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Bel Group: A Treasury Transformation in Progress

Published  5 MIN READ

Bel Group’s selection of Kyriba’s platform for global treasury, payments and risk management is all about bringing disparate processes and business units into line. Benoît Rousseau, Group Treasury and Insurance Director, Bel, talks to TMI about his choice and what he now expects.

The Bel Group is a world leader in branded cheese. Its portfolio of brands, including The Laughing Cow, Mini Babybel, Leerdammer and Boursin, generated sales of €3.4bn in 2019. The Group has 66 commercial and industrial subsidiaries in 34 countries globally. It distributes in nearly 120 countries.

When family-owned Bel Group selected Kyriba as its new treasury management system (TMS), its remit was to bring to order what was already a centralised treasury operation. An easy task, surely. But Bel’s Paris-based shared service centre handles payments and collections for most of its 60 globally dispersed business units, operating through more than 200 accounts at 31 banks.

If the project starts to look a little more challenging now, especially as in most of its subsidiaries Bel has no overseeing treasury function, it becomes even more so when it is also understood that with widespread international sales, the Group is exposed to more than 15 currency pairs. This is complicated further by a significant volume of intercompany cross-border sales arising from its relatively small number of regional production facilities servicing its vast global sales reach.

On top of this, Bel Group executes more 1,500 market transactions annually, including options, terms, and swaps. It manages an unusually wide spread of financing transactions, totalling more than €1bn, including public bond issues, US and European private placements, Schuldschein, and NEU CP (Negotiable European Commercial Paper) and NEU MTN (Negotiable European Medium Term Notes), in addition to its existing revolving credit facilities. It also maintains an investment portfolio currently totaling more than €500m.

So, while Bel has long-since been centralised, it clearly has a complex set of needs. These are hampered by a multiplicity of systems which Rousseau succinctly classifies as “too many”.

Indeed, with separate tools for processes such as netting, reporting, trading, market data – all directed by a monolithic treasury enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, which is used to initiate most of its payments – he says an unacceptable amount of time and effort was required just to maintain system connectivity and scheduled upgrades.

Right solution

Having endured this fractured environment for long enough, Rousseau’s expectations of how the implementation of a new TMS will complement his team’s efforts are high, but he feels he has made the best choice. Having conducted a detailed review of the market, he had set the goal of finding an integrated software-as-a-service (SaaS)-based solution to meet all or most of Bel’s needs. In Kyriba, he believes he has achieved just that.

Bel is very much an international player, but it is not a large business per se. As such, treasury does not have direct support of internal IT, explains Rousseau. In turn, this has meant that while general IT problems have been handled appropriately, those relating to treasury-specific issues have proven more difficult to tackle internally. “For a company like us, finding an integrated SaaS solution was really key to our future progress.”

When launching the request for proposal (RFP) process, Rousseau soon realised that there are very few companies able to meet Bel’s requirements for an integrated package. Kyriba was already well known to him as a bank communication and cash management system but perhaps less known for its risk management capabilities.

Accepting that Bel might discover some points of compromise in this respect, the knowledge that the system is fully integrated, and with fully native data (even market data), made the selection process rather easier for the team. “Instead of adopting a best-of-breed approach and working yet again with several different providers, we were happy to change our way of management to make sure Kyriba gave us the level of integration we need,” explains Rousseau.

Savings and fluidity

Having made the selection, the 12-month implementation project is well underway. With a go-live planned for Q1 2022, the project kicked off with a number of cross-functional workshops. These were designed to explore Bel’s requirements and specifications around cash management, bank communication and risk management. With these now finalised, the physical implementation work is now in progress.

“We’ve put a lot of internal resources into this project,” says Rousseau. Indeed, to be able to dedicate some of its internal treasury team to the project, Bel has brought on board a team of interim treasury professionals. To cover some areas of technical expertise, the firm is also working with an external integration specialist.

As might be expected, once the system is fully live, Rousseau is anticipating considerable savings in terms of maintenance, along with more fluid connectivity with its banks and its SAP ERP platform. There will still be some work to close the system’s functional gaps for Bel, but this too is in hand.

Co-innovation

With Rousseau already acknowledging that Kyriba’s specialisation is not risk management, the implementation offers an opportunity to collaborate with the vendor, particularly around FX risk. As part of Kyriba’s co-innovation programme, Bel will offer its observations and feedback on how this module can be developed.

“We hope we can improve the risk management module not only for us but also for other smaller companies,” he says. Indeed, while the work represents a specific ‘real-world’ development for Bel, as soon as these enhancements are uploaded to the cloud, they will be available for all of the vendor’s clients.

“We are a relatively small company, and in treasury we are focused on managing risk, not speculating, so we only use vanilla financial products, never exotics,” explains Rousseau. However, he continues, “we do use a very wide range of financial instruments, being quite particularly active on the options market, and while we’re not asking Kyriba to develop complex risk models, it’s important for us to have our FX [foreign exchange] risk management fully embedded within the module”.

Bel is also engaging with Kyriba on the iteration of a new fraud module. The aim is to automate payment processing controls, using artificial intelligence and business intelligence technologies to enhance fraud detection and in the production of analysis reports.

“Kyriba was one of the best platforms in terms of security, and fraud management is now key for us because every day we have some kind of cyber-attack,” comments Rousseau. The co-innovation programme currently involves other clients, and Kyriba says that more co-developed product announcements will be made soon, with client sharing to follow.

In the meantime, Bel’s approach to liquidity management, which sees it using an unusually broad sweep of liquidity products (referred to above), has alerted Rousseau to the possibilities of Kyriba’s active liquidity management approach. Indeed, as part of the implementation, the vendor’s Enterprise Liquidity Management solution will replace five existing tools. “Today, most of our FX transactions are managed through a single platform, so now we’re looking for a single electronic platform to manage all liquidity products too,” he explains.

With the level of resources and the right system required by Bel to make this project a success, Rousseau is taking the opportunity, while minds are focused, to expand his review to cover all internal processes and documentation impacting treasury. “This is not about a like-for-like replacement”, he states. “What we have clearly identified and are undertaking is a transformation.”