Financing and FX; The fundamental concepts

10-08-2020| Niki van Zanten

Each field of expertise has some fundamental concepts that the decision makers tie to as general rules of thumb. For example, a purist chef might stick to a maximum of 5 ingredients on each plate, a winemaker might say only grapes and nothing else, and another winemaker might say any trick goes as long as it feels the wine.

The treasury purist might say the fundamental concept that should be applied and/or benchmarked is to get as close to a zero sum game as possible. I personally tend to agree with this concept, taking into account it’s not a pure mathematical equation. A zero sum game in Treasury would mean looking beyond one pillar of treasury (I would even recommend to look beyond the treasury scope once in a while and why not, even look beyond scope of just your company), and thereby combining the outcomes of a solution across multiple pillars and see if they balance out.

Today we will take a stab out doing that for FX and Financing. Below topics give some insights in when to apply and what to look at for:

  • External Financing in Foreign Currency
  • Internal Financing in Foreign Currency
  • FX swaps
  • Conclusion

External Financing in Foreign Currency

Interest rates not only fluctuate but also have different (base) interest rates per currency/country. In general, the all in interest for financing consist of a base rate for a certain tenor and the bank spread based on perception of customers credit. At first glance it might seem interesting to look at financing in a low interest rate currency.

A few years ago many home owners in Poland used EUR mortgages to fund their homes reducing interest cost by a few percent. This of course is not a saving, even though the interest cost were lower, in return they received a FX risk on EURPLN. In case a forward (sell PLN buy EUR) would be used to eliminate the FX risk it would not only wipe out the interest benefit but also bring additional burden in terms of administration, settlements and understanding the complexity of the structure. One of the complexities of the forward is even a credit component, so the point here is, in order to really see the zero sum game picture and its leakage (spreads, out of pocket expenses etc) things can get tricky.

Internal Financing

In most scenarios internal financing is a pass through and in principle it works the same as external with a back to back leg (albeit in a netting scenario). It does open a new array of choices. The more basic choices to put the (internal) FX risk, which tenors to use, accounting classification and perhaps even do everything back to back with a bank or take some risk on the books. In terms of currency and where to put the FX risk, the most straight forward option is to use the currency is which the predominant cash flows occur. You can also choose to centralise all your FX exposure at HQ but this could cause the accounting books to look different then the economics. In any case, with any back to back transaction in general the golden balance sheet rule should apply, ie duration and conditions internal need to match external, unless you choose to have risk on your books.

FX Swaps

FX swaps (buy and sell currency for different value dates) are commonly referred as FX instruments, but in my view they are pure financing instruments. They can be used to hedge the FX on a loan or to adjust timing of cash flow or related hedges which are both financing related issues. When a swap is executed to spot reference on both legs is equal and therefore the pricing is pure interest based. Swaps can be a great way to fine-tune interest rates as forward prices tend to be closer to interbank then to manage through typical cash management products like loans and deposits. The trade-off can come in the form of a little extra work and basic knowledge is needed, but I would argue the same understanding is required when using a bank solution which has swap incorporated such as cross currency pools.


The FX market at first sight provides an excellent way to obtain close to interbank interest rates. Use it wisely and make sure you have a deep understanding of the situation. There are also many good reasons to choose a simple “plug and play” solution when looking at financing elements. As always, if you care about your funding and cash flow the understanding required for keeping it simple is no different than the understanding required for an outsourced (bank provided) solution. So either way, don’t do what you don’t completely understand. A chat with an expert and/or asking the right questions to your banking partners (don’t be shy to ask for the motives of the solution that is offered) will get you on the right path.

I am curious about your thoughts. Please comment…


Niki van Zanten

FX specialist


Accounting for FX; the Do’s and Don’ts

08-07-2020 | Niki van Zanten

Let’s start by mentioning a phrase that I hear regularly and, to be honest, also use myself: ‘I am not an accountant, but…..’.
The urge to mention this phrase (usually targeted to an accountant while having an ‘I know it better’ attitude), can perhaps be traced back to the following reasons:

  • Discrepancies between accounting and real economics;
  • The fact that some (from my perspective, way too many) companies are run by accountants and numbers;
  • Historically absurd requirements in terms of hedge accounting*.IFRS on paper brought some relief but the old FAS and IAS standards were over the top accounting driven without a mere grasp of the real world.

