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A SOFR Shortcoming: Where’s the Spread?

One difference between Libor and SOFR is the lack of a credit component.

The move to a SOFR rate benchmark without a credit component was described at recent NeuGroup meeting of bank treasurers as an assault on the regional banking business in a friendly, yet heated discussion with the panel of Libor-transition experts led by Tom Wipf, the Alternative Reference Rates Committee (ARRC) chair.

The conclusion emerged that overlaying a credit component on SOFR was not in the ARRC mandate, so regional banks should propose their own and advocate for a credit component overlay solution that would mitigate the issue of borrowers’ arbitration of a risk-free SOFR rate in the next crisis.

One difference between Libor and SOFR is the lack of a credit component.

The move to a SOFR rate benchmark without a credit component was described at recent NeuGroup meeting of bank treasurers as an assault on the regional banking business in a friendly, yet heated discussion with the panel of Libor-transition experts led by Tom Wipf, the Alternative Reference Rates Committee (ARRC) chair.

The conclusion emerged that overlaying a credit component on SOFR was not in the ARRC mandate, so regional banks should propose their own and advocate for a credit component overlay solution that would mitigate the issue of borrowers’ arbitration of a risk-free SOFR rate in the next crisis.

What the ARRC says. According to the ARRC recommendation, Libor and SOFR are different rates and thus the transition from Libor to SOFR will require a spread adjustment to
make the rate levels more comparable. As noted above, Libor is produced in various tenors and SOFR is currently only an overnight rate.

Another critical difference between Libor and SOFR is that Libor is based on unsecured transactions and is intended to include the price of bank credit risk. SOFR, on the other hand, is a near risk-free rate that does not include any bank credit component, as the transactions underpinning SOFR are fully secured by US Treasuries.

Looking ahead. A working group was formed at the meeting to coordinate with other working groups out there and explore proposals being surfaced to use TRACE data on either bank or customer borrowing rates to build a credit spread on top of SOFR. They might also turn to the USD ICE Bank Yield Index or the AFX Ameribor for ideas. (See A New ‘Bor on the Block)

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What Should Your Working Capital Be Used For?

Insights on how young, fast-growing companies should use their cash.

How is short-term cash funded? Treasurers at high-growth tech companies at a recent NeuGroup meeting discussed funding working capital and whether a company should target cash and short-term investment balances to cover anticipated working capital needs or pay for committed short-term bank credit facilities to cover seasonal or unexpected short-term funding requirements.

Part of this is communicating to management and shareholders that committed facilities have their own value as opposed to sitting on unproductive cash.

Insights on how young, fast-growing companies should use their cash.

How is short-term cash funded? Treasurers at high-growth tech companies at a recent NeuGroup meeting discussed funding working capital and whether a company should target cash and short-term investment balances to cover anticipated working capital needs or pay for committed short-term bank credit facilities to cover seasonal or unexpected short-term funding requirements.

Part of this is communicating to management and shareholders that committed facilities have their own value as opposed to sitting on unproductive cash.

Payables-receivables magic. Another opportunity the group identified was that increasing payables terms is just as valuable as decreasing receivables terms. Management often focuses on receivables given their important relationship to revenue, but overlooks the payables side of the equation. But cash flow is cash flow, whether it comes from the receivables or payables side of the ledger.

Growth and bank partners. Confronting the challenges of capital structure and working capital requires the right partners on the bank side. As a company grows, is its bank partner booting it out of its current group and into another? At different stages of growth, how do you know you have the right partners and how does treasury get a seat at the table?

This emphasizes the need for treasury to articulate what services it requires from the banks: global cash management infrastructure and the ability to syndicate a credit facility and provide access to capital markets, debt or equity.

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The Art of Managing Bank Expectations

How one treasurer gives banks in his revolver a share-of-wallet reality check.  Banks that agree to commit capital to a multinational’s revolving credit facility expect treasury to reward them with other, more lucrative work, such as bond underwriting. So treasurers have to deal with complaints when some bankers, inevitably, are not satisfied with their share of the company’s wallet. Ward off the whining. One large-cap treasurer told members at a recent NeuGroup meeting that his method for managing banker dissatisfaction around…

How one treasurer gives banks in his revolver a share-of-wallet reality check. 

Banks that agree to commit capital to a multinational’s revolving credit facility expect treasury to reward them with other, more lucrative work, such as bond underwriting. So treasurers have to deal with complaints when some bankers, inevitably, are not satisfied with their share of the company’s wallet.

Ward off the whining. One large-cap treasurer told members at a recent NeuGroup meeting that his method for managing banker dissatisfaction around share-of-wallet issues is to clearly communicate to each bank what they can—and cannot—expect from his company in terms of banking services.

Five tiers, clear lines. The first two tiers of this member’s five-tier revolver consist of banks that have made the largest capital commitment to the credit facility.

The banks in these tiers can expect to be named active or passive book runners in any of the company’s bond deals and play leading roles in any M&A transactions. They also would conduct interest-rate hedging transactions.

Tiers three, four and five. Banks in the third tier may be named senior co-managers or passive book runners in a capital markets transaction. Banks in the fourth tier might play a role in a bond deal depending on the size of the transaction.

Tier five banks, which commit the least to the revolver, underwrite letters of credit and may be used for FX hedging and cash investments.

The bottom line. The treasurer says the benefit of being explicit about what each bank can expect is that it allows each bank to run its model and get an accurate picture of what it will likely make over the next five years.To help treasurers figure out what banks expect to earn, check out How Much Money Banks Expect to Make to Be in Your Credit Facility.

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Does AI Mean Our Labor Days Are Over?

Founder’s Edition, by Joseph Neu

How finance leaders can keep their teams relevant as artificial intelligence transforms the world of work.

Jack Ma and Elon Musk created buzz last week debating at the World Artificial Intelligence Conference in Shanghai. And with Labor Day now behind us, this is a good time to think about how AI will change the work done by finance professionals.  

Founder’s Edition, by Joseph Neu

How finance leaders can keep their teams relevant as artificial intelligence transforms the world of work.

Jack Ma and Elon Musk created buzz last week debating at the World Artificial Intelligence Conference in Shanghai. And with Labor Day now behind us, this is a good time to think about how AI will change the work done by finance professionals.  

On the plus side, Mr. Ma, the Alibaba chairman and co-founder, claims AI will create more personal time:

  • A 12-hour work week. With AI, people should work three days a week, four hours a day, according to Mr. Ma. “I think that because of artificial intelligence, people will have more time to enjoy being human beings,” he said. 

The danger, says Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, is that AI may have no need for us:

  • Smarter than humans. Mr. Musk said that the biggest problem with AI is that humans will not be able to keep up. “I think generally people underestimate the capability of AI – they sort of think it’s a smart human,” he said “But it’s going to be much more than that. It will be much smarter than the smartest human.”  

How quickly AI is taking over the finance function will be a topic for NeuGroup meetings this fall, as we examine   the future of finance talent and the role of AI in it. 

To help prepare, I turned to “Exponential Organizations,” a best-selling book by Salim Ismail, the founding executive director of Singularity University and co-founder and chairman of OpenExO, which connects professionals with organizations seeking exponential growth. He argues that companies that adopt certain key attributes will tap digitalization to grow their businesses exponentially, much like Moore’s Law drove microchips. 

  • AI accounting and transaction management. Mr. Salim says AI will influence accounting and transaction activities to include automatic AP and AR, with software-enabling automatic reminders and payment, automatic tax management, and AI watching for errant behaviors in transaction flows.
     
  • Everything is a transaction. But AI will not stay in the back office: “Note that pretty much everything in the modern world is a transaction, be it communications, social agreements, and, not least, commerce.”

So what will be left for humans to do? 

  • Humans are needed for less logical, human pursuits.  As Jack Ma emphasized, AI is unsurpassable at things that have a logic to them, but humans may be needed for the things that don’t. Interacting with other people successfully (lovingly) is something that is often irrational and where we still work best. 

My thinking: If AI and other machine automation will give us more time to become more human, then we also will have more time to interact with one another and learn to do it better. As AI takes over more transactions, finance leaders should encourage their teams to engage in more human interactions and build skills based on what they learn in those exchanges—to ensure finance supports a broader human purpose. With that in mind, even as AI’s power grows, our work at NeuGroup—thankfully—has a future. 

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Trying to Make Sense of Bank Fees

The challenges of comparing fees when banks don’t use the same terms to describe similar services.

The problem for treasury teams at multinational corporations is not that they have to pay bank fees. It’s that they often don’t have enough visibility to compare those fees among banks or know what exactly they’re paying for or exactly how much something costs. GCBG members addressed these issues and discussed solutions with representatives of Greenwich Associates and Redbridge Debt & Treasury Advisory. Here are some highlights:

The challenges of comparing fees when banks don’t use the same terms to describe similar services.

The problem for treasury teams at multinational corporations is not that they have to pay bank fees. It’s that they often don’t have enough visibility to compare those fees among banks or know what exactly they’re paying for or exactly how much something costs. GCBG members addressed these issues and discussed solutions with representatives of Greenwich Associates and Redbridge Debt & Treasury Advisory. Here are some highlights:

The bank fee challenge. One member whose treasury has relationships with about 15 banks said, “We want to get our arms around” the fees they’re paying and to find out if “we are using all the things that we’re paying for.” Her company is considering using bank fee analysis services offered by Redbridge, NDepth (Treasury Strategies/Novantas) or Weiland BRMedge (Fiserv).

The Greenwich presentation included these comments from respondents to a survey about the biggest challenges with banks’ cash management fees: 

  • “One of the biggest challenges is understanding what a particular service represents on the analysis statement and then being able to compare that with a similar type service that you might be paying a fee for at another bank.”
     
