Since joining UniCredit in 2014, and playing an instrumental role in the expansion of the Germany-based team serving tech firms, Frank Nicolaisen has steered a course that places him perfectly to oversee the next phase of growth of the bank’s GTB Americas platform.
Indeed, Nicolaisen will be instrumental in delivering a holistic approach to supply chain and working capital efficiency, rolling out new client solutions, including UC eBanking Global, European Gate and IMEX.
As a confirmed technophile, he welcomes the fact that digital technologies have become integral to our daily and working lives, with an ever-greater number of digital, mobile and cloud-based technologies being adopted in all kinds of industries. And treasury is no exception, he states.
“We see the digitalisation of treasury as more important now than ever before – not least due to the effects of the pandemic, which has made upgrades more urgent,” he notes. He fully understands that business teams need to evaluate huge amounts of data, at speed, in order to make the best possible decisions and to efficiently manage everyday operations.
In treasury, this means processing cash transactions, optimising financial assets and liabilities, driving cash flow improvements, and managing financial risk. But increasingly this is in real time and, for now at least, often from home offices.
The idea that treasury could become too dependent on technology, losing certain skills, is not one that Nicolaisen supports. He believes that technology in the treasury space serves to automate bureaucratic or administrative processes – such as executing FX conversions, or generating cash flow forecasts – while eliminating the potential for human error.
“This frees up the workforce to focus on developing the most important, strategic skills, such as engaging with clients, listening and responding to their needs, and devising creative solutions,” all of which, he says, “are much less susceptible to automation”.
For many progressive, forward-thinking treasurers, Nicolaisen recognises the aim of establishing a digital, real-time treasury set-up with fully-automated routine processing, so that large amounts of data can be handled with ease.
The approach to achieving this, he feels, will vary depending on a number of factors, including the size of the corporate, how technologically agile it is and the extent of any legacy treasury infrastructure that needs to be overhauled.
“Naturally, it is tougher to update an old system as opposed to simply bringing in a new one,” he admits, cautioning that companies switching away from legacy technology “need to be aware of the additional workload, operational risks during the switch-over and, of course, the financial cost of the whole process”. Either way, he advocates a “digital revamp” as a “critical long-term investment, promising to maximise a business’s financial health and better insulate it against economic shocks”.
The problem is that not every treasury is advanced as it can be technologically. For Nicolaisen, those looking to catch up with the digital revolution happening in treasury should begin by educating themselves on the subject, understanding the stakes, and speaking to banks and other potential partners about the options.
“Some companies may be lagging because they don’t see an urgent business need,” he comments. “Over time, however, as the late adopters see their peers deploying an increasing number of digital treasury tools and reaping the benefits, the sense of urgency and value will grow.”
One of Nicolaisen’s priorities now will be helping to bring across proprietary GTB solutions from UniCredit’s core European markets and implementing them in the Americas. For example, its global eBanking tool is due to be rolled out in the Americas mid next year. This is aimed at streamlining the payment experience for clients in the US “and ensuring the same high level of client experience regardless of geography”.
Of course, this example dovetails with his broader mandate, which is to continue to sharpen the bank’s Americas cash management, trade finance and working capital offering. “We’ll be leveraging the group’s strong presence in our core European markets to meet US multinational clients’ needs in Europe, while at the same time, providing access to US markets for our European clients.”
Frank Nicolaisen, Head of GTB Americas, UniCredit