As a wave of new technologieslike blockchain and robotic process automation begin to play a role in business andcommerce, a recent report suggests treasury and finance executivesmay not be prepared to help their companies make the most of theopportunities presented by the new technologies.

|

A survey of 279 treasury and finance professionals conducted bythe Association for Financial Professionals (AFP) found that 36percent think their company is “not prepared” or only “minimallyprepared” for the new technologies. Just 11 percent of thosesurveyed described their organization as “very prepared” or “fullyprepared.”

|

Nancy Atkinson, principal and founder of GTB Consulting, saidshe wasn't surprised by the results. “Generally speaking, I don'tthink treasury has a strong focus on technology and on newtechnologies,” Atkinson said. “They look on that as something needsto mature a bit more and eventually they'll look at it.” Treasuryprofessionals may also rely on their banks to inform them about newtechnology, she said.

|

“Blockchain in particular I think is something that treasury hasjust paid zero attention to,” Atkinson said. But she argued that“there is just such an opportunity with the new technologies.”

|

“Treasury has to do two things: Begin to think about how thattechnology can make processes more efficient, reduce costs, andincrease security, and then begin to think about a larger role interms of the strategic role they can play in the organization,”said Jim Kaitz, president and CEO at AFP.

|

The AFP survey was accompanied by a white paper that thatfocuses on three up-and-coming technologies: robotic processautomation (RPA), artificial intelligence (AI), and blockchain.

|

Atkinson sees RPA as the technology that's probably easiest toimplement and therefore most likely to happen soon.

|

“The ERP vendors, as well as treasury management solutionproviders, probably have already started to implement robotics intoa number of their solutions, so treasury and finance might begetting those benefits without even knowing that they're there,”she said.

|

In a couple of years, RPA “is probably going to become tablestakes—just absolutely necessary or you can't continue tofunction,” Atkinson said. “You need that level of data or you'renot going to be competitive with others out there.”

|

Kaitz said RPA and blockchain are likely to arrive sooner thanAI. He cited possible payment applications for blockchain in whichthe distributed ledger technology could serve as a network to movepayments to suppliers.

|

Atkinson agreed that AI would take longer to arrive. “Thechallenge I see is that it takes a specialization and an expertisethat most people in most companies simply don't have,” she said.“It's going to take turning to artificial intelligence companiesand working with them to come up with something that will work.

|

“I think we'll see some impact from [AI] in three to five years,but it probably won't truly take over for five to seven years,” sheadded.

|

According to the AFP survey, 55 percent of treasury and financeprofessionals have no plans to implement robotic processautomation, 54 percent have no plans to implement AI, and 51% haveno plans to implement blockchain.

|

Wendy Conley, head of cash management solutions at Finastra, thefinancial technology company formed earlier this year by the mergerof treasury system provider Misys and D+H, suggested that thearrival of new technologies might alter the relationships betweencompanies and their banks.

|

Traditionally, Conley said, banks would provide solutions forcorporate customers. “As you look at these new technologies, itprovides a mechanism for that traditional service provider toreally change. When you start to get into the innovativetechnologies like robotics and AI, that still can follow atraditional solution path, but it pushes the envelope,” shesaid.

|

The adoption time frame will also change, Conley predicted. “Aswe move forward, I think there's going to have to be an acceptancethat things are not tried, true, and proven in the market for 10years before I adopt them. I think corporates will find theirproviders are doing things in a more agile fashion.

|

Tha t doesn't mean it absolutely brings onmore risk,” she added. “You need to be more agile, more aggressive,in how you develop and adopt those technologies—that, to me, is aculture shift we all have to make.”

|

Learning Curve

So how can finance and treasury staffers get up to speed on newtechnology?

|

“The first thing for all of us is to step back and just be alittle intellectually curious,” Kaitz said. He suggested thatfinance and treasury professionals should try to “identify thosetechnologies that can have somewhat of a short-term impact on theprofession and separate the wheat from the chaff.”

|

AFP is seeing interest from its members in technologyinnovations. At its annual conference this fall, “every blockchainsession was sold out,” Kaitz said. “We had a blockchain event onSaturday afternoon before the conference started in San Diego, and200 people showed up.”

|

He also noted AFP'sMindshift, which is an effort to identify the technologies thatwill be important for treasury and finance, “but also try to dosomething in terms of proof of concept so you can start to see whatthe practical aspects are.”

|

Atkinson acknowledged that spending time thinking abouttechnological innovations can be difficult for treasury and financeemployees “embroiled in day-to-day activity,” but added thatfamiliarity with technology “has become something that's verycritical for everybody in their careers.

|

“It's paying attention at conferences; it's paying attention towhat the media talks about,” she said. “As new technologies emergeon the scene, think about them and think, 'Is there a way thatcould be used in my industry?'”

|

Mobile Banking

Another recent report shows some progress has occurred onanother technology front. According to a survey conducted by Capital One, treasury and financeexecutives are finally warming up to mobile banking. Its survey of124 finance professionals at AFP's conference in October shows that38 percent said everyone in the finance group could handle financefunctions from their mobile phone, up from 23 percent in a surveyCapital One conducted last year.

|

Atkinson said she thought the increased use of mobile bankingwas “largely generational”: “Millennials are now in the workforce,with, in some cases, some substantial responsibilities,” she said.“They're used to the convenience of [mobile capabilities], and Iwould expect they will continue to demand the flexibility andconvenience of mobile capabilities in their jobs as well.”

|

Chad Wallace, head of commercial digital channels at CapitalOne, also cited people's increasing comfort with mobile devices andtechnology given their use of mobile devices as consumers.

|

“The shift to broad mobile acceptance has driven theavailability of an ever-increasing number of mobile products in thecorporate environment with security and ease of use that suitscorporate needs,” Wallace said in an email.

|

He also cited the investments that banks have made in mobileapplications to provide “a wide breadth of security and usabilityfeatures.”

Complete your profile to continue reading and get FREE access to Treasury & Risk, part of your ALM digital membership.

  • Critical Treasury & Risk information including in-depth analysis of treasury and finance best practices, case studies with corporate innovators, informative newsletters, educational webcasts and videos, and resources from industry leaders.
  • Exclusive discounts on ALM and Treasury & Risk events.
  • Access to other award-winning ALM websites including PropertyCasualty360.com and Law.com.
NOT FOR REPRINT

© 2024 ALM Global, LLC, All Rights Reserved. Request academic re-use from www.copyright.com. All other uses, submit a request to [email protected]. For more information visit Asset & Logo Licensing.

Susan Kelly

Susan Kelly is a business journalist who has written for Treasury & Risk, FierceCFO, Global Finance, Financial Week, Bridge News and The Bond Buyer.