The economic crisis has vaporized the vestiges of traditionalism that still pervaded a lot of middle-market companies and forced their executives to think about new ways of doing things. "This has been a great time to step back and take a fresh look at internal processes, efficiency and cash flow drivers," notes Bernie Avondet, senior treasury management adviser at Cleveland-based KeyBank. "Cost is a big concern, and we certainly see cost-cutting, but cash flow is an even bigger concern, and we're seeing middle-market companies spend money on treasury workstations or other high-tech tools that will help them improve cash flow."

Middle-market companies are emulating large corporations by adopting more sophisticated services as they become increasingly affordable and easy to use, reports Laurie McCulley, a principal at Treasury Strategies in Chicago. "They're seeing that they can leverage technology. They're becoming involved in areas where they were never active before," McCulley says. "We've seen companies under $1 billion in annual revenue set up global cash pooling structures. That's new. They're using SWIFT directly through the Alliance Lite model and finding it quick and inexpensive. They're taking on global activity, either through sales or sourcing or both. They're encountering foreign exchange issues. They're worrying about their cash visibility globally."

Companies that were family-based and check-based, Avondet says, are turning to technology-based solutions for payments and fraud protection. In some cases, the crisis inspired the older generation of a family business to pass the torch to a younger generation more open to technology. "There's more of a fresh, new outlook these days," he observes. Fresh thinking and leveraging technology is certainly evident at Columbia Sportswear.

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