This year’s Eurofinance was entirely different from ever before. With the global pandemic, it would be impossible to get 1000’s of delegates in a conference together, which is why this year, the show went virtual, but this didn’t stop the insightful sessions on what’s to come in the world of treasury.

This episode on the Payments Podcasts focuses on the upcoming trends every treasury department will need to know and learning whether they are reliant to the pandemic or here to stay.

Podcast Transcript

Rich Williams:    This year, the world’s leading treasury event did things a little differently. With the current worldwide pandemic, EuroFinance went 100% virtual and for the very first time. The event still included a vast amount of sessions designed to keep treasurers and banks up to date and one step ahead of trends leading into 2021. And today, we’ll discuss those top trends to take away from this year’s event. 
    Hello, I’m Rich Williams, host of the Payments Podcast and today, I’m delighted to be joined by Charles de Rougé, head of SaaS Solutions at Bottomline. Hello, Charles and welcome to the Payments Podcasts for the very first time.

Charles de Rougé:    Hello, Rich and thanks for having me.

Rich Williams:    Very welcome. So, let’s go straight into it then. Now, this year’s EuroFinance was very different to how it would have been run normally. So, how did you personally find this year’s entirely virtual event?

Charles de Rougé:    Yes, is there anything normal anymore, Rich, in this troubled time of, well, pandemic? At Bottomline, we took quite a radical approach which is attending EuroFinance Virtual Event just as if it was a physical event. So, our team put their out of office on. We went full-on virtual at EuroFinance. And I have to say personally, it was my first positive experience of a virtual event.
    We had a lot of very senior contacts present at the session and answering emails and contacts. We have attended a few virtual conferences since March but there was a different feeling about EuroFinance. I think EuroFinance remains the most important event of the year for treasury. And the tools were much better. The portals worked very well intuitively. And there was a lot of positivity about the event. The delegates seem to be taking it very seriously.

Rich Williams:    So, Charles, what were some of the key themes that came up in this year’s event, please?

Charles de Rougé:    There were more than 4,000 delegates registered. And I think we saw the treasury professionals continue to maintain their industry network and connection with the financial messaging ecosystem to EuroFinance, virtual or not. 
    But, Rich, as usual, there were a multitude of very interesting topics covered at EuroFinance. From supply chain finance to ethics, new methodology. But the topic was, of course, COVID. And I think that the number one consequence from the virus to treasury was acceleration. Acceleration of the previous key themes and natural tendencies.
    If I have to summarise the important key themes that come up at EuroFinance, I would say, they were under three main categories. People, product, process. 

Rich Williams:    And that’s really interesting because Bottomline have been talking about that trifecta of people, process and technology for several years now so the synergy between the two is apparent. And I think we can agree that Digitalise or Die is quite a bold topic to be discussing.

Charles de Rougé:    So, people are still at the heart of everything in treasury. With the COVID pandemic and the evolution of treasury function, with the remote working and the security access, with the wellbeing of your people in the team, that was at the heart of a number of sessions.
    What we have seen also is the new skills that are required to work in treasury functions. The variety of profiles that constitute a treasury team. From data analysts to technical specialists and back office or middle office finance systems.

    Around product, the digital transformation is always at the top of everything we do. There was one session named Digitalise or Die that I thought was quite interesting. Product is mainly, and more than ever, based on user interface. Product is based on data and real time data. There are new ways and better ways to integrate the different systems. ERP, treasury management systems and banks. 
    We are progressing towards API, the application programme interface. I think it’s the future. We keep talking about it but we’re not there yet with the bank perspective. At Bottomline, we have developed our own rest API to support swift traffic, payment instructions and we keep developing this. So, at the heart of the product, yes, the digital transformation, user interface data and of course, artificial intelligence and robot processor automation are still key themes.
    And the process, more than ever, cash and liquidity are essential. It’s back to basics. Where is my cash? How much cash do I have? During the COVID, suddenly all the businesses needed to know how much cash they have and where it was. So, cash visibility in real time. Cash forecasting. And liquidity. Access to it, of course. Manage your excess liquidity, which in those days of negative interest can be very difficult.

    So, I think that’s still at the heart. Process is integration with multiple systems. The legacy ERP, the new ERP rollout, the treasury management systems and bank. How do you integrate? How do you make sure you have got all of your data in one single platform, is at the heart of it.
    And finally, as always, security. Working from home with remote access. Full protection is more important than ever. You need to have a clear segregation of duties, of functions and to have the right mechanism to protect your business from any attempt of fraud.

    It sounds radical but, you know, I thought it was right on. This is my mojo. And this is why I tell a customer, you know, it’s digitalise or die. You cannot spend one week to retrieve your bank statement to know how much cash you have in one branch. You cannot have, like, 16 different people that log into an internet banking system and then put it into Excel. You need to know if you need 30m or 300m of more liquidity to survive, you know.
    So, the ability at Bottomline, having one platform to a PC and permanent cash management platform. Leveraging our own,
because the service so you don’t need to be on Swift. And in a couple of weeks, you can start receiving your end of day statement and seeing your cash position almost in real time.

Rich Williams:    Absolutely. And I might challenge the use of APIs as being a future incentive. I think it’s very much the present now and we have to try and convert that and translate it from the start-ups and the corporates to the banking world as well.
    So, Charles, did you find this year’s live event reflected the current landscape changes? And is there anything, in particular, you’d like to evolve on based on that?

