From the September/October 2012 issue of Treasury & Risk magazine

Good Migrations

Sponsor: Bank of America

Treasurers are keen for their banks to enhance their systems and improve the speed, efficiency and functionalities available – not to mention keeping up-to-date with changing regulatory requirements. But the process of migrating to new treasury systems or platforms can place additional demands on the corporate treasurer. While the onus is on the bank to make the migration as smooth as possible, there are also steps that treasurers can take to improve the experience.

Treasurers are well aware of the significant challenges present with their own systems upgrades or conversions, such as migrating to a new treasury workstation. However, they cannot always anticipate the additional work and costs that may occur when their banking provider enhances its systems. So how can treasurers minimize the disruption and get the most out of a technology upgrade initiated by their treasury services provider?

DOUBLE EDGED SWORD

It’s a familiar story for corporate treasurers: a banking provider approaches them in February and tells them about a wonderful enhancement they are planning in June. In such cases, the treasurer tends to have mixed feelings. On the one hand, the improved capabilities that will result from the upgrade are welcomed, or indeed actively sought. On the other hand, the treasurer may have several other projects planned over the same period and may feel that they don’t have the time or resources needed to accommodate the upgrade.

In principle, of course, treasurers are eager for their banks to offer up-to-date technology to help them do their jobs more effectively. The client experience offered by easily navigable websites continues to raise the bar for banking technology.  While banks have responded well in the consumer arena, they haven’t necessarily been able to keep up with their corporate clients’ expectations as it pertains to systems and technology in the same way. As a result, improving in this area is now a high priority for banks. In order to meet their clients’ requirements for better and faster technology, banks tend to upgrade their systems and platforms on a regular basis – far more frequently than treasurers plan upgrades to their own systems.

But with banks continually working to improve their systems and often investing hundreds of millions of dollars in order to do so, what types of improvements are to be expected? Delivering enhanced client experience, improved interfaces, straight-through processing and technologically advanced features to corporate clients is typically a priority.  For example, combining multiple platforms into a single one can increase the speed of processing transactions as well as offer clients greater convenience.

Compliance is another common theme: banks are continually working to keep their systems as robust as possible, particularly where client data is concerned.  At the same time, banks are spending a greater amount of time and resources in order to comply with legal and regulatory stipulations around the world relating to payment, receipt and liquidity solutions. Banks spend money on developing these capabilities, and as a result, treasurers avoid the astronomical fees that would arise if they had to fulfil these compliance requirements themselves. Indeed, for some banks the cost of complying with additional regulation is becoming prohibitive; especially with a high-volume, low-margin business like payments.

However great the advantage of an upgrade might be, the fact remains that corporate treasurers rarely welcome the news that their banking provider is migrating their systems.

This sentiment is justified: while a systems migration does not necessarily result in a performance gap, it cannot be denied that the migration will result in additional work for the treasurer, particularly given that many treasuries today have to achieve higher volumes of work with fewer staff than in the past. And unlike a migration to a new treasury workstation that the treasurer will have planned for, budgeted for and scheduled, they have limited control over the timing of a bank system upgrade.

A SMOOTH TRANSITION

In order to minimize the disruption for their corporate clients, banks are working to make transitions such as this as less painful. Key to achieving this is working closely with clients to help ensure that upgrades will not have an impact on bespoke systems companies have developed. For example, the bank will need to understand not just its own systems but also the client’s infrastructure, including home-grown technology and workarounds surrounding various processes. Doing this effectively requires significant resources on the part of the bank.

Aside from the steps banks can take, there are also measures that treasurers can implement in order to make technology transitions as smooth as possible. For one thing, they can take advantage of resources that the bank may offer which could help to improve the migration experience. The bank’s own onboarding and implementation teams understand how to manage complex projects of this nature and can help treasurers adapt to planned changes. Furthermore, some banks offer dedicated business solutions to their corporate clients to help facilitate quick and efficient migrations handled with appropriate safety measures. This might involve sharing best practice or solving a problem on behalf of the client and would be structured as a separate engagement from the company’s banking relationships. Not all systems migrations are instigated by the bank; in fact the resources that the bank provides can also be called upon when a company transfers from one provider to another.

Finally, treasurers can better control bank system upgrades by asking their services provider to alert them about planned upgrades well in advance. Knowledge is power – and knowing in advance when systems updates are scheduled can make a significant difference to treasurers looking to avoid impacts resulting from their bank’s technology upgrades on their in-house projects. The bank may believe that four months’ notice is sufficient for its corporate clients, but for the treasurer, knowing what is planned six or even 12 months before it takes place would often be far more valuable, particularly towards the end of the year when treasurers are putting together their budget and objectives for the coming 12 months.

CONCLUSION

Treasurers want their banking providers to offer sophisticated products and services that will make their lives easier while complying with the necessary regulations. Banks are responding to this desire by investing large sums of money in enhancing the speed and efficiency of their platforms and systems. The flipside is that this tends to result in frequent systems upgrades, which can cause an unplanned disruption for the corporate treasurers they are designed to benefit.

The key to making technology transitions as smooth as possible lies in clear communication between the treasurer and their bank. As banks continue to improve communication to clients about upcoming migrations, treasurers can also help by proactively seeking information at the time when it is most helpful to them.

 

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