  • “The biggest challenge is each bank seems to have different terms for different types of fees and weeding through an analysis statement to understand what exactly is being charged and how often it’s being used and if we’re using it.” 

The problem with AFP service codes. The problem with using codes from the Association of Financial Professionals (AFP) to compare fees among banks is that, as the Redbridge presenter said, “No two banks call an apple the same thing.” In other words, each bank uses a different description for services that are essentially equivalent. For example: 

  • Account maintenance
  • Monthly fee
  • Maintenance
  • Maintenance charge 

About three-quarters of the participants indicated they have used AFP codes, which the presenter said can be both a blessing and a curse. “The job of assigning standardized AFP codes to bank services usually falls to someone within the bank or is left to the practitioner to figure out,” he said. They’re “exactly the wrong people” to ensure the proper use of one standardized set of codes, he added. And this state of affairs means there is no way to answer key questions that are part of a bank fee audit, such as: 

  • Which of my banks is giving me the best price on these services?
  • How much is my company spending on maintenance fees as a whole?
  • Which countries are the most expensive for me to bank in? 

An accreditation solution. The Redbridge representative said the only true solution to the code problem is AFP’s creation of an accreditation service for banks that use standardized service identification codes. Redbridge is a partner with the AFP and is the designated facilitator of the AFP Service Code Accredited Provider program. Banks provide a list of all their billable services (current mappings, definitions of service, unit of measure, etc.) and AFP audits and assign US and Global AFP Codes to each service ID by geographical region.

The flat fee solution. One member of the group offered a different approach—paying banks a flat fee that covers everything for the year. The former banker said he’d done that when working in treasury and said at the end of three years an accountant is likely to ask if you overpaid. The Redbridge presenter said he’s seen examples of flat fee models that work.

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The Future of Treasury and Banking is APIs

Deutsche Bank explains what treasurers should know about APIs.

Even treasury professionals who know that API stands for application programming interface and that so-called open APIs have been touted as the future of payment technology may not really understand what an API is or why it matters for treasurers and their bankers. So a presentation by Deutsche Bank at NeuGroup’s Global Cash & Banking Group (GCBG) first-half meeting gave members both a refresher course and a deeper dive into APIs and why they should care about them.

Deutsche Bank explains what treasurers should know about APIs.

Even treasury professionals who know that API stands for application programming interface and that so-called open APIs have been touted as the future of payment technology may not really understand what an API is or why it matters for treasurers and their bankers. So a presentation by Deutsche Bank at NeuGroup’s Global Cash & Banking Group (GCBG) first-half meeting gave members both a refresher course and a deeper dive into APIs and why they should care about them.

Mega messengers. APIs enable one system to connect to another, acting like messengers, looping requests to one system and responses back to the originator. In many cases, APIs are being used to transmit information to and from bank portals. Deutsche Bank expects more than three-quarters of banks will have invested in API or open banking initiatives this year, pushing this technology further into the cash operations space.

Timing is ripe for treasury applications. Yes, APIs have been around for what seems like forever. But new regulations, better technology and a competitive landscape have all advanced the cause of using APIs to create faster, more efficient customer experiences. For treasury, this means more real-time payments and faster reconciliations. Additional benefits include payment tracking, push payments and “requests-to-pay,” various risk management features (i.e., counterparty verification and KYC data) and alternative payment methods (i.e., paying into a “wallet”).

Interoperability with SAP. The presenter said Deutsche Bank is working with SAP to create an app so services offered by the bank can be plugged into a corporate’s ERP/TMS. Apps are downloaded from a marketplace and installed on the ERP or made accessible from the ERP through the cloud. That lets clients work with Deutsche Bank directly within the ERP, allowing them to, for example, select invoices, pay automatically on the due date and track all payment flows for these invoices.

What’s next? One member indicated that SWIFT already uses APIs, so it feels as if she’s moving backwards if she sets up separate APIs with each of her banks. Deutsche Bank’s presenter was quick to point out that the flip side is that using bank APIs allows for faster, real-time communication across the board for better cash visibility. He stressed that BAI payment files will not change, just the communication surrounding the initiation and completion of payment.

Bye-bye bank portals? One member asked if Deutsche Bank saw the use of APIs eventually replacing direct use of banking portals and was, perhaps surprisingly, answered with a “yes!” The happy prospect of a possible future without bank portals ranked high on more than one member’s key takeaways from the meeting. 

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Bloomberg Exits KYC and the Market Moves On

Bloomberg Entity Exchange is closing up shop soon, but there are plenty of players out there. Bloomberg confirmed in early April that it plans to shut down Entity Exchange, a know-your-customer (KYC) solution that was supported by Citibank and adopted by multinational corporations including Coca-Cola. Industry insiders say an internal management change led to a review of Bloomberg’s product portfolio, with Entity Exchange and the company’s sell-side execution and order management solutions businesses getting cut. Bloomberg, they say, was looking…

Bloomberg Entity Exchange is closing up shop soon, but there are plenty of players out there.

Bloomberg confirmed in early April that it plans to shut down Entity Exchange, a know-your-customer (KYC) solution that was supported by Citibank and adopted by multinational corporations including Coca-Cola.

Industry insiders say an internal management change led to a review of Bloomberg’s product portfolio, with Entity Exchange and the company’s sell-side execution and order management solutions businesses getting cut. Bloomberg, they say, was looking to focus on its core offerings. A Bloomberg spokesperson would only say that “the company’s intention is to exit its KYC business.”

But a look at the current state of the AML/KYC sector (AML being anti-money laundering) shows that at least for KYC, Bloomberg was up against stiff competition and facing an uphill battle just to get into the market. Large, established players, lots of new technologies being adopted, and looming industry disruptors likely forced Bloomberg to conclude it was better to put the resources toward more profitable business lines.

REFINITIV LEADS
The current size of the AML/KYC market is about $750 million and growing, according Burton-Taylor, an international consulting firm. The market includes not just AML/KYC, but also services relating to financial crime and compliance activities. And it is “a major area for budget increases,” with estimated global spending projected to grow 18.3% in 2018, Burton-Taylor says, generating an estimated five-year compound annual growth rate of 17.5%.

Refinitiv’s AML/KYC solution, formerly a Thomson Reuters product, leads the industry with over a quarter market share, with Dow Jones, LexisNexis, Moody’s Analytics’ Bureau Van Dijk, Regulatory DataCorp and a handful of smaller players making up a large part of the rest of the market. Burton-Taylor says it considers Refinitiv “to be the largest provider of AML/KYC data and information in the world.”

Meanwhile, Bloomberg’s planned departure has intensified competition among other companies scrambling for market share.

Burton-Taylor reports that “M&A activity and in-house development” have had a big impact on the market in the last decade as providers look to “meet existing and new client needs with advanced technology and granular data.” This has meant a “new wave of technology-savvy market entrants is coming forward to supplement, and challenge, the offerings of more established, data-centric suppliers.”

Bloomberg was part of the smaller group of tech-savvy entrants, which includes info4c, Acuris Risk Intelligence, Arachnys, Opus, ComplyAdvantage, NominoData, and Kompli-Global. Also, SWIFT, the international payments network, said recently that beginning in Q4 2019, all 2,000 SWIFT-connected corporates will be able to join its KYC Registry and use it “to upload, maintain and share their KYC information with their banks.” All of these companies, both established and newcomers, bring different expertise to different areas of AML/KYC.

The established players have vast searchable databases while the newcomers offer innovative technology.

BLOCKCHAIN
Among the players hoping to gain momentum from Bloomberg’s departure are companies touting the benefits of solutions that don’t depend on a centralized “utility,” or third party that stands between a bank and a corporate client. Blockchain is the answer to solving the problem, they argue. “I strongly believe this is the moment for decentralized KYC solutions,” says Gene Vayngrib, CEO of Tradle, which has developed a blockchain-based KYC solution. “In addition to not having a central store, Tradle leaves the data in the hands of the rightful owners, the treasurers,” he said.

Another company that is trying to gain a foothold, Aptiv.IO, is using blockchain to create what it calls company “trust vaults that allow companies to distribute their private information on their terms.”

With a trust vault, “You decide how you want to communicate with the outside world,” says CEO Guy Mounier. “It’s ‘privacy by design’ and uses zero trust architecture,” he says. Zero trust architecture works by employing a network-centric data security strategy, which in turn provides specific access only to those who need it. So if a company is giving out sensitive information through blockchain, it can better control who has access to that data.

Although blockchain can be considered a disruptor of the current model of centralized data, “This is not replacing anything,” Mr. Mounier says. “It can fit into what you have and you can map out where the data goes. It’s data enrichment as a data service.” He adds that data can be auto-refreshed as people, data or situations change.

NOT JUST KNOWING YOUR CUSTOMER
While they are known as AML/KYC providers, it goes beyond that. Many companies also offer continuous monitoring of the web, the dark web and other so-called “darknets” like The Onion Routing project, Tor or Invisible Internet Project, for any negative news or mentions of a company or the sale of IP or customer data.

“Companies don’t just want these static databases that just sit there,” says Jennifer Milton, an analyst at Burton-Taylor and author of the firm’s research on AML/KYC. “They want dynamic databases that can constantly search the web and the dark web.” She adds that machine learning is helping shape this kind of technology, where context can help detect references to companies even if the names are spelled incorrectly or hidden in some way.

THE LEGACY OF ENTITY EXCHANGE?
The end of Bloomberg Entity Exchange doesn’t mean the end of the influence it may have on the market. Several competitors say the company helped shine a light on KYC’s importance. Prior to the last couple of years, companies were reluctant to invest significantly in a cost center like compliance. “But now they are forced to spend,” says Jennifer Milton, an analyst at Burton-Taylor. “Who are you dealing with and how do you know them are important questions that companies can run into trouble with if they don’t have the answers; if there’s not an audit trail of transactions.”

