We seem to be in a distant time warp from the environment that we all experienced just a few months back. I was at the fantastic setting of the Kempinski Palm Jumeirahin Dubai in January 2020 for the 1st gathering of iGTB Oxford School of Transaction Banking alumni. There I heard the challenges and ambitions of a group of highly qualified financial professionals across a wide spectrum of industries. I was party to the comments made on constraints of banking partners – getting the operating fabric of day-to-day business right, securing fast decision making and achieving more permanency from the relationship management teams.
I also heard their high expectations of banks to provide more accessible real time account information, better analytics, and to share learnings on how to leverage newer technologies in a more relevant way so that the treasury function could support business better. We had rare use case insights of how robotic process automation and blockchain can actually improve business logistics and support core cross border trade activity. Such snippets of real life activity were rewarding in their relevancy in painting an environment that was grounded in pragmatism but also forward looking, hopeful and realistic in expectation.
How the landscape has changed today! We are in the A&E ward of hospital care –living off any spare equipment. Treasurers are reeling and going back to the fundamental basics of Treasury Management 1.0.
If ever we had to go back to valuing the soundness of the first principles of treasury management it is now. How to understand the hard way the real significance of working capital management, liquidity provisioning and the need for accurate data to assess the rhythm of collections and payments of the business: The critical importance in having those credit facilities and back stop loan agreements as well as cash in the bank to meet unexpected payment obligations.
For many SME companies growth was always the key parameter. But now locked in a major economic tsunami the panic buttons are being pressed. How to cut costs, how to delay payments, how to explore force majeure contractual conditions to by pass cash deployment. And yes how to re-engage with critical banking partners and maintain the balanced argumentation around invoking contingency support as well as claiming a rightful place in the queue for governmental support schemes.
Tomorrow’s imperatives for many have a time horizon of days. Not even the present quarter is a meaningful calendar reference point. This is a short sentence where survival relies on speed and action. We can only hope that normality returns really quickly and that support schemes are fluid, generous and easy to mobilise. Banking institutions are clearly working hard to unlock all the lifelines they can for the corporate community. Central banks are waiving critical regulatory capital ratios and ensuring liquidity floods the market.
Preserving bank cash and liquidity levels is a top priority. We remain truly mindful of the challenges that the finance industry faces in an unprecedented point in history. If only we could turn back time…that elusive ingredient that is not unfortunately on the side of many treasurers. Our thoughts go out to our colleagues and friends across the banking and corporate worlds as they navigate this pandemic.
As the wise bard said – ‘Defer no time, delays have dangerous ends.’