information with additional data points privately held by the participants.
In addition, the approach demonstrated the high level of data privacy required for this use case. All messages holding corporate action data were authenticated as to their source, stored in a chronological audit trail, and shared privately only with designated counterparties. No third party - including the platform provider - could see events and allocations related to a specific asset owner.
With the pilot project proving a success, Swift says it will now work alongside its community to assess the most appropriate technology to implement and the full requirements needed for a viable solution capable of being rolled out across the industry. As part of this process, it will continue to work with its members to identify additional features and use cases required for a fully functional solution.
ECB starts disclosing climate impact of portfolios on the road to Paris-alignment
The European Central Bank (ECB) has published its first climate-related financial disclosures, which provide information on its portfolios’ carbon footprint and exposure to climate risks, and on climate-related governance, strategy and risk management.
The disclosures, presented in two reports, cover the Eurosystem’s corporate security holdings under the corporate sector purchase programme (CSPP) and the pandemic emergency purchase programme (PEPP), as well as the ECB’s euro-denominated non-monetary policy portfolios (NMPPs), including its own funds portfolio and its staff pension fund.
“These disclosures are a further piece of the puzzle in our efforts to contribute to fighting climate change,” said President Christine Lagarde. “They give us a clear view of our progress in decarbonising our portfolios and, over time, they will help us to chart the most effective course towards the goals of the Paris Agreement.”
The disclosures show that the corporate bonds held under the CSPP and PEPP are on a decarbonisation path. Although the portfolios’ absolute greenhouse gas emissions have increased in recent years because the Eurosystem has purchased more securities for monetary policy purposes, issuers’ carbon intensity has gradually declined. This is because the companies in the portfolio have lowered their emissions for every million euro of revenue they earn, reflecting their efforts to reduce their emissions and boost carbon efficiency significantly.
A second factor reducing the relative emissions associated with corporate sector purchases since October 2022 is the ECB’s decision to tilt its holdings towards issuers with a better climate performance, which is helping to decarbonise the Eurosystem’s corporate sector portfolios on a path in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement.
The disclosures also show that the ECB has more than halved emissions from corporate and equity investments in its staff pension fund since 2019. These assets are already aligned with the Paris Agreement and low-carbon benchmarks, which has resulted in the reallocation of funds towards more carbon-efficient issuers, putting the portfolio on a firm decarbonisation path. For its own funds portfolio, the ECB has gradually increased the share of green bonds, up from 1% in 2019 to 13% in 2022. As this portfolio consists mainly of euro area government bonds, its decarbonisation depends to a large extent on countries’ efforts to reduce their emissions and meet Paris Agreement goals.
From now on, the ECB will disclose climate-related information on these portfolios every year while continuously improving the disclosures as the quality and availability of data progress. Over time, it will expand the scope of the disclosures to cover other monetary policy portfolios, such as those under the public sector purchase programme (PSPP), the third covered bond purchase programme (CBPP3) and other assets under the PEPP. The ECB also aims to set interim decarbonisation targets for its own funds portfolio and staff pension fund to stay on track with Paris Agreement goals. Similarly, the ECB Governing Council will consider setting such targets for corporate sector portfolios.
The ECB’s NMPP disclosures are part of a concerted effort by all Eurosystem central banks to publish climate-related financial disclosures on their euro-denominated NMPPs using a common framework that defines minimum reporting requirements based on the recommendations of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures. A dedicated ECB page will list the disclosures of all Eurosystem central banks as they are published over the coming weeks.
By publishing these disclosures, the ECB says the Eurosystem is delivering on one of the key commitments outlined in its climate change action plan. Looking ahead, the ECB will regularly review its climate-related measures to ensure, within its mandate, that it continues to support a decarbonisation path in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement and EU climate neutrality objectives.
J.P. Morgan to pilot biometrics-based payments for merchants
J.P. Morgan will begin piloting biometrics-based payments with select retailers in the US. This is the first pilot solution to launch from J.P. Morgan Payments’ new Commerce Solutions product suite, which aims to help merchants adapt to the rapidly evolving payments landscape.