The first point could already result into great discussions. As companies are expected to adhere to certain accounting standards, these standards represent the objective part of these discussions. This results in real economics claiming an underdog position.
If companies have to choose between compliance on one hand and doing what works best economically on the other hand, the way to find the right balance is by training accountants about real economics. Many individuals working in treasury have an accounting background, which could be beneficial if that individual takes the economic approach and uses accounting knowledge convince business partners.

Let’s jump into some basic examples where accounting doesn’t reflect economic reality:

  1. IC (inter company) bookings where the transaction is not reported in the same currency at both ends

Entity A (EUR Functional) has a receivable of 1 Mio EUR and entity B (USD Functional) has a payable of 1.1 Mio USD. The Historic rate was 1.10 and cash flow occurred in USD. Entity A decided to book in EUR to avoid any FX reporting. The consequence is that there is indeed no FX exposure visible. However upon settlements all FX results suddenly appear.What a nasty surprise!

  1. Re-measurements not done at correct rates

The best indication for FX effects in your books is obtained when the applied rates are close to the market rates. As you know there are many different sources for markets rates.  The awareness of this fact is not visible in accounting.

  1. Forward points not segregated

If you do not segregate forward points in PL, you can have FX results when the currency in question does not move. That just sounds very strange to me and this also touches upon a bigger issue, namely the allocation of result on PL. In the case your FX does not land in a segregated PL line, or worse non-FX related results end in your FX PL,
this usually does not change the total PL. However this makes it extremely difficult to control FX results, as you need good exposure information as well solid controls in terms of realized results. Segregation of realized and unrealized FX is also a very helpful tool for the Risk manager.

Are companies run by accountants?

That question should be discussed over a beer or glass of wine. Right now, I will limit myself to some pointers on how to identify whether a case could be identified as an accounting issue or economics issue. It is actually very simple and should be done by treasurers and financial controllers, before any discussion occurs on what the actual problem is.

By comparing the accounting steps for each of the proposed solutions with the trades, you can identify where market risk arises and where accounting risk. The one can see that thes are not always the same. Furthermore, it might also be a good time to call for a specialist, if the right level of comfort is not met. This way of working also fits well with the absurd requirements of hedge accounting.

Regarding this topic, ask yourself whether you really need to apply hedge accounting. From my experiences, in most cases hedge accounting is applied only for one reason; to reduce the PL volatility in between hedging and the moment of cash flow for forecasted transactions. (especially true for listed companies).Taking an economic perspective, there is no benefit in hedge accounting at such a significant cost in terms of audits and administration . Hence, determine how high the cliff is, before you dive down into hedge accounting procedures.


In a perfect world with only blue skies and where work consists of having margaritas on the beach, there are no accounting requirements (and probably also no FX to manage). In our world, the same feeling can be obtained by making sure that the accounting for FX reflects economic reality as much as possible. Thisby applying the accounting standards as a framework. Furthermore  take into account what level of known discrepancies between the economic and accounting reality you are comfortable with.

*Please note hedge accounting and accounting for FX are not the same. By accounting for FX I mean the accounting entries done by non-local or group currency items. These can be invoices in different currencies or intercompany bookings. Hedge accounting is only linked to deferring derivative MTM on the balance sheet as opposed to PL immediately.

I am curious about your thoughts. Please comment…


Niki van Zanten

FX specialist


What does experience in Treasury get you?

10-06-2020 | Niki van Zanten

In the wonderful world of Treasury there is an easy and digestible answer for most things, but to cover the full context requires general elaboration. In other words, there are always main points but fine-tuning is equally important and the devil is in the details.

Keeping this in mind, let’s get right into attempting to answer the headline question of this blog and unravel what experience can mean for you in financial risk management with the following points

  • The answer before the analysis
  • The right analysis and additional validation
  • Speed when needed and a reserved approach 
  • An actual opinion
  • Leadership in crisis
  • Holistic approach to Finance and ability to see what’s really going on

The answer before the analysis

At school you have the smart kids who have the answer for tough questions (lets say for conversation sake a math equation which looks like this 3(1-2x)=-9, where question is what x is*) and get there by taking the necessary steps** to come to the correct answer. This is what you are taught and it leads to the desired result. Then, there is a second group who shout out the right answer immediately but skipped all the steps involved. The teacher will disapprove of this behavior as it’s not how you are taught to handle a mathematical problem. Also not all kids can be taught to handle problems this way. If experience were to be molded into these group of kids, it would perhaps be one who can answer the question immediately and then explain this steps in retrospect. In financial markets this combination is very valuable as going for the process can be cumbersome and hard to explain, unless you see what will happen at the beginning.