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The Five Cash Management Initiatives Treasurers Should Consider

When it comes to cash management, treasurers must keep their focus on ways to make it more efficient and cost effective.

The year 2014 has been one focused on efficiency and innovation as treasurers consider outside-the-box strategies for unlocking working capital and improving the tactical aspects of treasury. Major initiatives including SEPA and the internationalization of the renminbi (RMB) have proven to be catalysts for greater global change both from a strategic and practical treasury perspective.

When it comes to cash management, treasurers must keep their focus on ways to make it more efficient and cost effective.

Editor’s note: This article was originally posted on iTreasurer.com on October 09, 2014.

The year 2014 has been one focused on efficiency and innovation as treasurers consider outside-the-box strategies for unlocking working capital and improving the tactical aspects of treasury. Major initiatives including SEPA and the internationalization of the renminbi (RMB) have proven to be catalysts for greater global change both from a strategic and practical treasury perspective.

Looking ahead to 2015, structural rationalization is the major topic as treasurers continue to review all aspects of their global treasury strategy to ensure the most efficient, most cost-effective structure possible.

“Rationalization is still a big theme,” says Martin Runow, Head of Cash Management Corporates Americas, Global Transaction Banking, Deutsche Bank. “It is one of those areas everyone’s looking at; how to become more efficient and get more control.”

So where should treasurers spend their time and resources in 2015? What projects will provide the greatest value? According to Mr. Runow and colleague, Arthur Brieske, Regional Head of Trade Finance and Cash Management Corporates Global Solutions Americas, Global Transaction Banking, Deutsche Bank, the following five initiatives should be part of treasurers’ overall budget and resource planning process for 2015.

  • Going Beyond SEPA
  • Global Account Rationalization
  • In-House Bank Structures
  • Maximizing Excess Cash
  • RMB Internationalization

GOING BEYOND SEPA
Initially rolled out as an approach for risk mitigation for commercial payment transactions in euro, SEPA adopters have found that SEPA, or the Single Euro Payments Area, provides a more efficient way to transfer and collect funds across borders without managing all the different legal payment frameworks of each country.

SEPA has allowed corporate treasurers to consolidate accounts and improve process efficiencies with the use of the new ISO20022 XML format to ensure the highest level of standardization across their SWIFT network. This format provides consistency in the financial messaging exchange between counterparties and is expected to gain greater efficiencies going forward. According to Mr. Runow the launch of SEPA has driven a lot of efficiencies that most corporate treasurers have been seeking for years. “It has taken ten years to get it up and running,” he says, “but we are there now and there is a lot of good to come of it.”

Many companies have used SEPA as an opportunity to consolidate accounts, allowing for simplification and optimization of structures including centralized accounts payable and accounts receivable, cash pooling and in-house bank structures.

But despite the many bright spots of SEPA, “reconciliation can still be a challenge,” says Mr. Brieske. Seeing a need for a single account with a single currency and a single infrastructure, Mr. Brieske says Deutsche Bank created a solution called Accounts Receivable Manager (ARM) for SEPA, which, according to Deutsche Bank is an automated payer identification solution that enables auto-reconciliation of incoming SEPA credit transfers and reduces the need to maintain multiple bank accounts for separate lines of businesses.

In fact, SEPA has been such a force for change that Deutsche Bank is rolling out this ARM solution so that companies can use it outside of the eurozone. “This model is going to expand beyond SEPA, in India for example, where banking can be complicated for companies,” Mr. Brieske says.

There are still “many more benefits to be had” with SEPA, Mr. Runow notes, but as of now, “a lot of large companies are reaping the benefits of their investment in SEPA and a lot of people are getting true value out of this beyond Europe.”

GLOBAL ACCOUNT RATIONALIZATION
As noted above, the SEPA initiative has acted as the catalyst for other global projects, with high priority placed on account rationalization. By reducing accounts across Europe, many large US multinational corporations are realizing significant savings in both hard- and soft-dollar costs. “In the SEPA environment, all corporates need is one account for payments and one account for receivables across the SEPA landscape,” says Mr. Brieske.

The downstream effect of reducing the number of physical bank accounts accentuates the ongoing challenge of managing banking relationships around the globe. Issues like overall cost, allocation of bank wallet, management of counterparty risk, and supporting the needs of the operating business, are all equally important when deciding which bank provider receives what level of business within your organization.

Keeping every bank happy is a tough job, if not impossible. However, being able to spread the wallet across fewer banks is one of the positive by-products of a bank consolidation.

IN-HOUSE BANK STRUCTURES
Treasurers have continued to find ways to alleviate the growing cash balances that have become strategically more important to their organizations as they face increased pressure to refine their cash management initiatives to provide more efficient movement of these cash balances.

Based on recent NeuGroup peer group survey results, nearly 70 percent of respondents have up to 50 percent of their total cash “trapped,” with everyone putting a focus on the ability to use these trapped balances when local entities require funding. Structures like in-house banks (IHBs) are becoming more commonplace as organizations take the next step to further enhance their global liquidity models. Many times these structures can bring a significant amount of processing efficiency and can help unlock trapped cash by allowing the funds to be loaned out across participating subsidiaries, thus reducing trapped cash.

Considerations for establishing an IHB start with choosing a favorable location, along with important tax structure considerations, local regulations and withholding tax impacts. These primary areas of focus should be defined prior to kicking off an IHB project.

The practical considerations for the evolution of the IHB can be directly attributed to global expansion and increased revenue mix overseas in addition to complexities related to time zones, language, growth of regional shared services and decision execution.

Traditionally, IHBs have been set up to alleviate the voluminous amount of intercompany transactions between legal entities and to comply with tax policies. The natural evolution of these structures then focused on cross-entity liquidity management, while maintaining clear segregation to avoid commingling of funds. Next, was the consolidation of cash balances on a regional level with centralized oversight using tools like notional pools to add efficiency. Structures continued to evolve to include centralized cash forecasting and foreign exchange management with the final phase of development being one of global consolidation with one global account for pay on-behalf-of (POBO) and one for collections on-behalf-of (COBO) across all business units.

The Dodd-Frank Act and Basel III regulations have placed greater scrutiny on banks and have mandated stricter guidelines on the amount of capital a bank must hold for certain types of transaction activity. As a result of this and other regulations focused on anti-money-laundering, banks have placed stricter compliance requirements on their KYC process.

Mr. Brieske says, “The challenges IHBs will confront are likely to stem from the challenges banks are facing with increased regulation. So indirectly, regulations will impact them, but it is the banks that will be responsible for the regulations.”

Mr. Runow adds that those MNCs that establish an IHB structure will need to ensure everything is tightly buttoned-up and that reconciliations and account reporting are thorough and diligent. “There’s no room for sloppiness, no cutting corners,” he says.

RMB INTERNATIONALIZATION
As a result of the ongoing RMB regulatory changes, there has been a significant improvement in the ease of making cross-border RMB payments via China. “Chinese regulators have certainly shown that they have a strong interest in RMB payments going global by making it easier to transact in RMB,” says Mr. Runow. But the RMB is still a fairly new currency on the international scene.

He acknowledges that “flows are going through the roof;” however, they are still modest compared to the US dollar or euro.” Despite this, Mr. Runow and Mr. Brieske expects this will change in the next few years.

The RMB can now be integrated as part of a corporation’s overall liquidity management strategies with pooling of RMB and cross-border RMB lending becoming commonplace. On February 20, 2014, the People’s Bank of China announced its support of the expansion of RMB cross-border usage in the China (Shanghai) Free Trade Zone (Shanghai FTZ), which now allows for the following activities:

  • Simplified document check requirements for current and direct investments in the Shanghai FTZ
  • Cross-border borrowing for corporates and non-bank financial institutions registered in the Shanghai FTZ
  • Two-way RMB cross-border cash pooling
  • Cross-border RMB POBO/COBO

The RMB internationalization project has begun to pick up steam over the second half of 2014, with many global MNCs looking to launch new cash management strategies in Asia. Those who are taking the time to create these new structures are able to unlock China’s previously “trapped cash” challenge, and optimize their cash held in this part of the world where many opportunities lie for them.

According to Mr. Brieske, the loosening of these regulations will eventually have a downstream effect moving from very large corporations to small local businesses. “As deregulation happens, you will not have to wait to see the pent up demand to kick in — it is already happening.” The result will be a rapid increase in payment volumes, which is likely to result in the RMB moving to the top five SWIFT currencies within the next several years.

MAXIMIZING EXCESS CASH
According to Mr. Runow, most MNCs today are still very risk-averse and focused on principal preservation. “The dilemma is corporates are looking for yield but there is little appetite to go into risky assets,” he says. Mr. Runow adds that from what he has seen investment policies actually have become “stricter rather than more lenient.”

This has been supported by feedback from recent NeuGroup peer group meetings. With the continuation of low yields, it is little wonder that cash portfolio asset allocations are heavily weighted toward money market funds, US Treasuries and agency debt, corporate bonds above the single-A threshold and corporate commercial paper and certificates of deposit.

Mr. Runow says, “Corporates continue to be very strict and highly conservative, tending to seek return of invested money over return on investment.”

With the continuation of low rates expected through a good part of 2015, treasurers may be well served to consider implementing an IHB so that their growing levels of excess cash can work harder around the globe versus sitting in a very low-yielding investment asset.

LOOKING AHEAD
The tagline “less is more” has been the mantra for practitioners since the onset of the economic crisis and now well into the recovery; unfortunately, for most it looks like it will remain the mandate for some time to come. Therefore, treasurers will have to continue to work smarter when it comes to rationalizing structures, cutting expenses and most importantly, getting the company’s cash to safely work harder. They will also have to remain alert to new possibilities of maximizing cash where it is sometimes considered trapped. With this in mind, extra attention will have to be paid to the RMB and its continued growth and ease of use.