Its biometrics-based payment pilot includes palm and face identification for payments authentication in-store and works on an enrol-capture-authenticate-pay basis. According to Goode Intelligence, global biometric payments are expected to reach US$5.8 trillion and 3 billion users by 2026. J.P. Morgan Payments’ biometrics pilot offering should allow for fast, secure and simple checkout experiences for its merchants’ customers, delivering a modern payments experience to enhance customer loyalty.
“At its heart, biometrics-based payments empowers our merchant clients to deliver a better customer payment experience,” commented Jean-Marc Thienpont, Head of Omnichannel Solutions, J.P. Morgan Payments. “We are a trusted payments provider and financial institution worldwide, and fully equipped to manage the highly secure identification points that power biometrics solutions. The evolution of consumer technology has created new expectations for shoppers, and merchants need to be ready to adapt to these new expectations.”
The first pilots will be run with brick-and-mortar stores in the US, potentially including the Formula 1 Crypto.com Miami Grand Prix, which is planning to be the first Formula 1 race to pilot biometrics-based payments to provide guests with a faster checkout experience. If the pilot stage is successful, a broader rollout will be planned for US merchant clients in 2024.
J.P. Morgan Payments has also launched Commerce Solutions, a suite of payments infrastructure and applications that help merchants accept consumer and B2B payments across any touchpoint. The launch includes new cloud-based infrastructure for J.P. Morgan Payments’ online and in-store payments APIs, allowing for new tools for developers and technical buyers to discover and deploy J.P. Morgan Payments solutions.
Central Bank of the UAE launches digital dirham strategy
The Central Bank of UAE (CBUAE) jointly held a signing ceremony with G42 Cloud and R3 to mark the commencement of the implementation of the CBUAE Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC) Strategy, one of the nine initiatives of the CBUAE’s Financial Infrastructure Transformation (FIT) Programme. The CBUAE has engaged with G42 Cloud and R3 as the infrastructure and technology providers, respectively, for its CBDC implementation.
Following several successful CBDC initiatives, including Project “Aber” with the Saudi Central Bank in 2020, which confirmed the possibility of using a digital currency issued by two central banks to settle cross borders payments, in addition to the first real-value cross-border CBDC pilot under the “mBridge” Project with the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, the Bank of Thailand, the Digital Currency Institute of the People's Bank of China and the Bank for International Settlements in 2022, the CBUAE says it is now ready for entering into the next major milestone of the CBDC journey and implementing its CBDC Strategy.
The first phase of CBUAE’s CBDC Strategy, which is expected to complete over the next year to 15 months, comprises three central pillars: the soft launch of mBridge to facilitate real-value cross-border CBDC transactions for international trade settlement; proof-of-concept work for bilateral CBDC bridges with India, one of the UAE’s top trading partners; and proof-of-concept work for domestic CBDC issuance covering wholesale and retail usage.
As part of the UAE's digital transformation, CBUAE says the CBDC will help address the pain points of domestic and cross-border payments, enhance financial inclusion and move towards a cashless society. It will further strengthen the UAE's payment infrastructure, providing additional robust payment channels and ensuring a resilient and reliable financial system. More importantly, the CBUAE aims to ensure the readiness of the UAE to integrate the payment infrastructures with the future potential tokenisation world.
Barclays explores the lasting impact of the pandemic on consumer behaviour
Three years from the start of the UK’s first lockdown, new insight from Barclays reveals which consumer trends adopted during the pandemic have stood the test of time and which have been left behind as the increasing cost-of-living crisis also continues to impact discretionary spending.
The pandemic powered a boom in UK entrepreneurship. It inspired many Brits to start new side hustles and small businesses – especially furloughed employees who found themselves with extra time on their hands. Barclays’ data shows that almost one in three Brits (28%) has started a new small business or found a way to supplement their income since the first national lockdown three years ago.
The majority who started a new venture (86%) are still running their small businesses or side hustle, with around a third (34%) saying it has become their primary source of income. Popular start-ups and money-making initiatives started by these commercially-minded Brits include cleaning businesses, online tutoring, translation services, baking, cat-sitting, jewellery making and online fitness classes.