The right analysis and the right questions

Imagine you walk into a wine shop and ask for a bottle of wine to combine with a mouth watering turbot with lobster Bearnaise sauce. The wine shop owner recommends a Montrachet**, asking no further question. You ask him, why this wine? He answers the following; because it is a thick buttery wine thus perfectly combining with the richness of Bearnaise. Also this happens to be an excellent year from an equally exceptional producer. You end up buying the bottle to return home and taste a thirteen in a dozen overpriced bottle of wine which does reasonable well with the food but has no element of surprise or the fascination one might expect.

A few question from the wine shop owner like, what kind of wine do you appreciate a lot and what do you like about it or how much is your budget would help you on the way. The best question from your side is potential, did you ever try it? If it turns out he didn’t try it and is still trying to sell it to you he has a close resemblance to a very typical sales person in the financial sector. In other words, experience enables people to ask the right question as well as create a value and advice instead of value add for the selling party only.

Speed when needed or a reserved approach

Typically, it is assumed that decision making in financial markets and Risk management requires speed. In most cases, this is correct, providing you understand of the exposure for which your are hedging as well as the derivative you are using. Put in a simple example, when hedging a 5 year INR loan, experience will tell you to do some extra due diligence on the accuracy of the underlying exposure for the simple reason that the consequences can be significant if things go wrong. Immediately, you will also realize a 5 year tenor on INR is either not liquid or the credit component is priced in at a hefty charge replacing your FX risk with an interest risk on the roll over. If you do not execute with speed, you could be exposed to the spot risk; if you execute to fast, you might hedge something not required or with a derivative which doesn’t do the job as intended. A seasoned advisor will be the best of both worlds.

An actual opinion

Experience creates a backbone as well as a level of comfort to believe what you are saying. Consequently, this boils down to the question; Why is someone trying to sell something to me? Because you need it or because they need you to make their PL? This goes into the discussion on whether an advisor has an intrinsic or extrinsic motivation. In my view, experience is not a guarantee on where motivation comes from, but it had a lot more time to positively develop. You will hear what you are better of hearing than what you want to hear. On top of that, the advise will be more holistic as it takes a while to get all the bits and pieces of treasury together, let alone how it fits across departments in a company.

Leadership in crisis 

Argentina 2018. Hefty devaluation on the currency as well as very steep and volatile interest rates combined with liquidity issues, not to forget the social and economic disaster hitting many citizens. Situations like this, attract senior management attention like Winnie the Pooh spotting a jar of honey. One might be inclined to leave the ”when to hedge or not” decision to senior management or have endless meetings discussing business mitigation. Each crisis has different triggers as well as solutions. A seasoned crisis manager does add direct value in not only identifying root cause of what’s going on, whether financial instruments actually provide relief or are a black hole of money and in putting together the right and moreover realistic guidance for the business. I am aware of the fact that people do not like hearing bad news, but not listening to it usually brings problems back on steroids. 

Holistic approach

This is a tough one. Most people will agree, the big picture is the best one to follow, but its very common across corporates to religiously hedge PL exposures. Even in cases where there are conflicts, like the cash flow at company level being different sign than the PL FX exposure, often a bogus hedge is implemented. A holistic approach and good target setting, helps you pick the strategy with the overall best results and experience.


These are just a few considerations on why experience can provide added value in (FX) risk management beyond the well know assumption that it provides a way to do more in less time and is a great way to also transfer knowledge down to the younger workforce.

Hope this gives some food for thought and many fruitful discussions.


* multiply by 3 giving 3-6X=—9 and then deducting 3 on each side reducing equation to -6X=-12 revealing the answer.

** Montrachet is one of the words most sought after white wines. Also happy to discuss wine but that’s a different beast and business proposition.


Niki van Zanten

FX specialist