A seasoned CFO shares thoughts on automation and how treasury can elevate itself to become a strategic partner.
The path of treasurers who are determined to walk the walk of becoming strategic business partners by devoting more time to value-adding activities and less to tactical tasks runs through automation that frees up bandwidth for intense data analysis.
- In making that point at a recent meeting of NeuGroup for Mid-Cap Treasurers sponsored by HighRadius, Jeff Martini, interim CFO of Bishop Lifting Products, said it’s critical that treasury teams become “data guardians” who leverage data to tell stories that lead to action, helping senior leaders achieve their goals. “Treasury’s role is to allow me to make an informed decision,” he said.
- “It’s about treasury being able to internalize a data model,” he added. “Being able to hold that model in their heads, understand where the data is moving, how to access it, and how to report, taking away the right stories. You have to understand where the pinch points are, and what you can do differently.”
- Mr. Martini, who has 20 years of experience as a CFO, began his career in accounting, which he said is similar to treasury, in that a crucial skill is being able to tell a bigger story through transactions. Top treasurers, he said, are able to “back away from the business and see the full landscape.”
Tech fluency. Getting to a place where treasury can focus on seeing the stories in the company’s transactions, Mr. Martini said, requires freeing up time for technology-fluent team members and giving them the right tools.
- As he pushed automation at his company, he turned to HighRadius for a tool that streamlines processes and makes data more visible, aiding treasury’s ability to extract insights.
- “I helped to eliminate the spreadsheet-only system and set up a data pipeline up front using HighRadius,” he explained. “The work flow was exclusively Excel, and the analytical stuff is still stuck in Excel, but we’ve gone about 60% away from that.”
- “You have to have an awareness of your team’s skillset,” before giving them tools and access to data, Mr. Martini advised. It can be beneficial to limit which team members have access to large data sets, which may slow them down.
- “People aren’t getting value just by touching data,” he said, stressing that only employees who have the skill to dig into data should be touching it.
Sharing is caring. Although it may seem counterintuitive to let go of some of treasury’s responsibilities to elevate its role as a strategic partner, Mr. Martini said that freeing up time to dig into data is the priority, making collaborating with other functions essential.
- “If I notice treasury is collaborating with other functions within the company, and even sharing some responsibilities, that’ll get my attention very quickly,” he said, including allowing FP&A or a shared service center or center of excellence to take some responsibilities off treasury’s hands.
- “To earn treasury’s seat at the table, it’s about having a mindset of what is going on with the business and acting in the best interest of the entire organization,” he said.
- “It shows treasury has a strategic understanding of the business and internalizes its complexity. Knowing that can take a huge load off the office of the CFO.”
- One treasurer at the session said Mr. Martini’s advice rings true. “When we bring accounting or FP&A together with treasury and can collaborate and explain something we’re doing together to the CFO, it works like magic,” the treasurer said. “The mindset of needing to share is important.”
Areas of expertise. Mr. Martini identified three primary areas in which treasury can provide value to a CFO:
- “The number one through number five jobs of a CFO are to never run out of money,” he said. “So anything that can be done to help de-risk and look ahead, from managing capital structure to being able to tell the story of the transactions” is crucial. “As a CFO, uncertainty is the name of the game. So as uncertainty goes up, so does value of trust” in treasury.
- Second “is the certain skill of being able to answer a question. It’s not just answering the question but finding the question behind the question. If a CFO asks a question, knowledge is more than just the direct answer, it’s being able to interpret the question” and connect the dots to the context behind it.
- The third aspect flips the script: asking the CFO useful questions. “I want to be asked questions that can be helpful,” Mr. Martini said. “Tell me what it is that I can be [for treasury], what are the organization’s broader needs that I’m not seeing? What does the treasurer see that I don’t?”