Asian companies face fierce competition for treasury talent

Finance personnel resources are stretched to the limit as more companies set up treasury hubs in the region and a new breed of Asia-based MNC propagates.
Andrew Ng, head of treasury and markets at DBS
Andrew Ng, head of treasury and markets at DBS

The emergence of Asia-based multinational companies is adding to the competition for corporate treasury talent, said Andrew Ng, head of treasury and markets at DBS. “It’s not so much a dearth of corporate treasury talent, rather it is growing demand for talent in the region. The last couple of years have seen a lot of growth in Asian MNCs and companies, which has driven increased demand for professionals and accelerated growth in the region’s treasury centres.”

The drive to develop treasury centres and the resulting pressure on treasury personnel recruitment is a region-wide issue. Singapore is by no means the only treasury centre where companies are experiencing difficulty finding enough treasury personnel, but it is a case in point. There are about 28,000 international companies based in Singapore, up by about 2,000 from two years ago. Around 4,200 of the total also have corporate treasury operations based in the city, and more companies are expected to establish such centres in the coming years.

The lack of adequate treasury personnel is being exacerbated by greater demands placed upon treasurers. “In the aftermath of the global financial crisis we see that companies need greater support from their corporate treasury functions,” said Ng. Traditionally, CFOs have relied on their accounts departments to carry out treasury functions. Now, however, CFOs employ a treasury manager to do this, and the treasury manager must hire a team of people to help manage cashflow and risk exposure. This allows the CFO to focus on long-term capital planning. Treasurers must also be ever more specialised at managing volatile exchange rates.

“After the Lehman collapse, many Asian companies are looking to concentrate on risk management, cashflow management, counterparty risk, as well as to tap long-term funds and hedge portfolios,” noted Ng. “To do so, many of these companies are setting up treasury centres and, to do this, they need to recruit treasury professionals.”  

In the meantime, more overseas treasurers are coming to Asia, especially as economies in the US and Europe slow. Banks are also strengthening their advisory capabilities to help stressed CFOs, especially with their more complex cross-border deals and overseas growth plans. DBS, for example, provides advisory services to corporates and support services for treasury centres in Singapore. “DBS has begun to offer structured solutions to companies on balance sheet optimisation to help them lower their funding costs and manage liquidity,” said Ng. “We have also strengthened our advisory capabilities on complex cross-border deals, especially with those involving Asian currencies.”

Over the past 12 months, the bank has added 20 to 30 staff to its sales and advisory teams, with more to be added over the next two or three years.

In the longer term, collaboration with universities is probably the best way to take the edge off the problem. For its part, DBS is working with the Singapore Management University (SMU). “It is a long-term problem that cannot be solved in a couple of years. On a longer-term basis we need to train more people. While many good treasurers have acquired their knowledge and experience on the job, we believe that academic training tailored for the corporate treasury function will help to shorten the learning curve for aspiring treasury professionals. DBS is therefore working with SMU to create a first of its kind corporate treasury course for their undergraduate and their post-graduate students that will help develop corporate treasury talent.” 

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