Although the drivers behind treasury centralisation projects – such as achieving economies of scale, better managing group-wide cash, improve decision making, mitigate risk and optimising working capital – are often shared by very different companies, centralisation isn’t necessarily a ‘cure all’.
In reality, there are many degrees of centralisation. Treasury functions are rarely just ‘centralised’ or ‘decentralised’; there is a great deal of middle ground, influenced by factors ranging from the size of the company and treasury function to the industry sector, geographical spread, control environment and the nature of the company’s cash flows.
As such, what works for one organisation will not always work for others. In addition, while the benefits of treasury centralisation are widely known there are a number of challenges to consider.
Hurdles and pitfalls
The barriers to entry around in-house bank (IHB) and on-behalf of structures are major challenges for many companies seeking to centralise. The cost of IHB software, for example, can be highly prohibitive.
There are also managerial and human resource considerations to take on board. Local business units may perceive centralisation as involving a loss of responsibility, for instance. In turn, this could lead to low morale or even non-co-operation at local level. It is also possible that regional treasury, banking, tax and legal expertise will be lost in the centralisation process; in particular when staff numbers are reduced.
In addition, the impact of centralisation on management information should not be underestimated. Take collections, for example. Centralising receivables actually requires more detailed information about the incoming payment in order to achieve straight-through reconciliation, since collections for different group entities are received into a single account.
Furthermore, even in a highly centralised treasury environment complex account structures and inflexible reporting processes can still exist. As a result, analysing payments and collections data can remain extremely time-consuming. Real-time visibility is often hard to gain, even when processes are centralised.
Given that the launch of the single euro payments area (SEPA) did not provide a ‘silver bullet’ for companies hoping to take their treasury centralisation to the next level either – many still have reconciliation challenges with SEPA, leading to inefficiencies and increased costs – it is not surprising that they are looking for a better, cheaper, more efficient way to centralise.
The beauty of the digital age is that technology is a huge facilitator of centralisation; removing many of the cost, logistical and even psychological barriers that companies have faced in the past. This is because technology can span geographies and unite information in a central location, without the traditional limitations of physically centralised operations.
Moreover, centralising ‘virtually’ means that companies can more easily tailor their centralisation model to the needs of the organisation as it grows. Rather than having to take a ‘big bang’ approach to centralisation, the right technology enables corporates to centralise at their own pace – making centralisation far more achievable.
This is precisely the philosophy behind virtual account management (VAM) products developed by a number of banks, as well as by some non-bank entities. Typically combining cross-border virtual bank accounts with an advanced multi-bank cash management dashboard, these solutions support gradual centralisation by automating processes within an existing treasury structure, which can sit anywhere on the scale between fully decentralised and fully centralised.
VAM is designed to allow every company, regardless of its financial IT infrastructure, to rationalise its bank accounts, centralise multi-entity cash and improve cash visibility. What’s more, it enables treasurers to establish a virtual in-house bank (IHB) and on-behalf of structures without the need for expensive software required, whilst facilitating invoice matching and offering enriched reporting.
In short, VAM has the ability to deliver all the benefits of centralisation, according to a timeline and strategy that matches the organisation’s wider goals, without the loss of information that traditional approaches to centralisation can entail.
The next step
So, while some treasurers may feel as though centralisation is still a ‘wish list’ project for the future, there are technologies available right now that can help companies to take the next step in their centralisation journey.
Today, centralisation is no longer black or white – it’s more flexible than ever. With virtual solutions, centralisation can be tailored to a corporate treasury department’s specific needs, resources and timeline, making it an achievable reality for every company.