Why corporate treasury is the recruitment niche for me

| 13-1-2019 | by Pieter de Kiewit |

My father was an engineer, he built roads and bridges around the world. One of his three kids following in his footsteps was a silent wish we knew about. Regretfully for him we all went in other directions, my sister and me at least landed engineering degrees. One of my first business management professors did teach me about building bridges but between functional areas. That is what I have been doing as a recruiter for the last 25 years and having a blast. 10 years ago I decided to only recruit in corporate treasury. Let me tell you why.

In a very simple way I always describe corporate treasury to laymen mentioning three tasks:

  1. Cash management and treasury operations: opening and closing bank accounts, payments, predict what payments will land and leave.
  2. FX and interest risk management: what will € and $ do? Zero % on our savings account, what shall we do?
  3. Financing: with what money will we fund our current and new activities?

With this description I do not have to be afraid for sudden new competition, do I? But do know that during the crisis treasurers found solutions for the survival of their employers. They found funding to pay salaries, helped sales with creative financing solutions, making complex transactions reality. They helped companies not going bankrupt due to currency exposures and forced banks to offer better solutions at an acceptable rate.

Treasurers manage large sums and report directly to the CFO. They are involved in mergers & acquisitions, reorganisations and international expansion. They act in small numbers but have a huge impact. Corporate treasury changes continuously and creates new treasury bridges to better connect with traditional job types like accounting, tax and sales. Corporate treasury is currently automated quicker than many similar functional areas. The academic world is showing increasing interest. In the Netherlands the post graduate education at the Vrije Universiteit is becoming more prominent in the treasury community. Corporate treasurer is an exciting position, the secret is out!

What I am passionate about is helping CFOs, HR, internal recruitment and group treasurers with their staffing questions. Treasury teams are almost always small, building treasury recruitment expertise is not worthwile for corporate managers. That is why my colleagues and I can add value. An HR manager knows about assessments, we know about treasurer assessments. A CFO knows about equity deals, we know about treasurers having funding expertise in his specific industry. A group treasurer knows about treasury tasks, we know how these tasks are executed in other companies so he can compare. That is why we can deliver and have impact. That makes me enjoy my job so much.

This is why recruitment in corporate treasury is my niche and there is still builder of bridges in the family.

Pieter de Kiewit
Owner Treasurer Search

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My Currency Fundamentals for SMEs

| 24-12-2019 | by Pieter de Kiewit |

My Very Practical Currency Fundamentals for SMEs

In 2016 I informed you about my baby steps in dealing with foreign exchange exposure in a “baby steps article” on this platform. I was about to receive Euros from Switzerland and had to pay in GBP (British pounds) into the UK. Two things I learned about the fees of big banks if you transfer internationally into another currency:

  1. There is a transaction fee if you transfer money into another currency, in most cases a flat fee;
  2. The bank takes a percentage from the total amount to make GBP out of Euro.

My solution at the time was to open a GBP account to avoid both these costs. There is a monthly fee for this bank account and some simple math showed that was the way to go. Currently GBP is relatively strong and I do not expect any UK assignments shortly, so I have decided to close down the account. Time to dig in again. I have struggled with three major considerations.

Transferring GBP into Euro: struggling with the spread

If you go onto the internet to find out what the current exchange rate between two currencies is, you get a number like 1 GBP equals 1.20 Euro. So far so good. Banks and other financial services providers work with a so-called spread. They deserve a reward for their services so the price they pay for your GBP is lower than the price you pay them if  you buy a pound from them. The spread is the percentage over and under the number you will find on the internet.

I am not here to endorse any businesses but I can tell you that the percentages can differ substantially. One provider asked 0.7%, the second 0.3%. The second provider does not charge a transaction fee, the first one does. If the amounts are substantial and your margins are thin, this difference can be substantially!

The hassle

When I choose for the second provider, I have to open a new account, remember new passwords, hand in documentation and think about if I can trust them. In short: a hassle.

