CFOs, treasurers, and other finance professionals are under constant pressure to make the best possible decisions with their company’s working capital “in the moment.” This pressure can be especially intense within a global company that has liquid assets residing around the world.
For example, an organization may have several foreign accounts in which it holds a significant portion of its assets, liabilities due (which may or may not include incentives to pay early), and stocks in foreign corporations. The company must optimize performance of all of these accounts, keeping in mind exchange rates, taxes (factoring in transfer pricing and related issues), and a number of other variables.
The more complicated a company’s financial picture, the more difficult it is for finance managers to know when they should move liquid assets between countries, when to reinvest or sell stocks, and whether the organization should pay off liabilities or take on debt. That’s why, for many complex global organizations, using technology to gain a consolidated, real-time view into the company’s cash position is not the next “best practice,” it’s just the next practice.
But picking the right system is crucial. Here are some key questions that companies need to answer as part of the cash management software selection process.
Does your company have global accounts, or only domestic accounts? Every company shopping for cash management software needs to make sure the packages on its shortlist are built to support the markets in which the company operates. Each country, state, and region has unique laws and regulations pertaining to taxation and employment. Financial software can be a huge asset in ensuring that purchases, investments, and hiring practices meet all relevant rules, without tying up the legal team’s time unnecessarily.
This is especially relevant when it comes to doing business with a new bank. If a bank has a negative rating, and the cash management system can provide reports on the assets and cash within that bank, this may impact corporate treasury guidance. Ideally, the system would allow treasury to set policies to protect cash flows and investments, and would generate robust reports to help cash managers initiate preventative actions.
Does local bank information flow into your global systems? When your company is making major business decisions—for example, determining the financial benefits and constraints of new products or services—decision-makers need a clear picture of all relevant business data. By tying together all data from treasury and then integrating it into the enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, a company makes all necessary information available in one place.
However, most governments have laws about the flow of assets from entities based within their borders to those based outside of them, including between banks. Bank communication capabilities are typically bound to the specifics of the underlying ERP; this means that with the right solution, diverse communication channels can be automated and managed with minimal manual effort. An effective solution allows a company to link from its ERP either directly to the bank or, alternatively, to SWIFT or other network providers.
Additionally, if banking information is integrated into your global business, you’ll have very real security concerns about keeping your clients’ and investors’ information safe. If we talk about underlying ERP systems, the security improvements are inherited through the elimination of manual data entry steps, along with the obvious advantages of time and cost savings.
A close connection between treasury and ERP allows users to go beyond just analyzing the data: Teams are able to drive immediate insight to action, with all changes reflected in the general ledger.
Do you require multilingual software for sharing treasury data between business units? If your company has offices in many different countries, it’s unlikely that all of your employees will speak the same language. As you decide on a financial system, think about systems that can produce forms, databases, and dashboards you’ll need available in the different languages your employees speak. This may also be a relevant consideration for companies that operate only domestically, but do so in a large country such as the United States, Canada, China, Russia, or Spain, as local employees in these nations may speak a variety of native languages.
Along the same lines, consider whether the financial systems on your shortlist are localized in ways that go beyond language. Consider whether each software package includes forms, definitions, etc., that would streamline your foreign operations’ ability to meet country-specific regulations and to abide by local customs, as appropriate.
Are all staff members employees, or is there a mix of employees and contractors? With each new hire come more regulations. From tax paperwork to benefits filings, each head under your company’s roof must be accounted for, reported on, paid, and served in often highly individualized ways. With many companies turning to contingent labor to fill their talent gaps, accounting for dispersed payroll information after the fact can be a challenging process.
While it may seem that payroll and treasury are separate, an efficient and accurate payroll system will allow for faster and more impactful cash forecasting, which will mean less guessing when it comes to future investment opportunities. The right platform can also provide an intuitive system that keeps straight the needs of each employee and contractor. As a global business hires workers overseas, corporate finance needs to make sure that the company is complying fully with local laws and regulations, and needs to have legal and tax information available to accommodate needs of the foreign government.
How complicated is your company's inventory process? This is especially applicable to e-commerce brands, but it can apply to all industries. When selecting software for treasury and cash management, make sure to keep in mind how complicated your organization’s inventory process is, and what numbers must be recorded and tracked. For example, a paper manufacturer may need to track the cost, weight, and source of its pulp and resulting products, but may not need to have packaging data readily available for its inventory. However, a fromager most certainly will—for both supplies and products.
