By Brad Larson
Today’s treasury teams exist in a fast-paced dynamic, made even more challenging by the shifts in strategy, stay-at-home orders and increased need for cash over the last 18 months. Now is the time for treasury professionals to begin improving upon the skills needed to advance in training.
AFP caught up with Brad Larson, upcoming instructor of the AFP 2021 Virtual Workshop, Maximizing Treasury’s Impact in Today’s Companies, to get his take on key drivers transforming treasury.
AFP: What skills are most important for treasury professionals to add over the next couple of years?
Larson: In the past, technical financial skills and banking knowledge were at the top of the list. The trend we have seen growing and what surveys show is that senior management says their treasury departments are delivering on treasury expertise as expected. However, they say we are falling short on their sought-after competencies of communication, vision, change agent and collaboration. Since we can easily receive technical solutions we need from the internet, they are no longer a differentiator. That is the expectation that is assumed. The people that will lead the next wave of treasury professionals are the ones that learn to leverage those four sought-after competencies.
AFP: What makes a successful treasury team?
Larson: It may seem too simple, but the most important ingredient in a successful treasury team is a true desire to find ever-expanding ways to make a positive difference. Synergy and technical skills have been, and continue to be, important. However, a true drive to be successful requires an inquisitive mind into the many ways treasury can step out of historic treasury roles and find new ways to add value to their companies, which can be challenging because it varies greatly by company. People that have worked at the same company for several years may know how treasury fits into their company but are probably unaware how their peers in other companies are adding value in ways they never thought of. It is the old adage, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” In-person and internet conferences should be about learning things our peers are doing that you never considered.
AFP: With so many currently collaborating in a remote work environment, what do you see as the most common barriers treasury teams are seeing in terms of communication? How can we overcome these barriers?
Larson: Since successful treasury teams become successful by building collaborating relationships with other departments in their companies, a remote work environment is a big barrier. However, a remote work environment creates that same barrier between all departments. It has created a void treasury can fill. It opens the opportunity for treasury to become the common facilitator between departments, which makes treasury knowledgeable about more things. That, in turn, increases the value of treasury to the company.
This AFP 2021 workshop covers a lot of ways to make this happen. You start out by finding ways your activities can be of help to other departments, then you become a partner with them, and then you help them look good. They, in turn, start to rely on your broad corporate expertise and knowledge you have gained by working so openly with everyone. You soon have a partnership with them. Imagine what you can do if everyone in the company looks to treasury as a great partner that wants to help!
AFP: How has the treasury profession evolved over the years to what it is now? How has technology played a part?
Larson: Twenty years ago, or even fewer, most of us in treasury were focused on moving money quickly and at a minimal cost. While that may still be true for some people at companies today, the treasury profession as moved well beyond that and, in an increasing number of cases, has even taken a chair in the C-suite. However, being in the C-suite was never the goal. The goal was to make the biggest, most positive impact on our companies. The C-suite just ended up being the reward for reaching the goal.
There are many reasons for treasury’s rise in prominence, including the obvious requirements born of periodic economic turmoil, globalization and decreasing headcount with a need for people to wear more hats. Technology has certainly given treasury the ability to provide better and faster solutions. It also allowed us to automate most of the transactional things we used to do, giving us the time to think strategically and collaboratively. However, it is the people in treasury that have wanted to do more, stepped up in their positions, and no longer settle for just doing transactions that have moved us forward. Instead of just moving money, they have learned how to proactively make a difference on a much larger scale.
AFP: What does the future of the treasury profession look like to you?
Larson: Several years ago, I asked the CFO at the company where I worked. “What do you want treasury to be involved in?” His answer changed the way I looked at treasury forever and made me start capitalizing “Treasury” every time I write it. He said, “I want Treasury involved in every aspect of this company that deals with money, meaning I want you involved in almost everything that happens in this company.” Suddenly, I saw what some of my peers had seen: Treasury had the ability to be one of the most significant departments in my company. Treasury does not look back like some parts of finance. Our vision is always on the present and, even more so, the future. If we can learn to communicate to senior management, all the things we see in the future — the challenges and opportunities — create the opportunity to be great change agents for our entire company.
AFP: If attendees can walk away from this workshop with one key insight, what would you want them to incorporate into their day-to-day from this workshop?
Larson: The one key insight is summed up in a very tongue-in-cheek comment. I tell people, “Treasury should rule the world because we are looking at what is best for the long-term good of the company.” This workshop covers the essential mechanics, skills and capabilities Treasury needs to have. We talk about areas that Treasury departments have moved into so they can increase their impact and visibility. We examine communication skills with senior management and what they want to learn from you. We also highlight what they should be learning from you that they are not even aware of.
Treasury can play such a unique role in an organization because for us, the company has to come first. When other departments do what is best for their department, it usually ends up helping their overall company. For Treasury, it is the reverse. When Treasury does what is best for their overall company, it ends up being the best for Treasury. There is no limit to what Treasury can and should be involved in. Incorporating this concept into our day-to-day activity will truly change our companies as well as our individual lives and fortunes.
Register for AFP 2021 by September 24 to receive complimentary access to both of the virtual conference workshops: “Maximizing Treasury’s Impact In Today’s Companies” and “Financial Analytics: Effective Decisions With Critical Thinking.” Learn more about the workshops.