My Life in Treasury
Frances Cavanagh, Director, Treasury Operations, Willis Towers Watson
How did you come into treasury and what attracted you to the profession?
I was working within the Accounts Payable team in the shared service centre at Kellogg in Manchester. As my team were processing the payment files, I was interacting with treasury daily to discuss funding requirements, as well as areas of common interest such as systems, new accounts and process changes. As I learned more about treasury I found that I was drawn to the banking and cash management aspects of the function, and was intrigued by its involvement with numerous partners within the business. The idea of working with the outside banking world also really appealed to me, as it’s an opportunity that you don’t often get in finance. When a position opened up in treasury, I asked to be considered for it, and was lucky enough to be offered the job.
How has your career progressed through to the role that you hold today?
I spent 13 happy years at Kellogg and held various roles within Treasury, ranging from Treasury Analyst to European Treasury Manager. During this time the business changed significantly and also moved the European HQ to Ireland. I moved along with it and continued on my treasury journey. I worked on several key initiatives – acquisitions, tax restructuring, implementation of a multi-currency notional cash pool, commercial paper programme, implementation of a treasury management system.
After over a decade at Kellogg I decided that it was time for a change. Having spent so long as a customer, I wanted to experience life inside a bank and went to Citigroup as a product manager for the now superseded liquidity reporting tool Treasury Vision. It was a valuable experience and I was grateful for the opportunity to work on liquidity product launches, and to get first-hand experience of how the bank’s internal systems and processes worked.
I then took three years off when I had my daughter and lived in Miami for a while which was a completely different experience!
When we returned to London, I decided to go back to work and was offered a position at Willis Towers Watson, or Willis as it was when I joined. My initial role was Treasury Controller, responsible for managing UK controls, banking and operations, as well as the treasury back office. Following the merger with Towers Watson at the beginning of 2016, my role quickly developed to encompass international markets and also the treasury systems. The past two years have been ones of constant change and thankfully improvements. With the support of my team we have a more efficient cash management structure, integrated and effective systems and standardised processes. There is still more work to do and with the forthcoming implementation of Cloud Oracle, my role will undoubtedly continue to change and expand providing new opportunities for me to learn.
How have the demands and needs of treasury changed over the course of your career, and what particular skills does the role require today?
As always, different treasuries are at different stages on their journey to consolidation, automation and ultimately efficiency. The ways by which to achieve these goals have remained fairly similar throughout, so at its core I feel that treasury is in many ways unchanged. But having said that, since I began in treasury the profession’s reach has expanded greatly within organisations. In order to bring about the change it needs to progress its aims, treasury must be an effective business partner and provide valuable solutions to the business it supports.
In terms of skills, project management and change management have become more valuable, as much of what we do is managing change via different projects.
What specific, or perhaps surprising, qualities do you look for when recruiting treasury personnel?
It’s quite intangible, to be honest. If you’ve been asked to an interview, then your CV speaks for itself and for me it’s generally the character of the person. How do they interact, how do they describe what they have done throughout their career, what was their involvement or their motivation, and most importantly how do I feel they will fit in with the team? It’s easy to spot someone who is interested in the profession as their enthusiasm is clear, and those people will want to learn and continue learning,
How important do you think a formal treasury education is, as opposed to (or as well as) more general finance or accountancy qualifications?
I would say that it depends on where you are in your career. If you are entering treasury after some time in finance, a more general finance or accountancy qualification will provide you with an appreciation of treasury, and some detail on specific topics such as hedging or debt. A treasury qualification will provide a crucial top-up to any existing studies. If you are starting out and are interested in a career in treasury then I would say that a treasury qualification is vital, as it gives an in-depth understanding of core treasury disciplines which can then be directly applied to your role.
What about wider experience in the world of business. Is that valuable too?
Even though treasury is considered as a specialism, its skills are very transferrable and can easily be applied in different organisations. It certainly helps to have experience of different types of business, as you can appreciate that cash flows for each business are different, as are the risks that they are managing. It is then down to you as a treasury professional to understand them and to apply them in the relevant situation.