The relationships that corporate treasury maintains with banks to manage cash operations are some of the most complicated and often confusing in the entire business. Because of the general misunderstanding of the cash management services bought from banks and the lack of available time in most treasury organizations, many companies perform only a cursory review of the information banks provide on service usage and costs each month. In some parts of the world, banks are not yet even providing the details of the number of transactions completed or their cost which leaves geographical blind spots in many organizations. There are literally millions in errors taking place each month that go unnoticed and we simply have to do a better job. By most estimates these errors range from 5% to 10% of our total bank fee spend and that represents real money in most companies. So, what is there we can do?
Over the next several weeks, in a series of articles, we are going to explore several key abilities that must be developed within the treasury group to overcome the challenge of managing bank relationships. These key abilities that we must develop are:
- Accessibility – The ability to receive the service usage and cost information in a usable format, from all accounts, at all banks, anywhere in the world
- Accountability – The ability to evaluate the service usage and cost information provided by banks and identify errors at any level through the thousands of line items reported
- Visibility – The ability to consolidate and standardize balances, rates, service usage, and pricing information across banks, accounts, countries, currencies, business units, etc. in order to gain an understanding of the internals of the cash management operation
- Predictability – The ability to predict the future of your cash management operation by detailed analysis of past service usage and cost information
Technology to preserve precious time
In nearly every treasury organization that I visit, there is already an overload of mission critical tasks to accomplish. No matter how much you may be convinced that the monitoring of treasury service usage and cost is important, you likely don’t have the excess bandwidth to take on yet another operational task. Any proposition of adding new abilities to your team must address the issue of time or it will not be possible to maintain the consistency that is needed to effectively manage bank relationships, service usage, and cost. The answer to the time problem is undoubtedly technology! But, what kind of technology?
Since banks began charging corporates for the services they use, the FinTech industry has worked to provide solutions to treasurers to help them manage those fees. Many of these solutions have been very robust from a feature and function point of view giving treasury users dozens of new tasks to accomplish while attempting to manage the mountain of data contained on bank fee billing statements. While some of these solutions have been very successful in the market, most fall short in the key abilities needed to accomplish the tasks.
Some cover all of the key abilities, but fall well short in recognizing the importance of protecting the time investment of the treasury team. The shortcomings in current solutions include:
- Over-Complicated: Many complicated and detail driven functions that take the user hours and hours to use each month – Result: System falls into disuse due to the need for user training and lack of time.
- Afterthought: Very basic functionality that allows the provider to make a claim of managing bank fees, but with no way to standardize the vast data across banks and only a limited handling of the myriad of file types provided by banks around the world – Result: System does not provide enough insight into what is actually happening, fee savings are missed and treasury becomes convinced that they are doing the best they can.
- Regional: Too focused on one particular area of the world, or one type of file leaves the system usable only to region specific clients. – Result: Only a partial view of the global banking picture is provided and the system ends up reinforcing the global blinders that so many companies are trying to shed.
- Too Narrow: Functions that only focus on one area of the bank relationship problem. Whether it is a system that only looks at error detection or only fee reporting, too many systems leave opportunities, and cash, on the table by not evaluating the whole of the bank relationship – Result: Only a partial view of the picture is presented leaving information, and cash, on the table because only one part of the problem gets solved.
- Too Technical: Functions that require a great degree of user knowledge or training to accomplish using complicated interfaces to accomplish even basic tasks – Result: One user may learn enough to be somewhat successful, but all of the system’s usefulness is lost when that user leaves.
- Not Technical Enough: Many applications have been built by people that have great ideas on a variety of treasury functions, but fail to recognize the importance of solid software infrastructure and controls resulting in an unsecure environment that cannot support Confidentiality, Data Integrity and Availability. Result: A system acquired to solve a treasury problem leads to new vulnerabilities to the company.
As we continue into this series of articles we will explore what a treasury team needs to focus on as they look to better manage all aspects of the banking relationships, while reducing fees and gaining visibility into their entire global cash management situation.
In my next article I will look at Visibility which will explore how the detailed gathering, organizing, aggregating and comparing of bank service charges which can help you monitor all aspects of your cash management engine.
Bank fees can be effectively managed without a great investment in time or manpower. By honing a few key abilities and deploying the right technology, we can achieve substantial results in fee savings and visibility.
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