During the pandemic, long supermarket queues and a shortage of grocery delivery slots led to a surge in demand for meal-box subscription services. Three years on, many Brits have become even more reliant on their ease and convenience. Almost half (46%) of those who signed up to pre-prepared meal kits and 35% who started using make-your-own meal kit subscriptions during the lockdowns now spend more on these services each month than they did during that period.
Lockdowns also led to a rise in demand for digital entertainment, services and experiences. As Brits spent more time at home watching boxsets, digital content saw rapid growth at the start of the pandemic – by April 2020, spending was up 40.5% compared to February 2020, the last full month before the first lockdown. Even as restrictions eased after March 2021, digital content and subscription growth has averaged 41% throughout the post-lockdown period versus February 2020.
In addition, six in 10 (62%) Brits seized the opportunity to learn a new hobby or skill when many leisure and entertainment ventures were closed, and millions have kept up their pandemic pastimes. Gardening (20%), exercising (19%) and baking (16%) are reported as the most popular pursuits Brits have continued to enjoy since life returned to normal.
In particular, online training has continued to prove a popular way to stay in shape, with some fitness fans now using free online exercise videos to save money (13%) instead of paying for classes. A similar number also say they now prefer to exercise at home or outdoors rather than visiting a gym (12%) after adopting a new routine during the pandemic.
The Barclays report also noted specific pandemic trends that have failed to retain their lustre following the lifting of restrictions, including support for shopping locally - partly due to the cost of doing so - while the craze for takeaway food and home deliveries have also died down.
Another e-commerce trend that has fallen in popularity since lockdown restrictions were lifted is Click & Collect. Of the 53% of Brits who have used Click & Collect, one in three (31%) now use it less regularly than they did during the lockdowns, compared to just one in five (19%) who has increased the number of orders they choose to pick up in-store.
“From ‘insperiences’ to online fitness, the pandemic shaped and accelerated several notable shifts in consumer behaviour,” said Marc Pettican, Head of Barclaycard Payments. “However, the cost-of-living crunch is slowly unpicking some of these trends as Brits have had to become more selective about how and where they shop.”
Asian firms willing to allocate up to 20% of their operating budgets to ESG
Managing climate risk continues to be a growing priority - and opportunity - for companies across Asia. On average, companies that viewed ESG as a high priority (83%) were prepared to allocate about 20% of their budget within the next three years towards environmental, social and governance (ESG) projects, up from about 18% currently, according to the DBS ‘Catalysts of Sustainability’ report.
Companies surveyed said that environmental projects would take the lion’s share of their sustainability investments. Nine in 10 believed that environmental factors would impact their respective industries the most. Access to funding and knowledge capital were important drivers for businesses to engage in environmental initiatives.
“Access to the right resources, technical know-how and tools to deploy ESG initiatives are especially essential for SMEs, who face the constant challenge of having to prioritise projects on tighter budgets,” commented Koh Kar Siong, Group Head of SME Banking, Institutional Banking Group, DBS.
PNC Treasury Management launches AI-enabled healthcare solution
PNC Treasury Management has announced the availability of PNC Claim Predictor, an artificial intelligence and machine learning-enabled solution that helps healthcare organisations proactively identify inaccurate or insufficiently populated insurance claims before submission.
The process of submitting insurance claims has been a challenge for healthcare organisations for years and has led to lost revenue, extended timelines and the diversion of critical resources. Insurers, on average, initially reject nearly US$5m annually in claims per provider, which results in either lost or at-risk revenue for healthcare organisations. In addition, it costs around US$100 per claim to rework and resubmit claims, which is why it’s not surprising that 45% of rejected claims are never resubmitted.
Using machine learning technology, PNC Claim Predictor uses historical data from submitted claims, allowing it to “learn” organisations’ claim attributes and associated patterns - enabling the solution to predict which future claims are likely to be rejected and the type of information healthcare organisations need so they can correct the claims before submission. The goal is to ultimately save healthcare organisations time and expenses and prevent lost revenue. An added feature of the new solution is that it can be integrated into an organisation’s existing electronic medical record system, so there is no need to move between systems or have separate logins or dashboards.
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