Automation and data as a resource

Cash management

Automation and data as a resource

October 2019

Robotic process automation is already underway, but its main impact on corporate treasury will become evident over the coming decade. The benefits - and potential downside - were assessed at two of the industry's keynote annual events in October, which were previewed as follows:

It’s nearly 100 years since the word ‘robot’ was first used as a term for artificial automata, by Czech writers Josef and Karel Čapek. During the 1920s, the possibilities of a world in which robots could be deployed to perform manual tasks more cheaply and efficiently than humans grew rapidly; by 1928 a talking humanoid robot, Eric, was delivering a speech at the Model Engineers Society annual exhibition in London.

As we approach the 2020s, the widespread application of robotic process automation (RPA) and other technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) is fast becoming a reality. Opinion is divided on the implications for the treasury function over the decade ahead; the optimistic view holds that RPA means that treasurers will be freed from many of the more mundane tasks. The more pessimistic forecast is that the ongoing Fourth Industrial Revolution will merely make many jobs redundant without simultaneously creating new ones.

Certainly the efficiencies of RPA and also the increasing value of data as a resource for the treasury function will be high on the agenda at two of the industry’s key annual events this month: the EuroFinance International Treasury Management Conference 2019, which will be held at the Bella Center, Copenhagen from 16th to the 18th October, to be swiftly followed by the US Association for Financial Professionals’ (AFP) annual conference, which this year returns to Boston’s Convention and Exhibition Center from 20th to 23rd October.

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“We have seen clients across the treasury landscape globally look to banks more and more to provide insights and advisory as to how robotics will make treasury responsibilities more efficient,” says Seth Brener, Americas Head of Corporate Cash Management Sales at Deutsche Bank. “We’ve already seen clients implementing programs, which have all but eliminated some repetitive and time-consuming tasks, many of which were driven by strict deadlines. 

As an example, the RPA project at one global industrial client has resulted in the automation of the following functions:

  • Control of internal counterparty investment limits
  • Notification and control of maturing time deposits
  • Prior day bank account reconciliation; waiting for MT940s is no longer needed
  • Intraday differences between pre-advised flows within the company versus actual positions
  • Static data control, such as whether accounts were opened or closed during the month

“RPA has afforded the company a higher degree of granularity and reliability – including less potential for human error – and the reallocation of resources to more strategic tasks,” adds Brener. “Most importantly, because RPA has resulted in better management of cash positions, the resulting additional investment of balances has actually financed the RPA project itself.”

 

Copenhagen

Deutsche Bank’s experts will be offering their insights on both robotics and data as a resource in Copenhagen. At a lunchtime session on Day One entitled ‘Unlocking real-time insights in the digital economy’, global head of payments and collection products Christof Hofmann will examine how new technologies – which also include the alchemy that is application programming interfaces (APIs) – and the emergence of real-time based treasury are unlocking real benefits for treasury such as faster liquidity, immediate availability of funds, more accurate cash flow forecasting and speedier cash conversion cycles.

In the afternoon, head of cash management Ole Matthiessen and Melanie Noronha of the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) host a session titled ‘Dealing with data: the treasury perspective”, which posits the theory of data as “the new gold” and how treasury can become adept at utilising it to maximum effect. Complementing this session will be the launch of the EIU’s annual study supported by Deutsche Bank, the 2019 edition titled ‘A Quantum Leap: Building A Data-Driven Treasury’ and which “identifies technologies that treasurers are currently using and those they believe will be most important in enhancing their data intelligence going forward”.

Insights into how RPA is already producing efficiencies will be provided on the afternoon of Day Two, when Xavier Szebrat, Deutsche Bank’s VP, risk management solutions is joined by Stefan Karenfort of Yusen Logistics in the session ‘Putting the robots to work for FX risk management and liquidity’.  The global freight forwarding and transportation group is applying RPA to reduce its FX risk and enhance its liquidity management, integrating balance sheet hedging with cash management and Karenfort will detail how the solution was integrated with current processes.

In another interesting session, E.On’s Jens Otto and Torsten Spieker will outline how the power utility has fully embraced electronic bank account management (eBAM) for eliminating paper-based flows, standardising its KYC data processes, and harmonising centralised and decentralised banking activities. 

 

AFP, Boston

AFP’s annual conference typically attracts more than 6,500 corporate finance professionals, both from the US and further afield. Both Deutsche Bank’s Seth Brener and Graham Warner, Americas Head of Cash Management will be on hand to welcome existing and prospective clients at the bank’s stand in the exhibit hall at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center.

As with EuroFinance, the focus at AFP 2019 will be on the impact of new and emerging technologies, in sessions such as ‘Future of treasury: the uncut version’, in which Microsoft’s group manager, treasury Lisa Wagner looks at how treasury teams are preparing for the future.

The broader impact of automation in the 2020s is examined by spotlight speaker Anne-Marie Slaughter, CEO of public policy institute New America, who will outline areas of the US economy where jobs are most likely to grow and the impact on social infrastructure in her talk ‘The future of work: What you need to know’.

Elsewhere, with the US a relatively recent convert to real-time payments – The Clearing House (TCH) platform launched two years ago and the Federal Reserve’s own system isn’t scheduled to begin until 2023 – there will be a plethora of payments-related sessions over the four days in Boston.

One presentation, ‘Realising the benefits of faster payments for the corporate treasurer’ has a line-up comprising Kim Ford of the US Faster Payments Council, Andrea Gilman of Mastercard, TCH’s SVP Steve Ledford and Reed Luhtanen of Walmart to assess the forthcoming transformation. While 42% of US corporate and treasury executives recognise the potential of real-time payments, the demise of the old-fashioned paper cheque is still some way off – it’s still used for nearly half of all payments.

82%

of US organisations reported payment fraud incidents in 2018

AFP

Another session – ‘Do faster payments equal faster fraud? Driving adoption while mitigating risk’ – addresses two major issues. AFP reported that 82% of US organisations reported payment fraud incidents in 2018, with larger organisations with annual revenues of more than US$1bn particularly vulnerable. Business email compromise was at record levels and sophisticated criminals now appear to be targeting ACH transactions, even though these are less directly exposed to fraud. In July, the Federal Reserve issued a report on synthetic identity fraud, which the US Payment System says is the “fastest growing type of financial crime in the United States”.

Elsewhere, the troublesome trio of Brexit, trade and the Fed will be tackled in ‘How treasury can defend itself against geopolitical volatility’, at which Amazon’s senior treasury analyst Amanda Schmidt joins Bob Stark of fintech Kyriba and Ashwin Ramji of World Vision International in explaining how technology can assist treasury departments in meeting the challenge of today’s market movements and their impact on foreign holdings.

A more upbeat message is suggested by the title of another session in the conference’s Treasury Management stream: ‘China: opening doors, creating opportunities for US corporates’, at which China Construction Bank’s treasurer and SVP Frank Sansone and the US Chamber of Commerce EVP Tom Quaadman and Standard Chartered’s Anton Chan suggest that regardless of the rhetoric from Washington, US companies can still survive and thrive in the world’s fastest-growing market.

All in all, it will be an interesting week full of great content for treasurers around the world – follow along with the conversation at @DBcorporatebank

 

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