Achieving the right balance between human interaction and maturing technologies requires careful thought. On the one hand, increased automation and the removal of manual processes has been a positive shift for treasurers, particularly amidst the pandemic, which has accelerated treasury’s digitalisation. The risk, however, is the complete removal of human support could have an adverse effect.
The last two years have shown it is very much still in demand, with businesses relying on their providers for bespoke advice. So much so that 78 percent of SMEs call for the digital transformation of banking to be balanced with a human element, according to one report.
Technology is critical to treasury operations but perhaps it is not the panacea to every scenario – so what can treasurers expect from their providers?
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The evolution of support amid Covid
It’s clear the digitalisation of treasury management progressed quickly during the pandemic. Operations moved online and, with many businesses working remotely, treasurers were able to connect with their providers and handle the higher volumes of transactions through increased access to digital tools.
Digital channels became vital, with both traditional banks and fintechs supporting customers to utilise them to manage timely queries, including budget reforecasting and government loan applications. Chatbots, mobile apps and online portals that consolidated services in one place underpinned this approach.
Treasurers themselves took steps to digitalise their own processes, adopting treasury management systems that allowed them to take ownership of their cash flow and access real-time insights from their data. This has enabled them to have a complete view and understanding of their corporate behaviour, backed by unique data and intelligence.
Data can answer the questions that too many businesses struggle to answer: Are all payments made on time, or even too early? What percentage of customers’ payments are delayed and by how much? How can temporary cash shortfalls be addressed? These scenarios are unique to each business and knowing the detail can dramatically improve forecasting and financial decision-making. Crucially, having this level of data analytics is fundamental in addressing the cash flow issue.
Greater digitalisation is also creating new opportunities by generating insights into how the market is evolving and how to deal with these and handle upcoming challenges. By enabling controlled access to information, it can also be effective in improving cyber-security, with senior managers able to alter which features each team member can utilise.
In so many instances, however, satisfaction still relies on personalised interactions – particularly when it comes to businesses’ communications with their provider. Many digital channels work well when a query or requirement conforms to a pre-set process or way of dealing with issues. However, all too often, when a business’s need becomes more complex or requires a more considered approach, relying purely on digital could compromise the treasurer’s experience. It’s here that human support comes into its own.
The best of both worlds
People want to deal with people. That is a key lesson from a tough year in lockdown. Digital enabled a move to remote working but businesses needed bespoke advice, particularly in times of financial distress and, in many cases, technology simply wasn’t enough.
Pandemic aside, for so many treasurers, personalised relationships with their provider remain essential. They need access to human interactions for tailored support, in addition to the efficiency of a comprehensive digital service. Research findings support this view, with 24/7 access to customer service via an app along with human contact ranking high on the list of SMEs’ most desired banking services.
What’s clear is treasurers need a rethink of what they expect from their providers. As their needs evolve, they will want to look for those that can strike the right balance between delivering exceptional service and enabling efficient, cost-effective ways of working. Too much reliance on human support would result in costly, slow processes. Yet, a too heavy reliance on pure technology could eradicate personalised experience altogether.
The future of treasury management is the perfect blend of the two – sophisticated digital tools and personalised interactions with humans. The crucial step then becomes delivering that to the market and fintechs who are stepping into this space with new approaches. As businesses embed their hybrid working models, this fine balance will likely become the industry norm, allowing treasurers to benefit from the best of both worlds.