With my first provider I have relationship of decades. I decided to ask them if there would be a chance that they would lower their prices. As I am a small business owner, I do not have a contact person anymore. I sent three emails to three different mail addresses. The first was not answered, the second was answered with “I cannot help you” and upon mail number three I received a call. The service agent mentioned she could not help me but I should call a colleague at 3:30 pm and then I would be put in the waiting line. Call me old-fashioned but that is not how I want to work. So that is what I told her. I noticed she really wanted to help but at the end of the day I got the message that my transaction was not in the millions so I would not receive an answer and there was no price-lowering. Ok.

I am not a fan of bank bashing and think they do important work. And we do not want to pick up every recruitment assignment. It is not in our interest but also not in the interest of the potential client. I would have appreciated a better line of communication.

The Market

As you might have noticed, I do like my cost savings but let’s be practical. This year the conversion rate GBP – Euro has been at its’ lowest at 1.06 and at its’ highest at 1.20. So there is  a difference of 0.14. The difference in the conversion rate has been 0.4%. I now chose to invest time in how to do the conversion and with which provider. Market study, good timing and luck are much better ways to optimize your returns.

Final remarks

If you, as an entrepreneur, have to deal with foreign exchange rates it is good to know how the cost structures of banks are. Also it is good to know there are alternative service providers like XE, Ebury, NBWM and Global Reach Group. If your time is limited and the number of transactions low, dig in once and decide what works for you. If you have regular and/or substantial transactions, it makes sense to keep the topic on the agenda. In that case it might be useful to gather further information and consider risk mitigating strategies and learn more about hedging, derivatives, spots, forwards, et cetera. If you want to, I can open my network for you.

Good luck and I would like to read about your experiences,

Pieter de Kiewit
Owner Treasurer Search

 

Our banks are not like theirs (if they even have one)

| 08-10-2019 | by Pieter de Kiewit |

Recently Bloomberg reported about the authorities in Indonesia closing down 826 Fintech startups. My first assumption was this has to do with tax evasion and a very controlling government. Indonesia is most definitely not my field of expertise. Reading the article it struck me that my mindset concerning banking is quite limited and restricted to western standards. And over time I have noticed that I am not the only one. Reason to browse the internet, tell you about my findings and issues this concerning.

Even European banks are not all the same
In The Netherlands the retail banking standard was: banking services are for free and you get a decent percentage on your savings. Furthermore cheques were left in the previous millennium and even my grandmother uses on-line banking. Italian retail banking already came with an invoice long ago and cheques were and still are a standard in Germany. As many Europeans have no regular access to the (mobile) internet, banking on their computer or phone is not an option. One can also take this from the average number of banking offices to be seen in the streets of Amsterdam versus the ones in Bucharest.

Banking differences in the rest of the world
I did not do a comprehensive study but do know that for many of us Europeans a personal credit rating does not very sound familiar. When I lived in Canada I learned that you need a personal credit to get a cheque book. You get your credit rating by having an account where a regular income lands and improve it by leasing a car and pay your credit card bills in time. Without a credit rating no mortgage, a better credit rating results in a lower interest rate.
In some African countries telephone landlines were never installed and the first regular telephone was a cell phone. In parallel, bank accounts were skipped and cash is replaced by credit on this same cell phone. I think all these systems are doing a more or less proper job. Only if you want to cross the border you will need to help.

Problems with inadequate banking services
EY reports that over 200 million SMEs do not have access to banking services putting them in an offside position in the global economy. All this because the regular big banks want to deal with them as if they are a Western company. The Bloomberg article describes a situation where 90% of the Indonesian population has no credit card or access to banking services. Of course this is a facilitator for the black market economy. But also, there are examples where Fintech and loansharking are being combined with all related criminal behaviour and excessive interest rates. And, in a society without banks, what can you do with your savings? I think these are real issues.