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Fintechs Transforming Supply Chain Finance

Fintech companies continue to streamline the buyer-supplier experience, eliminating age-old tensions and adding powerful new tools.

Multinational corporations (MNCs) face a myriad of challenges and arguably the most important one is staying competitive during periods of uncertainty and increasing regulation, as global interconnectedness continues.

Fintech companies continue to streamline the buyer-supplier experience, eliminating age-old tensions and adding powerful new tools.

Editor’s Note: This story originally ran on iTreasurer.com on December 19, 2016.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
Multinational corporations (MNCs) face a myriad of challenges and arguably the most important one is staying competitive during periods of uncertainty and increasing regulation, as global interconnectedness continues. In order to successfully navigate this uncertain environment, MNCs must develop sustainable working capital strategies and build cash positions that underpin these strategies, whether they are for expansion, M&A, dividends or buybacks.

One way they can succeed is through the company’s supply chain via supply chain finance (SCF). It is here where treasurers can take what was once a one dimensional program used to release working capital and can now implement a new sophisticated, multifaceted strategy to deploy flexible financing, optimize working capital and create competitive yield. Suppliers can gain access to low cost financing and both parties benefit with improved technology, program scalability and advances in automated invoicing and payment processing.

Yet despite these obvious benefits, MNCs have not rushed to implement such programs. Anecdotal evidence and survey data from The NeuGroup suggest many companies do not have structured supply chain finance programs, although many have some of the components. Many still cling to old and manual trade finance processes and practices, which have the potential of weakening their supply chains. Moreover, despite this becoming more of a cash and working capital play, treasurers in many cases are still not involved.

But with the growth of fintech, companies are beginning to listen. New players are changing how buyers and suppliers approach their supply chain. Leveraging technology, these fintech companies are alleviating the age old tensions between buyer and supplier, making it easier to capture SCF’s benefits by making it more efficient and more equitable for both sides. Buyers can pay when they want without putting their suppliers’ cash position at risk, and suppliers can choose to get paid earlier at a cost of financing that would otherwise not be available to them.

Fintechs also provide accumulated data to help companies streamline their supply chains and help both buyer and supplier select the most beneficial payment terms.

As buyers and suppliers get more comfortable with these programs, there will less money tied up in DSO and DPO. MNCs stand to lose out on billions of dollars in revenue trapped in their financial supply chain if they do not take action now.

UNLOCKING THE VALUE IN THE SUPPLY CHAIN
Today’s multinational corporations face no shortage of challenges when it comes to staying globally competitive. Since the financial crisis and prior, MNCs have faced uncertainty and with an ever evolving business climate, now more than ever, MNCs must maintain and protect their company’s financial position and manage working capital to support business operations.

As new ideas to improve working capital arise, treasurers are more than eager to listen. One area that treasurers have been focusing on over the last few years is unlocking value from the company’s supply chain via supply chain finance. The emergence of SCF began when large companies wanted to extend payment terms and needed an offset mechanism. This continued as these companies look to meet two objectives: first, becoming more commercially lean through releasing working capital and driving down costs and, two, offering affordable liquidity to their entire supply chain, recognizing the need to support them. Further, companies recognize that this responsibility must be managed internally versus banks to ensure healthier, stronger relationships with their suppliers.

New entrants to the supply chain finance world are enabling companies to maximize the value of their supply chains by utilizing a technology-led approach. These fintech companies have been showing multinational corporations that through technology, true program scalability can be reached and a tremendous financial opportunity can be uncovered from their supply chain. But beyond scalability and the financial benefits, these new entrants are also helping companies creates stronger and healthier supply chains by smoothing out tension that can exist between buyer and supplier.

THE BUYER-SUPPLIER DANCE
Historically, companies delayed payments to their suppliers as a strategy to extend DPO. According to a recent survey of The NeuGroup’s Assistant Treasurers Peer Group Large Cap, extending payment terms (82%) and accelerating collections (41%) were the most common approaches to improving working capital.

This was particularly true after the 2008 financial crisis when the term cash preservation was the leading mantra of many cash management programs. The treasurer’s duty then was to keep a healthy cash pile available for any possible merger, acquisition, or other downturn. Paying suppliers was one victim of this thinking, with payments going from 30 days to 45 days or in other cases, from 60 to 90 days.

“There is a centuries old friction between suppliers and buyers,” says Maex Ament, Cofounder and Chief Strategy Officer at Taulia, the financial supply chain company. “Suppliers want to get paid as early as possible, while buyers want to pay as late as possible.” A study conducted by Taulia last year showed that small and midsized business suppliers are waiting longer and longer to be paid after delivering goods. This trend has a big impact on operations because cash flow is one of the biggest concerns facing small and midsized businesses, Taulia noted in its study.

However, the “delay pay strategy” does not create a healthy environment in which the supply chain can operate, irrespective of the size of the supplier company. In fact, delaying payment to hold on to cash longer can negatively affect suppliers’ cash flow and puts them at risk of going out of business, resulting in unnecessary pressure on the supply chain.

Alleviating this pressure is one area where fintech companies have been making great strides by providing more affordable financing options to more suppliers. These supplier finance facilitators, along with companies and banks, are working together to help suppliers stay healthy while enabling companies to unlock the cash potential from their supply chains.

By taking the “delay” out of the equation, fintechs are creating a win-win situation for both suppliers and buyers. Fintechs are leveling the playing field so that more suppliers, including smaller businesses that were previously excluded, can now participate in these next generation supply chain finance programs, which historically only focused on the largest suppliers.

“We democratize access to supplier financing,” says Cedric Bru, Chief Executive Officer at Taulia. Through an innovative platform and technology that enables true scale, buyers can provide access to supplier financing products to their entire supply chain, “any supplier, regardless of size and regardless of spend. They can join our program, and do it unbelievably easily.”

CHANGE AGENTS
The true fintech revolution in supply chain finance began shortly after the 2008 financial crisis. The financial regulations that followed the crisis created an opportunity for fintechs to step in and help banks and businesses manage the rules and make compliance easier.

Mr. Ament noted that the financial crisis was an awakening and a catalyst for fintech growth. “Banks were made safer, which was good for the financial system, but bad for companies needing cash as it left a gap.” This resulted in making a highly regulated space—finance, banking, and insurance—“ripe for disruption.”

Fast forward to 2016 and fintech companies are transforming supply chains all over the world. Banks, having struggled under the burden of regulation for several years, which hampered their innovation efforts, have joined forces with fintechs.

This has led to companies, like Taulia, Ariba and C2FO, transforming the supply chain process, and facilitating transactions between buyers and their suppliers. By offering a wide array of automated products, like electronic invoicing, supplier financing and supplier self-services, they enable both the buyer and supplier to improve their working capital, improve their yields and lower their operating costs. This includes providing flexibility to when a buyer pays and a supplier gets paid. This benefits both sides, providing greater liquidity and less variability in the timing of payments.

Feedback from The NeuGroup peer group meetings as well as some research suggests this is the case. Members of several peer groups have said the main driver for implementing a supply chain finance program was working capital improvement.

In the Assistant Treasurers Group of 30 (AT30), while only a third of respondents have a supply chain finance program, nearly all of those respondents said the incentive was working capital improvement. And in a survey of members of The NeuGroup’s Assistant Treasurers’ Leadership Group (ATLG), most respondents cited extended payment terms (84%) as the main tool they used to maximize working capital; accelerating collections was the next most used at 41.2%.

One member of The NeuGroup’s Asia Treasurers’ Peer Group (ATPG) said using his company’s strong cash rich balance sheet to gain discounts on supplies was a better use of short term cash than investing in treasuries, money market funds, commercial paper or short term bonds. For this company, a US tech firm, early payment discounts translated into the positive business impact of improved yield on current idle cash, without taking on credit or counterparty risk. And for its suppliers, it was an alternative source of funds, which was cheaper, quicker and more reliable.

ONBOARDING
Another area where fintechs have made a big impact is in the onboarding process for suppliers joining a supply chain finance program. Not only have these buyers managed to offer access to more suppliers, they also made the process faster, easier, and more efficient. Often in traditional supplier programs, the onboarding process can be cumbersome because of the amount of paperwork and outdated manual processes. This requires an enormous amount of resources, such as people, time and money.

Because of these tedious processes, a legacy supply chain finance program sometimes can only onboard a buyer’s top 50 or 100 suppliers. Latest technology developments have made it possible for the onboarding process to be less than 90 seconds per supplier, eliminating manual processes. This enables companies to onboard thousands of suppliers in the same time it might take banks to onboard a few. For example, Vodafone, a Fortune Global 500 company and winner of the 2016 Supply Chain Finance Award, leveraged the Taulia platform to quickly ramp supplier adoption, leading to over 1,400 suppliers onboarded in just 9 months. Taulia’s platform is also agnostic with where the financing comes from; financing can come from banks, funds, pension funds or from the buyers themselves.

Fintechs have also greatly improved the buyer-supplier interface to make it easier to understand and navigate. Their intent has been to create a platform that can easily scale to thousands of suppliers and make it incredibly simple to use.

This gives suppliers true transparency fast: the ability to easily login and view all outstanding invoices immediately, their statuses, and options for early payments. “That was Taulia’s aim,” says Mr. Bru. “Suppliers can onboard to our platform within 90 seconds and be fully eligible to take early payments immediately.”

