Regardless of business model or industry sector, all corporate treasury operations have one thing in common: they need capable and qualified treasury personnel. But finding the right staff — be they of the just-joined or industry veteran variety — is easier said than done. And in the aftermath of the global financial crisis the situation is only going to get tougher.
Whereas once CFOs would have relied on accounts departments to carry out most treasury functions, now the demands of improving cash visibility and monitoring risk exposure require the attention of a fully-staffed treasury team qualified and experienced across a variety of areas. “We regularly conduct treasury management workshops for our local subsidiary finance teams and spend the day doing cash and risk management training,” said Stephen Hogan, vice president and director regional treasury, corporate finance Asia Pacific at Deutsche Post DHL. “But treasury awareness and understanding of foreign exchange (FX) in some of our country finance organisations can be slightly lower than expected. This was quite an eye opener. We expected it in commercial teams, but it surprised me especially given how many people are studying for qualifications with the association of chartered certified accountants or chartered institute of certified accountants.”
Not surprisingly, the situation can be most acute in the major treasury centres of Hong Kong and Singapore where competition for staff is most fierce. The latter, for example, is host to about 28,000 international companies, which is an increase of about 2,000 from two years ago. More than 4,000 of these firms have corporate treasury operations based in the city, and more are likely to follow suit in the coming years. Moreover, since the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008, many more local companies — particularly from mainland China — have for the first time been persuaded that they need to invest in specialist operations to handle risk management, FX, cashflow management, counterparty risk, as well as to tap long-term funds and hedge portfolios — all of which require substantial treasury centres. “It’s no secret that Chinese organisations are starting to look out into the world for senior hires, as they are growing internationally,” said Nick Evans, partner at executive search firm, Odgers Berndtson.
The hope is that greater demand will encourage greater numbers to choose the profession and ease the shortage. “I think talking about a dearth of corporate treasury talent is somewhat misleading. There is a lot of talent; it’s just that the market is growing so fast,” said Evans. “It’s the maturity of the market: as organisations grow, the CFO becomes much more important and requires a specialist and there are many more expanding Asian firms which are big enough to require CFOs now.”
In the meantime, companies across the region will continue to be faced with something of an uphill struggle. “Many of my staff are focused on treasury but are not aware enough of the accounting component as they should be, which is a problem as everything you do in treasury is tied to accounting,” said one exasperated Singapore-based CFO at a major insurer. “But finding someone who understands treasury, accounting and the broader demands of the business is really quite a challenge these days.”
So human resources departments have been warned: learn to love your best staff or they may just look elsewhere.
This story was first published in the Corporate Treasury Yearbook supplement to the June 2011 issue of FinanceAsia magazine.