Charles de Rougé:    No, Rich, I agree with you. API is the present. I still think that the banks are a little short on providing APIs for large multinational corporates. You know, an API to initiate a payment or to call a cash position a statement today works in the small and medium businesses up in banking and PSD2. For a large multinational corporate to support the bell, I think we still have maybe a year of evolution until the banks are ready.

    Swift is moving through global API. And as I say, Bottomline is now referring its own rest API to connect to Swift and to send permanent instructions or retrieve statements and transactions. 
    I would say, yes, EuroFinance, I think, was on top of things. There were more than 50 hours of conferences and content. And I think they were spot on, to be honest with you, Rich. Cash visibility in real time. The emphasis of cashflow and cash forecasting. That has become critical.
    The importance of technology, as you said, in Bottomline, it’s an old mantra. But I think with the COVID crisis, the need for digital transformation has become not only a project or nice to have, it has become mandatory. And the security challenge around the importance of data and who can access which data and how can we protect, again, those were all existing important trends. But they have become critical now.
    And I think the live sessions around the right technology, the right infrastructure and people, the system to system integration with API, like you say, in real time. I think all the sessions were on top of things on that.

Rich Williams:    Good. That’s great to hear. So, Charles, how is the COVID pandemic specifically impacting the treasury functions? And did the event share any examples of what is working and what isn’t working?

Charles de Rougé:    That’s a very good question, Rich. Thank you. And, yes, I think the COVID pandemic has impacted all of our lives at so many different levels. You know, from homeschooling to homeworking to no more pubs. In treasury, it did have a serious impact. Treasury was already moving to be a strategy partner to run a business. It became systemic. It became absolutely mandatory, critical to the business.

    After the first weeks of the lockdown, every CFO, every CEO talked to their treasury and said, “Okay, what’s the cashflow forecasting? How much cash do I have in? Who is paying late? What is our credit facility? Can we sustain our business with no income, with a loan from the government?”
    So, I think the impact of COVID on treasury has been massive. But again, I would use the word acceleration. It has accelerated a bunch of natural tendencies that existed before. So, the importance for the business global success to have the treasury functions and the role of treasurer to become a senior stakeholder providing insight on working capital and strategy support is in unseen times, like those of the COVID, have been tremendous.
    So, I think a couple of obvious areas that, again, were existing trends, but had become mandatory is cash visibility in real time. This is a need when you are a multinational with MultiBank, you need to have that. And leveraging, for example, at Bottomline, our biggest service with PCM, in a couple of weeks, you can start retrieving your statement without being a member of Swift and start providing added value to your stakeholder. Supply change finance with late payment and of course, cash forecasting, where three mandatory elements that become that, you cannot be in treasury and not have that information immediately. Process efficiencies and securities were the same.
    Again, I think all those trends existed in the natural evolution of treasury to modernisation through digitalisation. I think the COVID impact was like, “We need to do it now. We need to do it this year.” And even at Bottomline, we saw a clear increase in the number of RFP we were solicited through the summer.

Rich Williams:    Yes, and I think to, sort of, quote what you mentioned a few moments ago. Some of these trends are no longer nice to haves. They’re absolutely essential and they’re mandatory. And we’re becoming more and more keen and more and more, I suppose, impatient to get things done efficiently. And data and insight are absolutely key to that.
    So, on the same topic, do you think that these areas of interest are here to stay? Or once the world gets back to whatever a state of normal is depending on how you define normal, are some of these priorities going to change?

Charles de Rougé:    Well, Rich, I believe, no, they will not change. This is the new normal. The COVID has brought acceleration to an existing movement. Remote access and teams from all over the world. Real time data, the importance of cash visibility, none of those things are going to go away tomorrow.

    I think what we’re going to see is more and more integration between systems, between your ERP, your treasury management system, your banks or your local direct schemes. I think more and more, we are going to see those integrated and we’re going to see this as a mandatory requirement of any business. I think they’re going to be part of the audit which they are already somehow. But if you cannot provide your cash position as yesterday, if you cannot have system to system integration with real time data, your business is at risk. So, no, they are not going to change. They are going to increase. They are going to be more important, if anything.

Rich Williams:    Okay. So what would you say are the top takeaways for treasury professionals from this year’s event, Charles?

Charles de Rougé:    Rich, I would say this title that still makes me laugh, Digitalise or Die, yes. It is funny but it is true. It is funny because it’s true. The right people in treasury. And I think that’s a very interesting thing. Not having only accountant and back office and middle office. Today, you need data specialists. You need people with technical experience to understand how to run the project.
    So, digitalise or die. The right people in treasury. The need to centralise and control. Of course, you can give your local powers but you need to have a centralised view of your cashflow, of your cashflow cutting, of your payments and of your cash positions. 
    The need of integration, system to system, through API, between ERP, MultiBank, TMS, I think we’re going to see more and more that you’re going to have several vendors. And you can see the ERP are now segregated but you need to integrate in a smooth and rapid way. At the end for me, of course, one of the key elements is always the same. It’s how much cash do you have? Where is it and can you move it simply and safely?

Rich Williams:    Well, I think that’s a great place to end the podcast today. And, Charles, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts.

Charles de Rougé:    Thank you, Rich, for having me.

Rich Williams:    So, I think that just proves that EuroFinance is always an event which provokes interesting and stimulating conversation. And it’s interesting to note as well that some of the trends haven’t changed this year despite going entirely digital.
    So, unfortunately, that is all we have time for today. But in the meantime, you can listen to more episodes on all things payments at the touch of a button using your preferred provider and we’ll see you all next time.

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