DATA ANALYTICS
Not only are fintechs transforming slow, manual processes to be faster and more efficient, they also have years of accumulated trade data. For companies like Taulia, this means they can go beyond its core supplier financing mandate and offer more predictive analytics and problem solving. This means enhancing its technology offerings by, for example, helping buyers streamline their list of suppliers and mapping out the best approach to their financial supply chain. Buyers are able to decide on “who, how and why” they might invite certain suppliers to a specific program.

For instance, in The NeuGroup’s Assistant Treasurers Group of Thirty (AT30), one member described how his company had to decide on the best way to pay a supplier. Buyers have many ways to pay suppliers depending on the type of product or service, the size and frequency of the transactions, or the type and size of the supplier. In some cases there may be concern that one payment method would be less favorable to a supplier than another method. In the AT30 member’s case, the company was worried that there would be exposure by putting some suppliers on a payment card program when there was a better SCF program available. The upshot is that suppliers need to be reviewed and carefully assigned the appropriate payment method, or perhaps even be given appropriate options. This is where analytics can help.

On Taulia’s platform, data can also provide companies with insights into the number of suppliers that might choose to opt in for automatic acceleration (e.g., all invoices, all the time with no need to request payments) versus manual acceleration (e.g., select invoices, one at a time) for early payment offers. And Taulia’s own research confirms that suppliers in most instances automatically accelerate more than 50% of early payments. This demonstrates the need for suppliers to access cash consistently.

MONEY LEFT ON THE TABLE
While companies and treasurers in particular are turning to technology to help them in a world where running lean departments is the norm, there is still not enough being done to extract value from the supply chain.

According to survey results from NeuGroup surveys, accounts payable balances remain a substantial component of the capital deployed for the companies, approaching almost 40% of the outstanding debt and almost 10% of total assets. On the receivables side, trade receivable balances also are a substantial component of the capital deployed, approaching 35% of the outstanding debt and almost 10% of total assets. So there is plenty of money there to justify the effort.

And with the help of fintech companies, setting up programs to extract value from the supply chain is getting a lot faster and more efficient. For buyers, that means increased DPO and the ability to redeploy capital into other more profitable areas of the business, cost reduction in the company’s financial supply chain and the ability to provide suppliers with a less costly form of financing to help reduce transaction costs and potentially negotiate a product discount.

On the supplier side, comfort levels are rising when it comes to participating in buyer programs, especially when they stand to profit or keep their balance sheets healthy. According to Factor Chain International, global factoring is over $2.3 trillion annually and still rising so suppliers are financing already. That means faster repayment and reduced DSO by discounting invoices due any time prior to maturity and vastly improved cash flow forecasting; it also equates to lower financing costs, which means access to higher levels of working capital financing.

As global multinational corporations continue to streamline working capital management to make every dollar work harder and more efficiently, the effort should include mastering and extracting value from the supply chain. In the end, benefits will continue to grow for all sides of global trade transactions.

RECOMMENDED NEXT STEPS
Four key steps to take in understanding whether SCF is something that you as a treasurer need to consider, and if so, how a fintech solution might help deliver the required goals and benefits sought:

  • Treasurers should seek to engage internally to understand the financial priorities. Is this centered around working capital management, yield, supply chain liquidity, or more?
  • Review what strategies and operations are already in place to deliver these goals—are they working? Engage with our key stakeholders to determine the wider business strategies focused on the supply chain—Procurement, Accounts Payable and Finance.
  • Evaluate the market to understand how/whether fintech may play a complementary role to enhance or kick-start programs.
  • Quantify potential projects through hard business cases.

While this is by no means a comprehensive project plan, it is designed as a simple check list to get thoughts and actions moving.

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Beware Zero-Based Floors

Chatham: Banks embedding zero-based floors in the fine-print on some floating debt.

With rates going negative around the world, banks are embedding zero-based floors into the floating-rate loans they provide, and while on the surface that seems like a plus, they can end up carrying a big price.

Chatham: Banks embedding zero-based floors in the fine-print on some floating debt.

With rates going negative around the world, banks are embedding zero-based floors into the floating-rate loans they provide, and while on the surface that seems like a plus, they can end up carrying a big price.

That was one of several insights on today’s uncertain financial markets that Kennett Square, PA-headquartered Chatham Financial provided in a recent market update titled. “Global uncertainty packs a local punch.”

Zero-based floors are valuable when interest rates are falling, because when they drop below zero, as they have across the Eurozone as well as in Japan, the borrower is obligated to pay the loan spread but zero interest on the floating rate component.

“On the surface, this seems like a pretty good deal. If rates go below zero, the borrower only pays its loan spread,” said Casey Irwin, a hedging consultant at Chatham, who conducted the recent webinar along with Amol Dhargalkar, managing director and head of Chatham’s global corporate sector.

Ms. Irwin noted that most banks “are not very upfront about” such floors effectively embedding the derivative into the company’s loan agreement, that the derivative is a sold floor, and that the floor can have a meaningful amount of value. “Unfortunately, clients discover the full value of these floors when they go to hedge these loans from floating to fixed,” Ms. Irwin said.

She added that in order to perfectly hedge a loan holding an embedded floor with a swap, the borrower must buy back the sold floor, and the cost of the floor is typically embedded back into the rate. Buying back the floor on a swap effectively locks in the interest rate at a static amount, Ms. Irwin said, adding that instead proceeding with the sale of the floor removes the loan’s ability to pay the borrower interest in the event the index resets below zero.

The borrower “is not only paying the agreed upon fixed strike of a vanilla swap to its counterparty, but it’s also going to owe the difference between zero percent and the [index] reset rate to the swap counterparty,” she said. “This is because its loan isn’t reflecting that negative interest rate.”

Buying back the sold floor is more expensive than selling the floor and proceeding with a straight vanilla swap, since it’s a one-sided market and most market participants are looking to buy back the floors. So is it worth it?

In an example provided by Chatham, a 10-year Euribor swap with a swap rate of 20 bps adds 40 bps to the rate when the borrower buys back the zero-based floor. Ms. Irwin noted that when the Euribor rate is a positive 1%, the only difference in the borrower’s net effective rate if it doesn’t buy back the floor—the vanilla swap scenario—is the additional cost of buying back the floor, or that 40 bps.

But if Euribor resets below zero, say at a negative 1%, the borrower will have to make an additional payment to the swap counterparty, resulting in an effective rate of 120 bps, or twice what it would have owed if it had bought back the floor. “So the mismatch between your hedge and your debt is actually creating interest-rate risk, because the more negative the index resets at, the higher your interest expense becomes,” she said.

In a brief case study, Mr. Dhargalkar noted a Chatham client that had entered into a term loan extension and was considering hedging it. The corporate client didn’t anticipate the amendment would in any way change the terms of the loan, but after showing the agreement to Chatham it became clear that the USD loan now contained a zero-based floor. The advisory firm discussed the various options with the client, and ultimately it was able to work with the client and the lending group to put in place a conditional floor that would only apply if the loan were not hedged.

“That had a huge impact on the transaction the client was looking to put in place; specifically, it saved several million dollars on the hedge from a structuring standpoint, and it also gave them a nice template for future dealings with their bank,” Mr. Dhargalkar said.”

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On-Behalf-Of Structures: Lessons Learned

More companies are moving to streamline their payments and collections with on-behalf-of structures. Here are some lessons from the field.

Being a trailblazer is always nice but sometimes it pays to be the one who comes along next and learns from the trailblazer’s mistakes. And certainly, the more multifaceted the effort, the bigger the lessons learned. Such is the case with corporate payment and collections, part of the growing importance of supply-chain management and global cash management in general.

Corporates have long recognized the benefits of channeling payments and collections through a single legal entity via an on-behalf-of set up (POBO/COBO). They see reduced bank fees, simplified banking relationships, better operational efficiency and more control and visibility. Deutsche Bank has been one bank at the forefront of implementing on-behalf-of structures and has strengthened its product and advisory offerings in this area. iTreasurer asked Drew Arnold, Director, Trade Finance and Cash Management Corporates – Global Solutions Americas, Deutsche Bank, to explain some of the lessons learned in his experience implementing POBO/COBO structures. Mr. Arnold said that while all companies are different, there are some lessons that just about all companies can learn.

More companies are moving to streamline their payments and collections with on-behalf-of structures. Here are some lessons from the field.

(Editor’s Note—Original publication date: May 5, 2015)

Being a trailblazer is always nice but sometimes it pays to be the one who comes along next and learns from the trailblazer’s mistakes. And certainly, the more multifaceted the effort, the bigger the lessons learned. Such is the case with corporate payment and collections, part of the growing importance of supply-chain management and global cash management in general.

Corporates have long recognized the benefits of channeling payments and collections through a single legal entity via an on-behalf-of set up (POBO/COBO). They see reduced bank fees, simplified banking relationships, better operational efficiency and more control and visibility. Deutsche Bank has been one bank at the forefront of implementing on-behalf-of structures and has strengthened its product and advisory offerings in this area. iTreasurer asked Drew Arnold, Director, Trade Finance and Cash Management Corporates – Global Solutions Americas, Deutsche Bank, to explain some of the lessons learned in his experience implementing POBO/COBO structures. Mr. Arnold said that while all companies are different, there are some lessons that just about all companies can learn.

More Complex, More Benefit
One lesson that Mr. Arnold has drawn from years of helping corporations navigate the path to both POBO and COBO structures is that companies often shy away from them because they think their organizations are too complex.

Very often, Mr. Arnold said, he hears from companies that say, “We’re too complex” or “We have too many operating companies.” But what’s ironic, he said, is that “the more complex [a company is] the greater benefit they can get from an on-behalf-of model; that complexity shouldn’t be a hurdle to doing an on-behalf-of model.”