Like payroll, inventory has historically seemed worlds away from treasury, though the two interact heavily. However, with the right solution, all data can be pulled into one central platform that allows for more accurate forecasting by factoring in all expenses the company can expect to incur.
How does your supply chain work? Does your company generally deal with vendors through simple, one-off transactions? Or does it tend to have ongoing relationships that entail automatic purchase orders and regularly scheduled deliveries of new material? Are there global master contracts in place? Do the contracts include a dynamic discounting function? Do some of your vendors exchange their products and services for your own, instead of currency-based transactions? These are all incredibly important questions to consider when deciding which treasury management software solution will work for your organization, and how it should interact and integrate with your supply management system.
For example, in the case of a complicated, global supply chain, you’ll want to look for a cash management solution that factors in banks and SWIFT, marketplaces and dealing platforms such as FX All and 360T, and market-data providers such as Bloomberg and Reuters. It is also important for a system to factor in legal compliance standards, such as EMIR in Europe.
How does your company use financial forecasting? Companies that have only regional or local brands, work with local vendors, and are privately owned may not prioritize having up-to-the-minute financial reporting. However, every public company—as well as every private company that is thinking of going public, that has investors to report to, or that wants peace of mind for its leadership team—needs a treasury system that can provide details, at a moment’s notice, about exactly where all of the organization’s assets lie.
The main forecasting-related differentiators among cash management software packages revolve around the creation of reports. How frequently do you expect to need to run financial reports? How quickly do you expect them to take to compile? And how much detail are you likely to be looking for?
Consider your current cash forecasting and financial reporting processes. If today you’re generating specific reports at a regular interval, you’ll need to make sure the treasury systems you’re considering can support that schedule. Of course, as you rethink your treasury infrastructure, this might also be a good time to revamp reporting processes. If your current reporting process is cumbersome, consider whether you really want to continue to wait until the end of the period to get data that supports crucial business decisions. If you’re thinking about rolling out real-time or rolling forecasting, evaluate whether the treasury systems on your shortlist can support these needs as well.
To what degree would you prefer for financial operations to be automated? Sophisticated software systems have the potential to save finance and treasury staff from a great number of manual activities. For example, does your finance team currently dedicate large swaths of time to the monthly reporting process? The right treasury management system can automate the entire reporting process, so that a large variety of data can be compiled into beautiful documents with a few clicks of a button.
Ultimately, this question comes down to the investment that your organization is willing to make in financial software in order to free up employee time for more analytical activities like scenario planning and similar simulations.
Will your customers have a portal through which they can check the status of their account? If you have an online portal that customers can log into, there’s likely at least a small component that addresses their financial involvement in the company—whether it’s a screen that shows recent purchases, status of open orders, or the state of the customer’s payment plan. Consider whether this is a value-add to your client base, and how much it improves customer experience. Would treasury software that provides instant updates to such a portal be worth the investment? There are some cash management platforms that provide this type of functionality, and companies that use it often find it a boon for customer satisfaction and experience.
Does your finance system connect to a business network? If you use a vendor network, or if you work in cohort with other companies to produce a joint product, it’s very important that your brand match the financial records and reporting capabilities of those companies in order for necessary filing to go smoothly and regulations to be met by all those concerned. Having a cash management system that integrates into the rest of your management software is integral to the efficiency at which your business operates. Instead of having to plug in numbers from one software into another, and figure out which is the right number, the platforms should be interconnected and automated.
Do you have an integrated business planning process that balances finance with supply and demand? If your organization often makes investments in other businesses, or offers business or consumer loans, your solution of choice must enable the finance department to forecast the repercussions of decisions around those transactions before they’re made.
If you can manage, within your long-term forecast (e.g., 12-month time horizon), the forecasted inflows and outflows per liquidity item (purchase or investment) and currency, you can better define a strategy on how to hedge certain foreign exchange (FX) fluctuations. For example, if you are a USD-functional company, and you expect over a six-month time frame to see a high outflow of EUR or CHF that cannot be netted with an inflow, then you need to hedge your anticipated outflows against the FX risk.
By being able to see the impact in full, and organize your financial allocation, you can eliminate surprises and move assets with total confidence.
The pace of business is moving too fast for finance to fall behind. If you decide to take control of your company’s cash by implementing cash and liquidity management software, answering these 11 questions will provide a solid foundation for the due diligence process around software selection.
Henner Schliebs is vice president and head of finance audience marketing for SAP. He has over 15 years of experience working in the big data and finance industries, and is part of the team spearheading SAP’s Simple Finance initiative.