Fast-Track Treasury: Making the Most of Digital Business Models
By Eleanor Hill, Editor
Reaching customers through digital channels has become a priority for organisations during global lockdown. But reaping the benefits of a digital business model requires treasury to be fully connected to the company’s overall digital strategy. Srinivas Kasturi, Head of Mass Payments and Country Product Management, Corporate Banking, Barclays, and Daniela Eder, Head of Payments & Cash Management Europe, Barclays, explain how treasurers can plug in to the potential upsides of digital business models – through tools such as instant payments – while outlining how to manage risks, including increased collection costs and greater foreign exchange (FX) exposures.
It’s no secret that Covid-19 has accelerated the adoption and evolution of digital business models – across almost every industry sector. Supermarkets have seen an explosion in online ordering. Healthcare providers have embraced video consultations. Virtual gyms and classrooms have become the norm for many. And the list goes on.
Perhaps more surprising than the range of digital services now available is the speed at which they have been rolled out. Data from consultancy firm McKinsey suggests that – in the space of just eight weeks – the world has jumped forward five years in terms of consumer and business digital adoption.
With this rapid rise in e-commerce, and reduced footfall in retail establishments, many companies have begun complementing their wholesale models with direct-to-consumer (D2C) sales. Heinz Kraft, for example, is now selling bundles of its most popular products straight to consumers via its website.
The benefits for customers are clear: convenience, a superior shopping experience, better service and more instant access to the products they want. For the C-suite, margins can be improved by cutting out the middlemen, revenue sources can be grown, and new markets can be entered without a physical presence.
But what does this shift towards digital business models mean for corporate treasurers? And how can they harness the opportunities on offer, while managing the inherent risks?
Striking the right balance
According to Eder, “Examining the D2C trend is a great way to understand the treasury impact of the wider shift towards digital channels, in both B2C and B2B segments.” The first and perhaps most obvious treasury ramification in the D2C space, she says, is the dramatic shortening of the order-to-cash (O2C) cycle.
“By settling the transaction direct with the end consumer, the treasurer no longer has to wait an average of 60 days for their cash – it could be in their account within 24-48 hours, or even a few minutes, if instant payments are used.” Reducing days sales outstanding (DSO) in this way has obvious working capital benefits, since treasurers will have more cash on hand. Nevertheless, this will “require an increasingly proactive approach to short-term investing – and expedited reporting,” she notes.
D2C cash flows also differ in terms of volume and value. “With wholesale customers, cash flows tend to be low volume, high value. They also have a certain level of predictability, as orders are often regular. For retail customers, the opposite is true. D2C sellers receive a very high volume of typically low value payments, and there is little predictability – these purchases may even be one-offs.”
For the treasurer, this shift brings several challenges, believes Kasturi. “A much greater number of incoming payments can significantly increase the cost of collections. As such, treasury will require robust, automated, high-volume connectivity, to process all of the receipts from direct sales. Clients may wish to look at establishing a receivables factory, and leveraging technology such as robotic process automation [RPA], to assist with those high volume receipts. Without significant efficiency on the collections side, the working capital benefits of the model could be negated,” he highlights.
Making smart choices
Naturally, the choice of payment method(s) offered to consumers can also affect the cost of collections. “Consumers’ use of debit or credit cards, or solutions such as PayPal, can significantly ramp up costs when transacting digitally. Bank APIs (application programming interfaces) and fintech led-solutions integrated into e-commerce sites are a more cost effective alternative, while still offering an excellent customer experience.
Another challenge with the shift to D2C is the increased range of currencies treasurers may encounter. According to Kasturi, “Digital business models enable companies to rapidly expand across borders. Inevitably, this brings new currencies into the cash management mix – ones that the company might not traditionally deal with. Leaving FX conversion to card providers can be costly, as wholesale rates are unlikely to be applied, and fluctuating prices can be confusing for the end customer. It is therefore important for treasurers to be on top of their transactional FX costs and deliver clarity of pricing for consumers at all times.”