It will mean performing more due diligence, however, Mr. Arnold acknowledged. But for doing that extra legwork companies can get “much greater benefit than someone who has a more simplified organization. In fact, he said, if a company has a very simplified legal entity structure, “there might not be any benefit to doing an on-behalf-of model, or the benefits are so low they don’t justify the costs of doing it.”

On the other hand, if it does seem too daunting or perhaps the resources aren’t available for a full-blown POBO/COBO campaign, another route is to take it one country or one subsidiary at a time. If one country has a lot of legal hoops to jump through, Mr. Arnold said, then companies should consider moving on to a different country that’s easier to navigate. As for subsidiaries, they can also be added piecemeal.

“You don’t have to include one hundred percent of your legal entities in a structure to be able to get the cost-benefit equation that makes sense for you,” Mr. Arnold said. “If a company can include 50 percent [of its subs] in a structure, and they’re going to see great cost savings and efficiencies by including that 50 percent, that alone may justify putting in an on-behalf-of model.”

And then over time if it makes sense to include other entities or if regulations or market practice change in the previously bypassed countries, they can be added as they make sense. “So one hundred percent inclusion of countries or legal entities is not a requirement to be able to build a business case that justifies going ahead with an on-behalf-of model,” Mr. Arnold said.

Worth the Effort
Similarly, Mr. Arnold observed that many companies finish the POBO/COBO process and say that it was the toughest implementation they’ve ever been through. But, he added, no one who has gone through the set up ever regrets it.

“Many people say they were not aware of how long it would take,” Mr. Arnold added. They go on at length about all the difficulties, the challenges “not realizing how long it would take to put in service level agreements (SLA) between businesses or to define services or get the IT to work.” The challenges and work is definitely more than they expect, which is usually the case on any big project, Mr. Arnold said. “But then I always ask the question, ‘Knowing what you know now of what you had to go through to get where you are today, would you make the same decision?’ And they always say, ‘Absolutely.’”

This is certainly not something that one hears after many other large implementations, Mr. Arnold pointed out.

Welcome to Documentation
One of the more cumbersome areas in the work load—and one that Mr. Arnold said companies underestimate—is documentation. When companies use banks for payments and collections or they open an account, the bank provides the documentation that the client reads, signs and sends back to the bank. In other words it lays out all the terms and conditions and other relevant items.

“But when you go to an on-behalf-of model [now], that legal entity no longer signs all of its bank documentation, so instead of getting documents from the bank you now get them from the in-house bank,” Mr. Arnold said. “And the complexity is that there is no documentation that exists; it has to be done from scratch—SLAs, fee schedules (i.e. transfer pricing) and whatever it may be, because there is this arm’s-length relationship between the in-house and the legal entity. It’s sort of out-insourcing.”

Companies now have to do all this documentation on their own and between themselves, which can take time for a company to create. On the bright side, however, once the documentation is established the work is much less, but at the beginning it can be very complicated and time-consuming.

And again, Mr. Arnold said, it can vary by country which is one of the reasons bank documentation is so complex in the first place. “It’s not because we love complex documentation it’s just because of regulatory challenges in countries, and so now with an on-behalf-of model, companies have to take care of this themselves.”

Laying the groundwork
Like most big corporate projects, success depends a lot on the effort put in at the beginning. As Abe Lincoln famously said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” And so it should be in setting up a POBO/COBO structure. Getting the right team together and including all the parties from the outset will make the job easier to do and lessen the headaches along the way.

POBO/COBO “is highly complex and touches on many different parts of an organization,” Mr. Arnold said, “from treasury, to payables and collections teams, service centers, tax, legal, and both at the global and regional levels as well.”

Of those parts of the company, Mr. Arnold stresses it is the tax department that often can prove most critical. That’s because much of a corporate’s global strategy includes tax—if not actually built around tax issues. “All global corporates have developed their legal entity structure with a lot of input from tax,” he said, “So when moving to an on-behalf-of model you have to make sure that whatever you do will not in any way endanger or call into question the tax and legal-entity structure of the corporation.”

Mr. Arnold added that he’s seen several instances where treasury gets excited about doing a POBO/COBO project and after spending a considerable amount of time on it, brings it to the tax department where it gets shot down. “Tax takes the position that it has things set up in a certain way and you can’t go changing things,” he noted. “But if tax is involved early on in the discussion and it hears from a third party about what other companies have done… it becomes a lot easier.”

Mr. Arnold also stressed that POBO/COBO should not be sold as anything more than “an efficiency play.”

“The on-behalf-of model is not set up for any legal entity or tax optimization strategy,” Mr. Arnold said. “It’s purely an efficiency play: efficiency of making payments, collecting payments, managing the company’s liquidity, reporting at the entity level for the correct legal and tax reporting. So it’s efficiency; it’s cost savings.”

It is also a risk mitigation tool because you have greater visibility and greater centralized control, Mr. Arnold added, so you have reduced risk and a greater view into counterparty risk. “Once tax sees that, they’re more receptive to it.” Another consideration of laying the groundwork is to consider making it a long-range goal. “If you think you’re going to go to an on-behalf-of model anywhere in the near future, or within 5 years, you have to put in the building blocks.”

When opportunity knocks
When is the best time to start the project? Mr. Arnold said it’s often best to embark on a POBO/ROBO project when there is another big project coming up or when there’s a bank change coming.

“If you’re going to go through some major bank changes due to acquisition or divestiture or because you’re moving businesses between relationship banks” then it can be good idea,” Mr. Arnold said. In an acquisition, for instance, treasury will have to open up new accounts, set up all new payment flows using the current set up in any case, so why not start up that new acquisition right away with an on-behalf-of model? “Why go through all the set up and then a year later… go to an on-behalf-of model? Why not combine them?”

Overall, what a company should do is clearly lay out the as-is structures and processes and then lay out the perfect-world scenario, or what Mr. Arnold calls “the blue sky to be.” And then break down that journey into phases. “Define the objectives very clearly in how they’re going to get there and put in that plan,” he said. “That plan might take multiple years to get to where they’re going.”

Strategic opportunity
POBO/COBO structures are increasingly recognized as an efficient way to manage global cash. Although the initial set up of such a structure requires close coordination with tax and other partners, the ongoing benefits thereafter are well worth the initial legwork. That’s because it allows to treasurers to stop spending time on some of the mundane tactical responsibilities, allowing them to focus on the strategic, which ultimately adds more value to the company.

Sponsored by Deutsche Bank

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Treasury Center as Profit Center

The silver lining in the new scrutiny of global transfer pricing is that treasury might finally escape from its cost center box.

The context here is the mess treasury is going to face with tax, cleaning up after the OECD BEPS Actions. The silver lining is that the new scrutiny of global transfer pricing might serve as justification for treasury to become a profit center, or at least set up treasury centers and in-house banks that get better compensated based on arm’s-length pricing for services rendered. Few external banks are offering a treasury services where they don’t earn a profit, unless the services are part of an overall “wallet” that is profitable–so why should an in-house bank not be generating profit when providing treasury services for group affiliates?

The silver lining in the new scrutiny of global transfer pricing is that treasury might finally escape from its cost center box.

(Editor’s Note—Original publication date: March 17, 2015)

The context here is the mess treasury is going to face with tax, cleaning up after the OECD BEPS Actions. The silver lining is that the new scrutiny of global transfer pricing might serve as justification for treasury to become a profit center, or at least set up treasury centers and in-house banks that get better compensated based on arm’s-length pricing for services rendered. Few external banks are offering a treasury services where they don’t earn a profit, unless the services are part of an overall “wallet” that is profitable–so why should an in-house bank not be generating profit when providing treasury services for group affiliates?

The context here is the mess treasury faces with tax, cleaning up after the OECD BEPS Actions. The silver lining is that the new scrutiny of global transfer pricing might serve as justification for treasury to become a profit center, or at least set up treasury centers and in-house banks that get better compensated based on arm’s-length pricing for services rendered. Few external banks are offering a treasury services where they don’t earn a profit, unless the services are part of an overall “wallet” that is profitable–so why should an in-house bank not be generating profit when providing treasury services for group affiliates?

Arm’s length = profit
To say that an arm’s-length price must have a profit margin in it, may be simplifying things a bit, but it helps get to the argument that treasurers should be overseeing profit centers in response to growing scrutiny on transfer pricing. They should make this argument because it helps them with the biggest issue they face: being starved for resources despite the huge value-added role treasury plays, because they have only relatively soft performance metrics to point to (compared to profits) when asked to cut costs.

Here is just one service where arm’s length pricing should generate a profit for treasury:

Centralized exposure management for affiliates. Paragraph 69 of the OECD Discussion Draft on BEPS Actions 8, 9 and 10 (on revisions to Chapter 1 of the Transfer Pricing Guidelines, including risk, recharacterisation and special measures) lays out the logic [bold is our emphasis]:

“Often a MNE group will centralise treasury functions with the result that the implementation of risk mitigation strategies relating to interest rate and currency risks are performed centrally in order to improve efficiency and effectiveness. It may be the case that the operating company reports in accordance with group policy a currency exposure, and the centralised treasury function organises a financial instrument that the operating company enters into. As a result, the centralised function can be seen as providing a service to the operating company, for which it should receive compensation on arm’s length terms. More difficult transfer pricing issues may arise, however, if the financial instrument is entered into by the centralised function or another group company, with the result that the positions are not matched within the same company, although the group position is protected. In such a case, an analysis of the conduct of the parties may suggest that the treasury function is not entering into speculative arrangements on its own account, but is taking steps to hedge the specific exposure of the operating company and has entered into the instrument essentially on behalf of the operating subsidiary. As a consequence the treasury company provides a service…”

Risk is an important component of proposed transfer pricing revisions, since the entity that assumes the risk (as does the entity that receives capital) should have a capability to add value with it (a new take on substance). This gets to transfer pricing rewarding the entity with the capability, not just one contracted to assume risk (or capital). [Note: There will be a public consultation on these transfer pricing matters on March 19-20 at the OECD Conference Centre in Paris.]

