Cash & Liquidity Management

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Head2Head: The New Generation of In-House Banks For the treasury function, financial flows across multiple borders and subsidiaries present not just opportunities, but potential headaches. Are in-house banks the answer?

Head2Head: The New Generation of In-House Banks

by Bruce Meuli, Global Business Solutions executive, and Jonathon Traer-Clark, Head of Strategy, Global Transaction Services, Bank of America Merrill Lynch

Jonathon Traer-ClarkJTC According to the McKinsey Global Institute, global flows could almost triple by 2025. This would contribute around $450bn of growth annually to world GDP. More important is the continuing development of the global marketplace, which is changing the nature of commerce as supply chains and financial flows adapt accordingly. For the treasury function, financial flows across multiple borders and subsidiaries present not just opportunities, but potential headaches.

Bruce MeuliBM And those headaches soon become a migraine when you consider the increasing demands for greater efficiencies, savings and multiple transaction processing requirements! This is where the in-house bank comes into its own and, structured correctly, can create multiple benefits. Many corporates, however, struggle to fully understand what an in-house bank is, how it is set up and the full scope of services it can provide. Although an accounting construct at its core, an in-house bank essentially allows the corporate to replicate many of the financial services typically provided by a commercial bank, and supply them to their internal subsidiaries. The result is that flows, processes and policies can be managed in one place across a multi-entity, multi-currency and multi-functional company. 

JTC Indeed, and the benefits extend beyond transactional flows, given the role of an in-house bank in taking deposits, managing intercompany loans, netting and hedging FX exposures at a group level, and providing liquidity management services. It’s important to note that although an in-house bank isn’t a product per se, the company’s financial provider can still provide advice and support to clients who are considering or implementing such a strategic facility. Given the cross-border, multi-entity set-up required, location and substance considerations, tax, legal and financial advice is a must before implementation.

BM At first glance, the idea of raising and potentially increasing organisational complexity in setting up an in-house bank appears counter-intuitive. However, centralising and leveraging shared resources to manage treasury and finance operations can relieve subsidiaries of significant administrative and accounting burdens. With an in-house bank, you can implement one set of business rules and standardise accounting principles across the group. Furthermore, it can act as the back office for POBO and ROBO (payments/receivables on behalf of) – indeed it’s a fundamental requirement. This is when a corporate starts to look and act like an actual bank.

JTC Well, similar to the evolution of the treasurer’s role and responsibilities, the corporate-bank treasury relationship is changing too. This is not to say that an in-house bank is appropriate or efficient for every corporation. Maturity and size, combined with the sophistication of internal expertise and technology must contribute towards a treasurer’s business case for introducing the concept. Here, a tipping point is reached: the in-house bank is a manifestation of a treasurer taking more control. In some respects, it remains one of the ultimate indicators of treasury and financial sophistication. And remember that you can have more than one in-house bank – indeed many corporates have regional ones, usually but not necessarily to complement the shared service centre.

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