Having browsed and learned I don’t think we should aim for a worldwide standard in banking. I hope we can learn from each other and that the banking landscape will be more honest, enabling a fair global economy. With this in mind I think I will have another look at cryptocurrencies introduced by Facebook and other new kids on the block. That is for another blog and by now I think I understand the Indonesian government better.

What are your thoughts and which interesting examples do you see around the world?

Pieter de Kiewit
Owner Treasurer Search

 

How do you find your Interim Treasurer?

| 09-09-2019 | by Pieter de Kiewit |

Treasury recruitment organisations and treasury consultants are both involved in interim treasury assignments. They often approach the same candidates but work with a different cost structure. Expertise of the service provider and interim manager are always important. If capacity is most important in your assignment, a recruiter might be best. If the project result dominates, a consultant.

Between the times of life-time-employment and the current flexible employment contracts some decades have passed. The Dutch have been among the trailblazers in making the labour market more flexible. These developments are being applauded by some and regretted by others. In our niche, corporate treasury, employers and employees are mainly positive. In this article I want to focus on two channels through which you can find your interim treasurer.

In my opinion the underlying agreement for labour, contractor or consultancy is secondary to what the company is looking for. If they are looking for a long term (a year or more) solution with a predictable set of tasks, an interim solution is not appropriate. Interim will not offer the stability and will cost too much.

Obvious reason for choosing an interim solution is the temporary need for capacity and/or expertise. This can be because you are looking for the permanent solution or the regular employee has taken a time-out. Also when you are shutting down your organisation, capacity is the dominating factor. In a build-up, implementation or crisis transition skills are important. In all described situations specific expertise, measured in experience and education, is a must. How does this help you choosing between a recruitment or consultancy firm?

When to use a treasury recruiter to find an interim treasurer
As treasury recruiters we find candidates for interim positions in various ponds. First there is a group of independent contractors with a track record in interim management, with a legal entity that can hit the ground running. Next to this group there is a group of candidates that are between jobs or just before retirement. Knowledgeable and motivated. Some of them can work from their own company, others will work through payrolling solutions we can provide. This second group is not always best in hitting the ground running but does have the knowledge level. Some of them can make the transfer from temporary to permanent employment. Most of the times the second group comes at a lower rate but sometimes need more time to bring the same results.

When to use a treasury consultancy to find an interim treasurer
Most professional consultancies work with the idea that they will solve the problems of their clients. In fee structure it is even possible to define a project and agree upon the cost in advance. A recruiter will not be able to do this. An interim manager working through a consultancy can do so with shadow management: he can call colleagues if he lacks knowledge. Furthermore the infrastructure and support is more substantial. All these benefits come at a price: the average hourly rate of a consultant is often 50% higher than an independent interim manager with a similar profile would charge.

Where recruiters and consultants overlap
In competition with consultants we often notice that we (recruiters) approach the same candidates and ask a lower price. Also it happens that an independent senior interim manager is compared with a medior consultant who is on the payroll of the consultancy. In that situation the client has to decide if he prefers apples over oranges.

Final remark and what to do?
Often all parties pretend recruitment (and other) processes are 100% rational. They are not and that is not a bad thing. You should choose for the interim manager and service provider that makes you feel good and who solve your problem. Sometimes a high hourly fee and few hours is better than a low hourly fee and many hours.

It is not rocket science but do think before you act. If you want to only steer upon results and high expertise, a consultancy is best, in other scenarios a recruiter might offer a better solution. What is your experience?

Pieter de Kiewit
Owner Treasurer Search

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Can you still see your banker as a trusted advisor?

| 22-08-2019 | by Pieter de Kiewit |

Is your banker a trusted advisor or just another sales representative?

The times that you, entrepreneur or CFO, could just accept the advice of your banker is over. Understand that your banker expects you to have more knowledge than before. Do know there are alternatives. And do not forget that your banker has a target (hard or soft), just like others selling products or services.

When I accompanied my father to meet his doctor, it was clear we are of different generations. He listened and accepted, I was looking for dialogue and had questions. The attitude my father showed towards his doctor, I often see with CFOs and owners of smaller businesses. Is this a problem? Where does it stem from? Should relations change?