Treasury is often the function with the most capability to manage financial risk and thus arm’s-length transfer pricing should reward treasury for the services it provides in managing it, especially when it involves risk transfer between affiliates, but even risk management done on their behalf.

High value vs. low value-adding services
In contrast to high value-adding risk management activities, there are low value-adding services that require arm’s length transfer pricing: Enough to reflect the service rendered, but not so much to shift profits unfairly by charging well in excess of their value add. The discussion draft for BEPS Action 10 (on Proposed Modifications to Chapter VII of the Transfer Pricing Guidelines Related to Low Value-Adding Intra-Group Services) suggests that financial transactions would fall outside the definition of low value-adding services, which may have transfer pricing determined on a more simplified cost-center basis.

However, one comment letter from bMoxie, a boutique Belgian professional services firm specializing in tax and transfer pricing, notes that financial transactions can be wide ranging, and thus not all treasury services would be high value:

“It is unclear what is meant with financial transactions. We tend to strictly define this is as the exchange of (financial) assets, and accordingly not be as broad as the full spectrum of financial services or services that relate to the financial position of companies. Indeed many multinational groups organize their financial services or treasury departments centrally to enable an efficient and effective service to the group members, which may include the execution of financial transactions, but also certain financial services. These services in turn may be fitting or not fitting the definition of low value-adding services. It is not uncommon that group treasury centers also provide auxiliary services that fit the examples of what is provided in paragraph 7.48 – i.e. that are merely of an accounting or administrative nature, and that do entail processing and managing of accounts receivable and account payable. In other words, the scope of a treasury department typically includes investment and funding activities, and may include other financial services that do require the assumption or control of substantial or significant risk, but may very well include services that could be considered low value-adding services, in the view of bMoxie.

Taking it one step further, even for instance in the light of a cash pool, that entails the exchange of assets, it may well be that the cash pool manager is only to be considered economically to be performing a pure clerical function when it contractually vis-à-vis the cash pool bank and the participants does not assume any risk, however in practice this would not unlikely be the case that the cash pool manager. We just wanted to make the point that even in the light of services auxiliary to financial transactions, there may be a certain division of activities amongst stakeholders that could lead one of the service providers rendering services that could technically qualify as low value-adding services.”

This sort of thinking will not get treasury out of its cost center box. It may also warrant more careful consideration going forward of what activities get put in a treasury center or in-house bank (e.g., payment and collection activities) vs. a shared services center, merely to keep the transfer pricing categorizations clean and the treasury-as-profit-center silver lining intact.

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Checklist: What You Should Know About ISDAs

Understanding the standard document used to govern over-the-counter derivatives transactions.

Based on many discussions with practitioners in The NeuGroups’s peer groups here is a checklist of things to consider when implementing ISDAs.

One of the first considerations is whether it is worth bothering to set up an ISDA with every counterparty.

Understanding the standard document used to govern over-the-counter derivatives transactions.

Based on many discussions with practitioners in NeuGroup peer groups, here is a checklist of things to consider when implementing ISDA Master Agreements (ISDAs).

One of the first considerations is whether it is worth bothering to set up an ISDA with every counterparty.

  • Only value-add banks, please. With limited trading capacity to spread around—as well as treasury bandwidth—practitioners agreed that firms should focus on the banks that are able to add real value from an dealer standpoint. If they don’t, why waste time and energy on negotiating an ISDA?
  • Invest in a good ISDA template. Many treasurers also agreed that it is worth the money to pay a specialist attorney to create an ISDA template. This could be used as a starting point for negotiations with counterparties (or ending point, if firms are prepared to walk away if a bank does not accept the basic tenets of the template agreement).

Consensus has it that a template should be doable for anywhere from $50-100K in legal fees (fees should be coming down as more corporates turn to ISDAs and the more corporate-oriented clauses become part of law firms starter templates).

The need to involve internal counsel to cross-check these templates might raise the legal costs. Finally, while the first instinct might be to limit the ISDA to FX, it usually is more effective to consider the broader counterparty risk across asset classes, when preparing the template.

  • Choose your vintage. It pays to keep track of what the major differences are between the different “vintages” of ISDA templates (in practice, 1992 or 2002; see sidebar below), and be prepared to argue for the “preferred” one. Several members have mentioned how hard it is these days to have all their banks of the same vintage but that they have still been reasonably successful.

“We try to keep them standard,” said a treasury head whose company is “99 percent” on 2002 ISDAs; another has managed to keep all its banks to 1992 ISDAs. Marc A. Horwitz, an attorney formerly with Baker McKenzie (now with DLA Piper), noted: “For end users (corporates), we prefer 1992, particularly for FX trading.”

  • Banks are different. Each bank has a different risk tolerance and will focus on different areas, such as the definition of early termination, settlement, or credit committee concerns. Overall, members agree that non-US banks are harder than US banks, and Japanese banks, for example, are very conservative.
  • Don’t hesitate to stick to your guns. Treasury should not be afraid to play hardball with banks when negotiating their ISDAs, or if they are up for renewal. One way is the template approach; another is to flag the clauses that are a source for concern and stand firm regarding those. Check with senior management of course, but if you don’t like the terms a bank is offering, be prepared to say “no thanks” and walk away.

Also, just as banks have their pet peeves about what they consider important aspects of the ISDA to protect themselves, in the end, said one FX risk director, “you have to carve out various aspects of the [ISDA] contract you don’t like.”

  • Beware multiple-branch clauses. When specifying entities covered by the ISDA in the “schedule,” it is also important to be clear on the language on multiple branches, as this can help determine whether it’s better to book trades, for example, with the local Citi branch or Citi New York. One FX director noted that no matter which branch executes his company’s deals they are always “booked” with the London entity of the trading bank. One of his peers in the NeuGroup’s European Treasurers’ Peer Group (EuroTPG) agreed: “We insist on dealing with the main bank or branch, nobody else.”

Whether pricing is influenced by where the trade is executed is something to watch out for. A firm in the large-cap bracket with a bank in one region of the world may be covered by the medium-cap group in another, due to the relative size of its presence there. This could be true for one or several banks.

Banks should also not be allowed to book trades from branches located in jurisdictions which prohibit offshore FX transactions unless the ISDA is in the name of the onshore sub.

OTHER CRITICAL CONSIDERATIONS

  • Cross-default thresholds. A cross-default provision (under which all outstanding trades covered by the ISDA can be terminated if the counterparty defaults on third-party debt) can be elected in the ISDA schedule, but firms should consider whether to have it. When opting for the provision, it is important to set a threshold amount such that a cross default is not triggered unnecessarily by technical but not material events, and is not lower than existing credit agreements’ cross-default thresholds.
  • Termination settlements. In the 1992 ISDA form (see below), there are two methods for calculating an early termination settlement (triggered by “default” and “termination” events defined in the contract):

1) “Loss” (or “unpaid amounts”); and

2) “Market quotation.”

The former considers the amount that would make the counterparty whole on the trade. The latter requires four market quotes and the ultimate price is the average of the two middle quotes.

“Some corporates take strong views on which they prefer,” noted Mr. Horwitz, based on their experience with closeouts or what types of trade they plan to use most.

Market quotes work well for vanilla trades because it’s considered likely the trades will be priced fairly. The “loss” method works better for highly structured trades.

  • Confirmation supersedes ISDA. After a few corporate derivatives debacles in the 1990s, banks favor inserting a “non-reliance clause” into the 1992 ISDA (it is in the pre-printed 2002 form) in which the bank basically says “you (the company) know what you’re doing, so we’re not responsible.”

Very few corporates manage to negotiate out of the non-reliance clause. Because trade confirmations supersede ISDAs, those that don’t have the clause should take extra care that the clause does not get reinserted into the trade confirmations.

On the other hand (and this is another “score” for SWIFT), a corporate practitioner pointed out that using SWIFT confirmations helps in this regard as there is “not much room for sticking in additional terms or changes.”

THE TABLES ARE TURNED

While ISDAs may have been insisted on by banks in the past, it is now corporates that are scrutinizing them to ensure they are properly protected when banks look vulnerable. Firms, therefore, should take extra precautions to guard against events that may work against them at some future point in a trading relationship, when banks again look less vulnerable, starting with a mutually agreeable ISDA.

WINE AND ISDAS: VINTAGE MATTERS
Should a firm opt for the 1992 or 2002 form of ISDA? The major differences between the two, said Baker McKenzie (now DLA Piper) attorney Marc. A. Horwitz, are:

Grace period for failure to pay. The grace period in the 1992 form is three business days, in the 2002, only one. For treasuries with limited bandwidth, three days’ grace can prevent mistakes and non-payments not due to credit default events from unduly punishing the firm or result in terminated trades.

Scope. The 2002 form includes a broader range of specified transactions, such as repos, reverse repos and securities loans. “For corporates, we generally prefer 1992; you don’t want an unexpected event in a non-ISDA trade to permit the bank to unwind this ISDA trade,” Mr. Horwitz said.

Force majeure. The 2002 form has a force majeure clause which governs termination of trades that are impossible to make payments on, after an eight business-day waiting period.

Right of set-off. The pre-printed 2002 form includes a set-off provision, which the 1992 form does not (it can be inserted).

Settlement. The 1992 form permits “loss” or “market quotation” as basis for the settlement price upon early termination. The 2002 form has a pre-determined method, a “hybrid” between the two, which doesn’t require four market quotes. There have been efforts within ISDA to migrate end users to the close-out amount, and while firms on the 1992 form can opt for this protocol, it “hasn’t taken that well with corporates,” Mr. Horwitz noted.

