My Life in Treasury
Harish C. S. Pai, Senior Manager – Finance (Treasury Operations), Tourism Development & Investment Company, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
This month, Helen Sanders, Editor, talks to Harish C S Pai of Tourism Development & Investment Company (TDIC) who won the 2013 TMI Award for Innovation and Excellence in Technology, the first winner from the Middle East.
How did you first get into treasury, and what attracted you to the profession?
I come from a family background of banking, so as it was an industry I was familiar with, it was logical to join a subsidiary of a bank when I graduated in 1997. I originally started working with accounts payable, but when one of the treasury team left, I was asked whether I was interested in replacing him, so I decided to have a go! This was a very interesting new challenge for me, and in my later career, it has proved very useful to understand both the bank and corporate perspective.
How did your career progress to the role you hold now at TDIC?
My first corporate treasury experiences were in trade finance, bank account management and reconciliation. I joined TDIC in 2006 while the company was still in its infancy as one of the first members of the finance department. Nine months later, I was heading up treasury, but this was more of an accounts payable and cash management role at that stage. Over time, as the number of projects in which TDIC is involved has grown (to around 80 at any one time today), our cash and risk needs have become more complex and therefore our treasury management approach is now more sophisticated.
How do you think demands on treasurers have changed during your career so far, and what additional skills are required to meet these demands?
There is a tendency to think that treasury is simply about managing financial instruments, but managing treasury operations is equally important to a treasurer’s role. As I started my career in this area, and then later developed my experience of the capital and FX markets, I am more aware of the importance of efficient transaction management and processing, and back-office functions such as cash management and reconciliation than many treasurers, and I have found this experience very valuable.
Treasury can differ quite substantially across organisations, so when looking at a potential treasury role, it is important to find out exactly what the company is looking for. Increasingly, CFOs need their treasury teams to offer experience and insights into both financial instruments and treasury operations, particularly the latter in many cases, so developing skills in this area can be very helpful in career development.
What has been your greatest professional achievement so far, and why?
On a personal level, bringing together my experience of both front and back offices has been a key feature of my career, and I have aimed to use this experience to benefit the wider corporate treasury and transaction banking community in the region. Working for a flagship government entity such as TDIC brings significant opportunities but also the responsibility to lead the market in driving and adopting industry best practices. One of the ways that we have done this is to work closely with Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank (ADCB), a major regional bank based in the UAE. ADCB was starting to develop its cash management offering when I joined TDIC in 2006, and we recognised that working with the bank to build solutions, services and connectivity channels would benefit both TDIC and the wider corporate treasury community.
We therefore formed a pioneering relationship in which we piloted and championed a number of innovations, which has resulted in TDIC becoming best-in-class in cash and treasury management in the region, and ADCB competing on an equal level with many of the world’s largest and most respected global banks. As many of TDIC’s treasury requirements are common to other organisations, our aim is to help drive best practices in process automation, bank-agnostic connectivity and sophisticated decision-making across the corporate treasury community in the Middle East. Furthermore, by working closely with ADCB as a local bank, we are helping to build expertise and competitiveness in the UAE economy.