The Marriage of System and Consulting
The Key to Success
Many treasurers, CFOs and Heads of Finance struggle with finding the right approach to selecting a system, extending or replacing their existing setup or restructuring their treasury. Good consulting is of the essence, and so many of them turn to external consultants. But what can and should these consultants achieve? Before asking yourself whether hiring an external consultant is worth your time and money, you should consider what kind of consultant is best suited to what kind of project.
The introduction of a successful treasury management system in a company means more than just buying a product with good functionality. It is intricately connected to a successful implementation, and even more importantly an overall successful project! The system needs to provide support; it needs to be of actual help; and it needs to do exactly what it was intended to do.
How systems can create real added value
This is where the consultant comes in: only by marrying system and adequate consulting – far beyond the technical implementation – can the system provide maximum added value. After all, top priority should be given to how a system can adequately support processes, simplify work and create more security, visibility and better results for companies. The functionality of a system – that it actually works – is merely an obvious prerequisite when it comes to the implementation. Consulting goes beyond that and provides support throughout the configuration and the setup of suitable processes and workflows. It imparts knowledge transfer: the consultant shares his or her know-how, expertise and experience from countless projects with the company in question. He or she helps identify potential “obstacles,” create efficiencies and establish structured know-how. At BELLIN, we firmly believe that no TMS can be used to maximum effect without this kind of consulting in the background. This is why we’re constantly enhancing our consulting activities. Our maxim is, “from treasurers for treasurers!” This also means that our consultants are treasurers who combine specialist expertise with system know-how first, and implementation specialists second.
Now you might be wondering: is this really something only the in-house consultant of a software provider can offer? Not only! External consultants can also make an important contribution, provided they have sound system knowledge and treasury expertise. BELLIN for example cooperates with licensed partner companies who have been specifically trained to build up the required know-how. These experts are familiar with the logic behind our treasury management system approach to the point of being able to provide adequate support to corporates.
Independent system selection – wishful thinking?
Most companies mainly implicate consultants (from the system provider or a licensed consulting partner) after they’ve chosen a solution. However, many companies would like to call on “independent,” neutral consultants when it comes to selecting a system. There are a number of treasury consultants in the industry who are considered “software-independent.” In this fast-paced industry where both technologies and system providers change regularly, it is a great challenge for independent consultants to stay “on the ball” and keep up to date with system development. Are you really familiar with the latest functionalities of all different systems? Are you asking the right questions, and are you able to draw up pre-selection check lists down to the necessary detail? We witness in many RfPs that this is often not the case. The level of detail of specific questions reflects the preconceptions of the consultant and implies notions that are out of date, with better alternatives available. Is it possible to connect Bank X via Global EBICS? Technically, it’s possible – but does it make sense in this specific case? Not always! It might be that a SWIFT connection would be much more suited to the needs of a company, and also more economical in the long run when the established channel is used for more than one purpose (e.g. confirmation matching, trade finance).
Consulting in tune with industry developments – a great challenge
The system provider landscape is changing rapidly: mergers, acquisitions, new providers, niche software, and at the same time constantly new technological opportunities and services – a consultant needs to stay on top of all of this. The differences between the providers are becoming increasingly less pronounced in some areas. A few years ago, BELLIN was still the only provider backing web-based treasury management next to on-site installations. Today, SaaS is commonplace. It might have actually become a challenge to find a provider such as BELLIN who offers both cloud and on-site TMS access. The same goes for SWIFT connections: BELLIN pioneered this technology and still has the most experience. But of course there are now other providers whose TMS also enable direct SWIFT connection. At the same time, we’re witnessing a trend to outsource specific skills, and more and more system providers offer specific functionalities in cooperation with software partners. Bank fee analysis with Vallstein, sanction screening with external specialists such as Accuity, market data with external providers – these are all options that need to be taken into consideration as part of a selection process. More often than not, it’s not as easy as simply ticking “yes” or “no” in an RfP checklist to determine meaningful and important differentiating factors.
Checklists: the semblance of accuracy
It is actually often more helpful to retain a certain, conscious “looseness” in a selection process. Checklists with hundreds of questions, painstakingly weighing off “yeses” against “nos” frequently don’t reveal the perfect solution, but only give the semblance of accuracy. Answering “no” to a question doesn’t necessarily mean a provider cannot offer the requested functionality at all; it may just be that this specific provider’s setup no longer requires this functionality, with the issue covered differently. “Is it possible to automatically send reports to subsidiaries in country XYZ?” would be a typical question in this context. Technically, we would have to answer “no” – but simply for the reason that in our system this is really no longer necessary: all group companies, anywhere in the world, have access to the system at no extra cost or with no extra effort. Anyone with the respective permissions can call up the report. No need to send it and force subsidiaries to wait forever. Reports are generated based on real-time data and are made available “live.” If you don’t look beyond the literal answer to the question, you might be missing out on a better alternative.
Open-ended questions on the other hand have the potential of showing in detail how a system provider would approach a specific topic, and allow them to outline their solution. My personal recommendation would be to not bother wasting too much energy on a pre-selection stage with longlists, shortlists etc. or the creation of checklists, but to invest more time in “getting to know” the approaches of selected providers, committing to a scoping workshop. These workshops with a few select system providers offer the opportunity to benefit from a detailed presentation of possible solutions, for example by drawing on use cases.
No less important is the question of whether or not a business partner is a good fit for your company. What is their setup, what is their corporate philosophy? A system partner represents a long-term business relationship, and treasury management is “people business.” That means that the people behind a solution (consultants, support staff etc.) make a real difference. “Know who you’re dealing with!” – this applies more than ever. Taking a closer look can reveal if your treasury provider shares similar values, or if they have a sound and solid background. What is the ownership structure? How has the company developed? Is this a reliable, long-term partner whose business is in the black, or are you dealing with a 100% private equity firm forever chasing after higher profit margins?
You should really take the time to find out in detail about reference projects: was the project completed on schedule and within budget? Did the customer receive everything they were promised, and did the provider keep their word? Looking beyond your own nose and taking soft facts into consideration is more useful than getting caught up in details ahead of the presentation date and pre-constructing solutions based on the evaluation of questionnaires.
Don’t anticipate technical solutions, ask the right questions!
Including a consultant in your system selection process or the restructuring of your treasury department does make sense. This consultant should then have the clear role of helping your company ask the right questions and of highlighting the important issues. However, from my point of view, drawing up a specific (technological) solution and matching these requirements with a system provider – while looking for an exact match – is not the way forward.
Sometimes, businesses call on a consultant and work out a pre-conceived solution reflecting specific notions on how such and such detail should be implemented, essentially relegating the system provider to the rank of “contract developer.” They risk missing out on better solutions and waste the opportunity to draw on the expertise of software providers and treasury specialists who have encountered similar challenges inmany other successful projects.
The opposite are businesses who make use of external consultants to focus on describing the issue, to analyze existing processes in detail, and to draw conclusions from this analysis regarding their needs for the future. To them, the combination of external consulting and system provider consulting presents real added value and helps the company find the best possible solution meeting their particular needs.