Your relationship with your banker has changed

Decades ago there was a knowledge gap between what bankers and entrepreneurs knew about financial markets and products. The number of local banks was limited as were funding sources. The interest was higher than it is nowadays (not too hard with current rates). All this led to a power imbalance between banks and their clients. You had to listen to your banker and accept. In those days bankers showed a different attitude than they did later. I often hear remarks about the former ABN boss Jan Kalff, he apparently was trusted like a medical doctor. I am afraid the bankers’ oath does not make current bankers a similar Jan Kalff.

Over time bankers and their clients have, together, changed their relationship. Starting with the one between banks and large corporates with treasury teams. These increasingly bigger teams gained knowledge and opened relations with alternative banking partners. On top of this, banks started rewarding their employees increasingly in an Anglo-Saxon way with an aggressive connection between performance and bonus. Treating your banker like a doctor was not appropriate anymore. Between large corporates and banks a new equilibrium was reached.

Between smaller organisations and banks a lot went well, regretfully not everything. One of many examples is that in The Netherlands sales of derivatives was done wrong in two obvious ways. First, clients bought products without understanding what they bought (and did all bankers really understand?). Second, bankers did not sell these products because their clients needed them to increase their bonus. A lot has been written about this.

Regretfully, a lot of entrepreneurs and also their auditors think they have full understanding of banking products and costs. I have seen too many treasury experts prove them very wrong. This new equilibrium has not yet been set.

An important extra development that has an impact on this topic is that banking services substitutes are being offered. Facebook can facilitate your payments, you can buy currencies cheap from Privalgo and there is a wide variety of extra funding sources coming up. All these solutions do not (yet) have an established market presence.

New banking relationship management

This is not a call for bank bashing. We do not bash the car sales guy for trying to sell a car. I do want to invite you to consider threating your banker as you would like any other supplier. Always remember he has a sales target. Understand that bankers have to balance their oath with this target. On top of this they see many of their colleagues being let go. For them these are no easy times.

Find out if you have the expertise to have a balanced meeting with your banker. Can you oversee your risks, do you understand the products and do you really know what you pay your bank? I have had more than one meeting with a banker in which I learned that banks themselves often do not know what they make on their clients. The amount mentioned on your bank statement about their costs does not cover everything your bank earns on you. Do you know the spread they take on your FX deals, the margin on insurance products? They and you often do not know the product alternatives and their rates. You can get low threshold expertise or send your employees to get relevant education or have them visit events. The expertise is available.

Times are changing

Changing relationships with your bank are only a problem if you ignore the change. The banks did not ignore and have changed. In my opinion these changes are good. Bear in mind that corporate treasury is not rocket science. Spend the time on this topic it deserves. Times are changing, so keep an eye on what is happening. It will save you cost, create opportunities and help you avoid risk. Good luck and drop me an email if you have questions.

Pieter de Kiewit
Owner Treasurer Search

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How to explain what treasury is to family and friends?

| 09-08-2019 | by Pieter de Kiewit |

Your mortgage, credit card, holiday money and current account have business equivalents. They are managed by corporate treasurers. The title question, or variations, is one I have to answer quite often. Even more around the holidays, when I always meet my relatives. I am tweaking the answer constantly. Connecting private and business is my current strategy. Perhaps you (expert in the field or layman) can let me know if this explanation works for you.

You have a current, savings and perhaps other account. You pay the rent, groceries and a beer. You use a debit or credit card, cash, a cheque, paypal or other channel. You take care only you and the people you trust have access to your money. Corporate treasurers build and maintain a banking infrastructure that allows payments. They think about who is allowed to make payments (often they are), who can authorize (not a payment person), what bank to use and potential other payment channels.

You have a mortgage or personal loan so you could buy a house or pay for groceries when at the end of your paycheque the month did not come to an end yet. Corporate treasurers find funds necessary for their company and have a wider set of products available like bank credit facilities, bonds or new equity.

