Treasurers must elevate their staff’s data and technology IQ—and figure out the best ways to do that.
The flurry of finance automation initiatives is presenting new challenges for finance leaders. Traditional roles, in cash ops, FX and cash forecasting among others, are being reshaped as manual work is supplanted by automation. Be it a new TMS, a planning solution, cloud ERPs or AI, the tech and data skill requirements for finance professionals are expanding and not everyone is prepared.
Automation abounds. At the May meeting of NeuGroup for Tech Treasurers, nearly every member reported being engaged in a technology transformation project. Some are implementing a new TMS or replacing existing ones that have become obsolete. Others are in the throes of an SAP S/4HANA implementation. Still others are experimenting with AI and RPA.
- But no matter how advanced the technology is, it will not yield expected results if people do not know how to use it. That means upskilling existing staff and/or hiring new employees who are data and technology savvy.
- One treasurer said he approached his contacts at giant asset manager BlackRock to find out who they are hiring. “They told me they are bringing in people with degrees in data and computer science,” he said. “The question is how can treasury, with more limited resources, hire such talent?”
- The answer is that treasurers need to think outside the box, e.g., hire people who know more about data than finance and offer them development opportunities.
- “I brought in a data scientist at the manager level,” one member said. “We’re going to teach him corporate finance and let him manage a small portfolio of cash,” he said.
Building tech savviness. In conjunction, or in lieu of attracting new employees, treasurers are working to enhance the data and technology IQ of existing staff. “Not everyone can make the transition,” one member said. So it behooves treasurers to increase the tech skills of their teams.
- One large tech company’s treasurer sent staff through an online boot camp to learn how to program in Python. He found the online training, from a company called DataCamp, user-friendly. “We made this a kind of competition for the first three months,” he said. By gamifying the process, he encouraged staff to participate.
- The experiment is working. “We have been using Python script to replace peripheral systems,” he said. Their first project involved building code for keeping track of and analyzing cash investments. “We are planning to do the same for bank accounts and FX,” the treasurer said.
- The leap may not be as large as some may imagine. “If you have people who can build macros in Excel or use Power BI, this is one step beyond,” he said.
- Asked whether he faced any resistance, the treasurer said: “The team loved it.”
Maintaining engagement. Augmenting employee IQ about data and tech is critical in the immediate sense, but it also has long-term benefits. In a tight labor market, treasurers say they are struggling to find qualified candidates.
- “We are competing with banks and asset managers with much deeper pockets, so maintaining engagement is a constant challenge,” one member said. As tech companies mature, the old stock incentives are no longer as attractive.
- When growth is slow and turnover low, there are also fewer promotion opportunities. “You need to do other things,” another treasurer said. For example, pay for business school, build new skills, and offer development opportunities to help employees move forward in their careers.
In companies with slower growth or ones that mastered the art of scalability, “you are going to see people leave. You have to expect and accept that,” this treasurer said. “It’s the way things are.”