ELECTIVE EARLY TERMINATION
As counterparty risk concerns remain pronounced both on the corporate and the bank side, corporates are reporting that banks are showing increasing interest in inserting an elective-termination clause into the ISDA (in the Other Provisions section).

For example, one bank has requested to insert it into a 1992 ISDA master with a corporate, which would allow either side to terminate a derivative six months after inception, and every six months thereafter.

The concern with such a clause is that the company is at risk of the bank terminating a long-term hedge by invoking this clause, leaving the company unhedged. This could cause unintended cash-flow consequences and, more importantly, problems with the hedge qualifying for hedge accounting treatment even at inception.

While the ISDA forms have specified “default” and “termination” events that are standard and bilateral, elective early termination clauses are not common, nor are they recommended in an ISDA governing a relationship, and that may cover a multitude of trades over a long period of time. Former Baker McKenzie (now DLA Piper) ISDA attorney Marc A. Horwitz pointed out that, absent a compelling regulatory or credit reason for such a clause, corporates should push back on banks trying to insert it.

A hedge, after all, is for protecting the corporation, not the bank, as a risk manager pointed out, and corporates already have a way to get out of hedges: by unwinding them; this, however, should be the firm’s decision, not the bank’s.

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Crossborder Pooling: Notional vs. ZBA

For many MNCs, an emphasis on effective management of working capital has translated into renewed urgency in rationalizing liquidity structures.

The tight credit market—combined with general economic weakness—has forced a strong focus on cash and liquidity management for both cash-rich and cash-poor companies.

As the ability to generate cash (or borrow it) has declined, MNCs report an increased need to have a clear view of their cash position globally. Visibility, however, is not enough. Treasurers also need effective techniques and procedures to manage their global liquidity. That task increases in complexity as a result of geographical spread, multiplicity of banking relationships, cross-currency flows and corporate structure issues (e.g., tax).

For many MNCs, an emphasis on effective management of working capital has translated into renewed urgency in rationalizing liquidity structures.

(Editor’s Note—Original publication date: June 16, 2003)

The tight credit market—combined with general economic weakness—has forced a strong focus on cash and liquidity management for both cash-rich and cash-poor companies.

As the ability to generate cash (or borrow it) has declined, MNCs report an increased need to have a clear view of their cash position globally. Visibility, however, is not enough. Treasurers also need effective techniques and procedures to manage their global liquidity. That task increases in complexity as a result of geographical spread, multiplicity of banking relationships, cross-currency flows and corporate structure issues (e.g., tax).

A consolidated view of cash

One of the most useful liquidity-management tools in the treasury toolbox is cash “pooling,” an arrangement whereby the credit/debit positions of different accounts are viewed from a single summary perspective.

This approach gives treasurers a chance to view cash on a regional and global basis, at the same time allowing affiliates to utilize their collective liquidity more effectively (i.e., instead of one subsidiary borrowing while the other is flush with cash).

Companies planning to centralize cash for multiple international subsidiaries have two basic options available:

• Zero balance accounts (ZBAs); or

• Notional cash pooling.

While both achieve the same ultimate objective, there are technical differences, which can then have significant organizational and tax consequences to either approach.

Zero-balance accounts (ZBAs)

ZBAs refer to linked accounts at the same bank and in the same currency and country. Funds are physically transferred in/out (zero-balanced) from subaccounts to a main account daily.

ZBAs: Key Aspects

The following are the key characteristics of a ZBA pooling arrangement:

• Same bank/same branch

• Same country

• Same currency

• Segregation of subaccounts which are then linked to a main account

• Completely automatic (bank), no manual transfers required

• Intercompany lending arrangements if separate legal entities participate, which means an arm’s-length interest rate must be assessed.

This primary account is usually held in the name of the Corporate Parent, Country or Area Headquarters/Holding Company or a Regional Treasury Center, such as a BCC, IFSC or OHQ.

If the subaccount holders are divisions of the same legal entity (such as branches, sales offices or plants), there are no tax issues. Indeed, often companies use ZBAs as a simple method to segregate different types of activities, such as receipts and disbursements, even if there is no regional or organizational segregation already in place.

However, if the subaccount holders are separate legal entities (i.e., subsidiaries), the funds movement into the main account constitutes an intercompany loan from the subsidiary to the main account holder and vice versa; this, in turn, generates some tax and accounting issues.

Audit trail and accounting. For example, documentation must be maintained for audit trail purposes and the main account holder (e.g., central treasury) must charge an “arm’s length” interest rate to the participating subsidiaries. Although banks provide separate statements for each subaccount, they will not typically do the accounting, manage the loan portfolio or assess/pay interest. (Some banks do run separate businesses which provide these services on an outsourced basis, usually out of Dublin.)

So unless this aspect of recordkeeping etc. is handled by a bank or third-party outsourced service, it must be done internally. Many treasury workstations and ERPs provide intracompany loan-management functionality as part of their core offerings. If the activity is at all substantial, spreadsheet solutions may not be sufficient (and certainly won’t provide the layer of automation of both interest allocation/payment and reporting that makes this cost effective).

Cost benefits. In-country ZBA arrangements are very common and have been a staple of managing US cash for years. Yet they are not universally possible. In certain countries, such as Korea, ZBAs may not be permissible at all, and in countries where there is an assessment of debit tax on transactions out of a bank account, such as Australia, a ZBA arrangement may end up being not cost effective.

For treasurers managing subsidiaries in multiple countries/currencies, the ZBA structure can be set up as an overlay, but funds must first be physically transferred from country A, B or C to the concentration location.

Two-tier approach. Often there is a daily pooling/ZBA in the originating country first, and then a sweep or manual transfer to the location of the main account, with less frequency. Thus the cross-border ZBA is usually a two-tiered structure. Weekly transfers are fairly standard. Daily transfers cannot be cost justified except with the very largest multinationals.

Therefore, in assessing the efficacy of overlay ZBA arrangements, a cost/benefit analysis is essential to establish the target level of cash required at the local level, and the frequency of transfer to the main account. Also overlay options may require opening additional in-country accounts, which can get expensive.

But perhaps the main drawback or limitation of ZBAs is that they’re only available on a single-currency basis. Thus, at the treasury level, there must be a main account for each separate currency.

Notional cash pooling

That’s where notional cash pooling enters the picture. With notional pooling, there is no physical movement of funds between accounts; rather, credit and debit interest are offset. Interest is paid/charged on the net balance position, but the legal/tax separation of separate subsidiaries owned by the same parent is maintained.

The initial (or direct) benefits of pooling come from the reduction of overdraft interest expense by centralizing the company’s liquidity position (see example in table below).

Legal hurdles. Notional pooling is great in theory. In practice, however, this pooling arrangement is not permitted in all countries. In these countries ZBA arrangements are used.

The big benefit to this arrangement, however, in the countries where it is most common, such as the UK, Netherlands and Belgium, is that there’s minimal or no withholding tax on interest earned. Often, too, (unlike physical pooling/ZBA arrangements) it’s not necessary to have a main or header account; the offset is simply among the participants. However, some countries (such as France) do require that there is a holding company in place.

The key advantage of notional pooling is that it allows for a multicurrency view of cash.

Notional: Key Aspects

The following are the key characteristics of a notional pooling arrangement:

• Same bank/ different branches

• Same country is most common

• Multicurrency pooling is extremely sensitive from a tax and accounting perspective—Spain can’t participate, for example due to local tax regulations

• Cross guarantees are required by the bank, regardless of the cash position of the participants

• Interest actually charged/paid to participants is optional—but may be advisable from a tax perspective.

However, in order to pay/charge interest on a single consolidated basis, the bank will use an interest rate differential to avoid currency conversion, similar to how a short-dated swap is handled. From a company’s perspective, this may ultimately affect the cost effectiveness of the arrangement. The company typically ends up paying forward points, thus reducing the interest-rate earned for a positive consolidated balance.

There is also a risk factor involved, as treasury is actually outsourcing this activity (to a bank). This means treasury may lose some control over the counterparties involved in the transaction.

Virtual pooling. In reality (or in virtual reality), treasury can achieve similar effects by using internal systems to execute the loans or interest offsets, and then generating the appropriate entries into the accounting system (i.e., an in-house bank). Also the rates achieved for investing excess cash would be higher. In fact, although a few large banks do offer multicurrency pooling, they are not entirely comfortable with it. (One of the very large banks simply decided not to offer notional pooling, only ZBAs are used; notional pooling was too fraught with difficulties).

In all cases, however, the bank will not act as a tax advisor, will insist on a sign-off from the company’s tax counsel and require cross guarantees between the participants. (That’s a hurdle for many MNCs.)

Loan by every other name. Pooling ostensibly gets around the issue of putting intercompany loans into place, because it is notional. However, it is a variant of a short-term intercompany loan arrangement, allowing a bank service to handle the periodic cash-reserve ups and downs of different entities.

If there were a permanent or long-term mismatch in liquidity, companies would more effectively use intercompany loans as the mechanisms. That’s why tax authorities will look carefully at pooling arrangements, and still may require some type of arm’s length interest depending on the amount and tenor of the offsets.

Also, if the company is always in an excess cash position, the concept of a notional offset makes no sense. And using a notional multicurrency pool as an investment vehicle is counterproductive, as the interest raid paid on the pool will be far lower than what individual currency pools will be able to achieve.

As a treasury management technique, cross border pooling is primarily used in Europe and to a more limited extent on Asia, where there are still regulatory issues that limit the participation of certain countries.

It is not used at all in Latin America (regionally) where there are significant regulatory issues and withholding tax restrictions on intercompany lending. Thus, the essential first step in evaluating any cross-border pooling arrangements is to focus on the management structure of the company and what tax implications may arise.

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