You feel fluctuations in interest and currencies when you cross the border to another currency country. Your mortgage, current account and credit card come with an interest. Both currencies and interest change over time: financial markets are not stable. Many of us just accept these changes. Corporate treasurers think and manage these risks: they think about the currencies in commercial contracts, about the length & price of various funding products and about mitigating the risks, for instance using derivatives.

Of course the above description is an oversimplification of the position. Treasurers have many other tasks and the complexity in a corporate environment is higher than a standard household situation. Furthermore I want to stress is that treasurers are not bookkeepers or controllers: they do not send or receive invoices and do not write the annual report. They manage actual money flows.

 

 

 

Pieter de Kiewit

Owner Treasurer Search

 

Corporate Treasury have a problem and this is why…

| 23-07-2019 | by Pieter de Kiewit |

Cost savings created by good treasurers easily exceed the sum of salaries of their team. They can help open doors that otherwise stay closed for their business colleagues and they can help avoid risks. Then why do they have this modest seat at the table of CFOs and are they often not considered for succession of her/him? Why are SMEs complaining about the lack of funding opportunities, when treasurers have them available? Why are Basel regulations made by bankers and politicians, where are the corporate treasurers? Why does treasury education not have a more prominent place in education? Why do bankers earn the bigger bucks? Corporate treasury has a PROBLEM!

The non-treasurers (CFOs and business owners) often do not know, so they do not consider this a problem. I think they should, given my introduction. The treasurers I meet often experience the problem: they want to be educated, make career progression, be involved in business and have better salaries. Why do controllers or non-financials not encounter this issue, or at least in a lesser degree?

Based upon my many interview notes and the first results of the dataset of the Treasurer Test I have a first hypothesis (there will be more): the personality of people working in treasury. A Big5 personality assessment has been done in a treasury population of 100. What I see is that treasurers, on average, are easily as driven as the general population. That should be a proper foundation. Where they score substantially different is in two aspects:

  1. They do not make contact quickly
  2. They are not focused on convincing other people.

The two obvious solutions are bringing people with a different personality into the treasury field and stimulating the current population to speak up. As recruiters we hope to contribute by bringing (for example) bankers into corporate treasury. Bankers often show a different personality profile. Furthermore I think we should not try to change the personality of the current population, but skills training will most definitely help.

Do you see the problem and want to step up? I hope so.

Pieter de Kiewit
Owner Treasurer Search

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Does your payment land in the correct currency account?

| 16-07-2019 | by Pieter de Kiewit |

Recently I received signals from a treasurer working in a mid-sized company about payments in various currencies landing on the wrong account. In a payment of USD 1 million, this could lead to extra cost of about USD 9,000! This results in extra cost and should be avoided…

In most SMEs in Europe a payment from US clients will be transferred in US dollars and lands in EURO’s. Banks facilitate this process and their fees consist of two parts:

  1. a transaction fee that is often a fixed fee or maximized percentage of the amount transferred
  2. a price to make Euro’s out of US dollars, following a conversion rate (the price you pay for buying dollars is different from the sell price, the difference is called “the spread”).

If you receive payments in US dollars regularly, you can consider opening a US dollar bank account. Therefore, you will avoid constant payment of the conversion rate. This is most relevant when you also make payments from this account. All big banks offer bank accounts in various currencies as a paid service.

Let’s take a deeper dive into the signals that I received: A foreign client made a payment in dollars with his dollar account. He transferred the dollars to the Euro account of my contact. This was all documented. Nevertheless, the bank charged transaction and conversion fees. Luckily this was discovered by my contact. After informing the bank about this issue, the bank repaired it all.

There could be various reasons why this happened. We all know that the global IT landscape in traditional banks consists of many different systems of a different age. A network problem could be a possible issue. The likelihood of this happening again is high, so be aware! Also, although we do not like this, it could be that this payment was handled manually. A mistake is easily made, hopefully not too frequent. It would be the worst case scenario when banks manipulate payments in order to claim fees. Let’s assume this is not the case.

