Ten years ago, the collapse of Lehman Bros and the rampaging financial crisis that followed started at Sibos. Despite the whirlwind that followed, the eye of the storm, in a room full of the world’s bankers, was eerily silent. The lights at the Lehman booth were, quite literally, turned off, and over the course of a day, the conference emptied out as senior executives power-walked their way to the exit clutching their phones, ashen-faced.
Until this year, Sibos has been a very different place to pre-2008 days. The focus has been largely defensive: how to tackle the regulatory compliance burden; how to protect market share with the threat of new, fintech-shaped thunderclouds on the horizon; how to face up to the reputation of being the global ‘bad guys’.
What a difference this year. Gone is the defensiveness, gone is the mutual suspicion that has tinged previous events. Instead, conference sessions and exhibition alike at Sibos were infused with dynamism, enthusiasm and renewed confidence. Yes, banks compete with each other, and yes, they may compete with technology companies in certain situations. More often, however, technology companies and banks complement each other. As a result, there is a new-found momentum behind collaborative efforts to address the challenges that affect everyone and on which no-one competes. For the first time in many years, the customer was central to almost every presentation and panel discussion. But what does this really mean – and are corporate customers ready or interested?
What’s a ‘mainstream’ treasurer anyway?
So far, I have been in this industry for 24 years and counting, and in some respects, a great deal has changed over this time. When I started my first treasury role, we sent payments by fax, having run around the building looking for people to sign, we settled securities via telex (actually quite exciting, I always felt like the security services), we typed confirmation letters manually, and our ground-breaking electronic banking system was an excruciating dial up. The reconciled cash position was written on an A3 pad every morning (a job I was singularly poor at) and updated on a whiteboard throughout the day. Unusually, we had a treasury management system, an in-house built monstrosity that had cost millions. Despite being impossible to interrogate, update or integrate, it was long considered ‘irreplaceable’ as it produced a particular board report on which the business apparently entirely relied (incidentally, when it stopped being produced, I don’t think anyone either noticed or cared). Two years later, our reality was already quite different, as an early adopter of a modern treasury management system, with efficient processes and reporting that many treasuries today would still aspire to.