The texting, tweeting, social networking members of Gen Y are starting to invade corporate treasuries, bringing along their passion for mobile communication. How well they work with their Gen X managers and baby boomer top executives depends on how well they all use mutual understanding to bridge the generation and communication technology gaps. The gap may not be huge. Gen Yers--those born in the '80s and '90s--are a Facebook/Twitter generation with dexterous thumbs. Generational differences on using mobile technology do create some tension in treasuries, says Phil Capodice, a consultant with Treasury Strategies in Chicago. However, senior managers have been pressured for years to use the latest technology to gain efficiencies. Graying treasurers may or may not be on Facebook, but they are old hands with laptops and BlackBerries. "Mobile technology spans the generations," Capodice says. "There's still a gap, but it has been closing for several years."
Intergenerational treasury is working well at Diebold, a provider of banking and security systems in Canton, Ohio. Simon Bishop signed up for a three-month stint with $3 billion Diebold at age 22. He had just graduated from the Leeds University Business School in England with a B.A. in economics.
Working in Diebold's shared service center in Leeds, Bishop became involved in a European banking interface project led by assistant treasurer Steve Wolgamott. Now, at 28, Bishop is Diebold's treasury manager for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and runs the company's in-house bank, GTB.
"Although I was interested in the finance arena, I didn't really have a firm career plan initially," Bishop notes. At the time, ABN Amro ran GTB for Diebold, but the company wanted to bring it back in house.
"Steve offered me a position based in Switzerland to help set up and run GTB's daily operations," Bishop says. "Opportunities like that don't come around every day, so I jumped at the chance."
Still the youngest person on the treasury team, Bishop reports no problems with a generation gap. He does note that the recent addition of Microsoft Communicator has been picked up more quickly by younger people than senior management.
"It works like a real-time chat mechanism," he explains. "What you send pops up instantly on the recipient's desktop or laptop, and they can reply quickly."
One reason popular devices like Androids and iPads are not common treasury tools is that corporate mobile banking is still largely unavailable, Capodice says. "Senior management still has major concerns about security. That's why mobile banking is used by probably less than 5% of corporate treasuries." But that is changing, he reports, noting that Treasury Strategies is working with banks planning mobile banking offerings for companies.
"In the next couple of years, the applications will be there to allow treasury staffs to do a majority of their daily operations from remote locations," Capodice says. "Then we'll see what management will allow." As mobile banking opens up, he says there may be more tension between security-conscious senior managers and younger workers who value speed and convenience.
So far, a smartphone is not important to Bishop's work. His key tool is a laptop that links to Diebold's virtual private network. "Everything is 100% securely accessible provided you have an Internet connection," he says. "You can log on from home or while you're on a business trip or vacation the same as if you were in the office."
In general, the software is not there yet to do day-to-day treasury business with a smartphone, Bishop agrees, "but it's on its way. Our goal is to be able to do our jobs from anywhere, anytime, so we can react quickly to an urgent situation. We're pretty much there with current technology, but smartphone access to banking systems will complete the process."
Her iPhone already is an important professional tool for Stacy Allen, treasurer and vice president at Gemino Healthcare Finance in Philadelphia. She is not part of Gen Y ("That would be my children," Allen says), but the 41-year-old stays on the leading edge of mobile treasury applications. She is celebrating progress, thanks to a mobile treasury application introduced by her bank in 2010.
"I depend on my iPhone to initiate or approve wires and move money among our accounts when I am on the road," Allen says. "It's much simpler and easier to take care of business now that there's a corporate banking app for the iPhone."
That app from Citizens Financial Group allows her to zoom in on the parts of the forms she needs to use, making the fields and keys much bigger.
Allen traces her progress: "I started with a broadband card in my laptop, but that was slow and unreliable. Then I got an iPhone and used it to connect through the Internet, but it was difficult to initiate wires on that small screen. Last fall, I piloted the iPhone app with Citizens, and the difference is amazing. I use the same log-in, user ID and secure token to gain access that I use at my desktop. Now I can wire funds to a client, and they have the money in less than five minutes." Gemino lends to healthcare companies.
Allen has an iPad and says "the bigger screen would facilitate mobile bank reporting, since we have over 100 accounts." But she's waiting for Citizens to release an app for the iPad. When she's in the office, Allen uses her desktop because it's still more convenient.
Citizens, based in Providence, R.I., enables iPhone, iPad and iTouch users to do all their online banking with these devices except initiating wires. Now the bank is building a more robust application that will work with other mobile devices and expects to make it available in the third quarter, reports Steve Wooters, Citizens' head of market delivery for America. He says 2,200 users have downloaded the app so far.
"The mobile train has left the station," Wooters insists. "With lean staffs, companies need to be able to manage their cash at any time from any place." Citizens is an affiliate of the Royal Bank of Scotland.
Don't expect even the most progressive treasurers to let their departments move into Twitter and Facebook.
"Management is very security conscious," Capodice says. "They want to see thin slices of their treasury operations opened up to mobile applications, just enough for someone to approve a trade, review an exception or upload a dashboard."
For more on treasuries' use of mobile devices, see On-the-Go Treasury.
For more on the new generation of treasury workers, see Hiring the Graduating Class.