The point I want to make: check if payments land on the proper currency account or it will cost you!

Any of you encountered misrouted payments?

PS From my own experience: in your ebanking environment, the default currency is not necessarily the currency the account is in. My GBP account had EURO as default currency…

Pieter de Kiewit
Owner Treasurer Search

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Be careful what you wish for in crowdfunding

| 02-07-2019 | by Pieter de Kiewit |

Over the last decade bankers have taken over from civil servants and public transport employees as the ones to complain about. Yours truly is also guilty and I still meet bankers who do not like to talk about their profession because they are annoyed about the bashing. Nobody is perfect but haven’t we all been too harsh on bankers?

This question popped up last week when I read about crowdfunding developments. This relatively new form of funding is growing quickly. I see at least three obvious reasons for this. First, regular banks are reluctant to fund SMEs. Regulatory requirements, ROI and risk profiles of their potential clients are some reasons for that. Second, there is a lot of liquidity in the market and it is hard to make proper investments. Third and last, various platforms, with easy accessible IT solutions, facilitate investors finding those who need funds. Why my plea to go easier on the bankers?

With crowdfunding platforms building a track record, issues are becoming very visible. There are two very prominent problems. Many SMEs using crowdfunding facilitate the payment of extremely high interests, the term loan sharks already came up. The other prominent problem is that the credit risk process in crowdfunding is often very weak. This results in the funding of unstable businesses and weak plans, ending up with funders empty-handed.

I am a small business owner, the chamber of commerce sells my address to whoever pays. On a very regular basis I receive mail informing me how much I can borrow. Crowdfunding is not regulated like banks are. Process and expectation management is being done quite aggressively by platforms and I understand problems are becoming obvious as the market matures. I invite you to read input from Lex van Teeffelen and others:

RTL Z/ANP: Failliet door crowdfunding: ‘Hoge rentes nekken ondernemers’
Lex van Teefelen: Dalend rendement crowdfunding 2019 / Flitskrediet: meer vloek dan zegen! 

This brings me back to where I started with: were we right in bashing bankers? Their processes are more sound, their communication is done with more restraint. There were extremes, mistakes were made and greed was obvious. I think most bankers tried and try to do an honest and professional job. Let’s keep each other informed, educated and ask before we judge. Hopefully we will get better in doing a proper funding job.

 

 

 

 

 

Pieter de Kiewit
Owner Treasurer Search

 

New generation treasurer studies at the Vrije Universiteit

| 13-06-2019 | by Pieter de Kiewit |

Research in our candidate files, filled with treasury experts and managers, shows that only a small fraction of the population completed a job specific education. Over time I see the level of impact and complexity of corporate treasury rising and an increase in treasury students. As a member of the so-called Curatorium (management board) of the post graduate program “Treasury Management & Corporate Finance”, I consider it my task to let you know about this education. A task I am of course happy to pick up.

You can get a first overview on the partner page of the Vrije Universiteit on our site and their own Treasury Management and Corporate Finance program page. In the next months we will post blogs with profiles of Register Treasurer (RT) graduates with their motives, experiences and career paths. This will give you better insight in the type of treasurers that are “RT material”. Furthermore we will invite graduates to share thesis and other research summaries that will give you a sample of the level of what you can expect.

Originally the program was in Dutch and aimed at a relatively narrow candidates working in a corporate environment. An important change is that the program now is in English. The student population is a mixture of consultants, bankers, interim managers and experts working in corporate and non-profit environments. As the value of the student peer group has huge impact on the program, this diversity brings a lot extra.

Our continued information flow will hopefully help aspiring students and their managers making a sound decision. The program is not for everybody, we hope to see you soon and find out if you have what it takes.

PS The next information session is at June 26, 2019.


Read stories from graduates who participated the Register Treasurer (RT) program. How does their treasury career look like now?

 

Pieter de KiewitPieter de Kiewit
Owner Treasurer Search

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