From the December-January 2010 issue of Treasury & Risk magazine

On-the-Go Treasury

Wall Street Systems is introducing big mobile to big treasury workstations. Until now treasury staffs were limited in what they could accomplish with mobile devices. The new application runs on Wall Street Suite, its most powerful traditionally installed software for large banks and multinational corporations. All that functionality can now be accessed through a mobile device as well as a laptop or desktop, says Mark Lewis, director of corporate treasury at Wall Street Systems (WSS).

After years of growing mobile popularity, WSS is making its move now because the technology has improved to the point where it can support complex corporate applications, Lewis says. "In the past 12 to 18 months, the mobile devices have become rich enough to operate something as robust as Wall Street Suite. A mobile browser now is fully equivalent to a laptop browser. We've tested the mobile networks and WiFi, and they're up to the task."

By press time, Wall Street had tested the application internally, but not with treasury clients. Large corporate workstation users began asking for mobile access just six months ago, Lewis says. "This has been a recent development."

WSS' mobile offering comes as corporations are tightening their belts to ride out the rocky economy, making productivity more important than ever. "Being able to work remotely makes treasury officials more efficient," Lewis says. "A treasury manager who is traveling, commuting or working from home could hear a rumor that a key bank or counterparty was in trouble, pull out his or her mobile, get a counterparty risk management report in real time and take steps immediately to mitigate the problem."

Laurie Steele uses mobile sparingly, but she says it definitely makes her more productive. She is the elected treasurer of Marion County, Ore., home to Salem, the state capital. She heads a treasury staff of three that sees $700 million of cash flow annually. And she's an enthusiastic user of mobile access to Wells Fargo's Commercial Electronic Office (CEO), the bank's browser-based treasury platform.

"I don't know how I lived without it. It's so much a part of how I do my job," Steele says. She doesn't use mobile access when she's in the office, but she's out of the office a lot. "It gives me flexibility," she explains. "I do a lot of audits in various departments. I can leave home and go straight to my first audit without having to stop in the office first to check balances and move money. I'm not chained to my desk. I just use my BlackBerry.

"With our small staff, we have to be productive, and the mobile connection lets me get more done," Steele continues. "It also gives us better controls because I can still review and approve an outgoing wire, even if I'm not in the office." She started using mobile access to check balances and now uses it for wire approval and positive pay review and approval as well. "We can even use it to initiate a non-repetitive wire," she says.

While Wells has been offering selective mobile access for almost two years, Lewis says the WSS move is a breakthrough, mobilizing risk management and opening the door to managing multiple banking relationships from one central platform. "If a payment needed to be made urgently, a person on the ground with a mobile might need to choose which of several banks to route it through," he says.

WSS may have built it, but will treasurers come? Mobile has its place, but it is best employed for small applications, not large ones, argues Richard Thompson, leader of the treasury technology practice at Strategic Treasurer in Atlanta. "It works best for narrowly defined situations where a user must take action."

Data-intensive activities should be avoided on mobile devices, Thompson argues. "Use it like a dashboard, tied to exception information like responding to someone crossing a limit or expediting an urgent wire. It's not well suited to broad activities like forecasting or cash positioning." When possible, it's best to use mobile to receive a message or alert that you have a situation and then go to a secure site to deal with it, he advises.

But big mobile is coming, and WSS is out in front of a wave that is just starting to build, says Enrico Camerinelli, senior research analyst at Celent. Mobile cash management is evolving from bank-to-corporate messages to interactive activity, he says, and most banks are putting their development dollars into expanding and integrating their services rather than trying to introduce a new mobile delivery channel. "There still is not a lot of user demand," Camerinelli says. The interest comes mostly from treasury pros who are away from their offices a lot.

Wells Fargo has been a pioneer in the mobile-for-treasury space. The bank has been steadily expanding its service, but "there's still a lot you can't do on mobile," says Amy Johnson, channel manager for the CEO Mobile service. "We've been cherry-picking the activities you can do, those that fit the technology and the needs of treasury managers on the go. We've been rolling out new features every quarter. But we still avoid the data-intensive stuff."

Wells' mobile users, who make up less than half of the CEO client base, can now initiate or approve wires, Johnson says, and notes that $3 billion in wires have flowed through the mobile product in a year and a half. Users also can see intraday and previous-day balances, controlled disbursement summaries, lockbox availability and intraday returned items. And they can both review and approve positive pay exceptions. "We've really improved that functionality," Johnson says. "You can see clear images, and you can zoom in on quadrants."

"Demand is increasing," reports Greg Malosh, head of global client access products at Bank of New York Mellon, which is researching a mobile offering. "It's not a must-have now, but it will be." The interest reflects the need for business continuity, he notes. "It's not what they'd use in the office, but they want a backup for when they're not there."

The most popular activity will be viewing balances and transactional data, Malosh predicts, followed by approving transactions. Initiating transactions is lower on the list. "Entering the data for a non-repetitive wire initiation on a mobile device is pretty tedious," he observes. "It's easier, when you can, to get to a PC with more screen real estate."

But to satisfy the need for business continuity, the mobile device pretty much has to do everything, Malosh says. That's why a move like Wall Street Systems' offering of full functionality through a mobile connection makes sense.

"It doesn't surprise me," Malosh says. "Mobile access to treasury workstations is inevitable. I expect other competitors to follow suit. It will definitely happen, but probably over several years."

Comments