Spot the Difference: Isn’t Every TMS the Same?
By Eleanor Hill, Editor
The financial turbulence resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic has emphasised the importance of a good treasury management system (TMS). And achieving data visibility at the touch of a button has helped treasurers to act strategically throughout these challenging times. But are all TMSs created equal? And is functionality everything when it comes to vendor selection? Michael Juen, Chief Customer Officer, BELLIN, explains why personalised TMS advisory services might be just as valuable as technical capabilities.
Eleanor Hill, Editor, TMI (EH): First of all, how do you feel corporate treasurers are coping with the fallout from Covid-19? What’s your general impression of their digital readiness?
Michael Juen (MJ): Honestly, I have a slightly biased view as to how corporates generally are coping, because our clients were well prepared. We’ve had wonderful feedback from treasurers saying how our software is helping them through the current crisis, with complete cash visibility being their top priority. So, even if there are still operational challenges ahead, their systems are robust, secure and deliver the insights they need.
That said, there are clearly challenges for those without a TMS in place, or without the right TMS. Treasurers are left wondering how much cash is available and where? They are also struggling to get a complete picture of available credit facilities, and to map cash outflows relating to short- and medium-term borrowings. Without this visibility, companies are unable to make well-informed decisions, which could lead to a sub-optimal crisis response strategy.
EH: You mentioned the importance of selecting the right TMS provider. But aren’t vendors just delivering more or less standardised functionality these days? What differentiates them?
MJ: There is some truth in the assertion that functionality is reasonably comparable across vendors. The difference lies in the depth of relationship between the corporate and the system provider – and whether this enables system functionality to be leveraged to the full.
A vendor relationship can take many different forms, ranging from simply being an anonymous provider, to offering some guidance, or providing in-depth consulting/advisory services across the complete life cycle of the business relationship. At the anonymous provider end of the scale, it’s very much a transactional relationship. The corporate buys the system and does not look beyond the basic implementation of it.
While this is fine for some companies’ needs, this approach will not tap into the competitive advantages that are on offer through deeper vendor relationships. And since a system is only really as good as its users, companies could derive greater return on their TMS investment by partnering with their system providers – and leaning on their expertise as consultants.
EH: What kind of value can be added through a more embedded relationship with a TMS vendor? And what might this relationship look like?
MJ: Best practice, in my view, is a relationship that covers the complete life cycle of a TMS. By this I mean it encompasses every part of the process from sales through to scoping workshops prior to implementation, on to system configuration and process reviews to identify workflow efficiencies.
As a treasurer, if you’re investing in a system, why not make the most of it? And why settle for ‘good’ when you can have ‘the best’? Through close dialogue with your system provider, it is possible to extract more value by asking challenging questions about the system you’re investing in, as well as getting recommendations and advice from consultants who have worked with hundreds of your treasury peers.
At BELLIN, we have a motto: “Of course we can also do system implementation.” This is our way of encouraging clients to see us as treasury consultants, not just system vendors. There’s so much added value a TMS provider can bring to a customer, rather than just delivering functionality.
EH: Would you say more treasurers are looking for consulting services right now, as a result of the crisis?
MJ: For some companies, and treasurers, this is the first true crisis they have experienced. So, yes, we are seeing an uptick in requests for advice. The majority of our existing customers have well-honed technology set-ups, but this might be the first time that their whole treasury team is working from home, for example.
Clients know they can just pick up the phone to us and we already have a good understanding of their business and their technology infrastructure. Having this kind of trusted relationship is a real comfort in times of uncertainty – as a treasurer, you know the support is available and there are no hurdles to getting the advisory you need.
New clients are also turning to us for advice – mainly around transparency and visibility, although liquidity planning and FX risk management are also high priorities. In general, these corporates are seeking support to ensure they are working with complete data, in a robust system, and with group-wide collaboration. We’re getting to know these new clients as we go through the implementation process and we hope that – once the firefighting is over – we will have the opportunity to provide them with further advisory services to fine-tune their set-up.
EH: How are you providing remote consulting services? What are the benefits and drawbacks of this approach?
MJ: It goes without saying that at the moment we are providing all of our consulting services virtually – via video link. This is already the norm for clients in North America, but not so much in Europe. Before the crisis, if they had the choice, European clients would typically opt for on-site consulting. Now that they have no other option but to use remote consulting, I believe the mindset towards it is changing, for the better.
Treasurers have adapted to remote consulting very swiftly and they are starting to see the benefits first-hand, not least how time-efficient it is. For virtual sessions, we book perhaps a three-hour slot with the client and everything gets done in that time; whereas a physical session to cover the same ground would have taken the whole day, with coffee breaks, lunch and so on. The way that the material is delivered in the virtual sessions is also more bite-size and this makes it easier for the client to digest.
We use video tools in preference to telephone conferences wherever possible as having visual contact is important from a relationship perspective, but it also keeps the customer engaged throughout the session – which, in turn, enables them to derive maximum value from it. The only downside is that it’s not as social as a face-to-face meeting, but it’s still possible to build rapport via video conferencing. Besides, in the era of Covid-19, social norms have to be put aside for the sake of safety.