Instant treasury is becoming more of a necessity as treasurers are increasingly looking for solutions that allow real time visibility on their cash positions. At the same time, open banking has become more accepted by many organizations as a result. So, what exactly is instant treasury and how can it be leveraged properly?

Corporates are increasingly demanding instant treasury solutions with improved analytics and high straight-through-processing ratios. According to surveys conducted by Strategic Treasurer and Tink, treasurers’ top two priorities today are improving the accuracy of cash forecasting and increasing automation of the workflow for API-enabled services. In fact, 40% of treasurers would like real-time / intra-day visibility on their cash positions. Meanwhile, financial institutions’ positive stance towards open banking has increased fourfold.

Eddy Jacqmotte, group treasury manager at Austrian chemical company Borealis AG, sums up why the concept of instant treasury is so important. “We have implemented an API solution with our US bank that flows directly into our ERP system, with a matching program, and basically 90% of our payments are immediately matched. With APIs, corporates are able to change their way of working. We’re moving from a situation where only the bank is providing information to an ‘on-demand’ situation, in which treasurers can access information to perform certain tasks whenever they need it”. According to Jacqmotte, interest in APIs goes well beyond the world of treasury. Company management teams are eager to access the most accurate information possible to base their decisions on. “We dove into the world of APIs three years ago. I am now waiting for all my banks to be ready!”, says Jacqmotte.

What is instant treasury?

But what does instant treasury really mean? To answer that question, Nicolas Cailly, head of payments and cash management at Société Générale, explains that “first we need to differentiate ‘instant’ – in seconds – from ‘real-time’ – batch-processed within the hour – and ask ourselves what is the value of instant or real-time, and in which use cases we need them”.

Christian Mnich, head of solution management treasury and working capital management at SAP, concurs. “It’s not enough to get statements at the end of the day – we need to question whether we really need a real-time view of any transaction”, he says. Jacqmotte considers that an update three or four times per day would be sufficient for treasury operations, acknowledging that “A credit department, for which certainty regarding the payment is essential, might have a different point of view”.

How to achieve instant treasury

There are two competing visions among banks about how to achieve this real-time visibility and operability on a global basis, which is needed by companies operating in multiple countries. One proposes building the future on legacy systems, while the other is much more disruptive.

Société Générale’s Cailly judges that “there is no magic wand that will lead to multiple banks agreeing upon one course of action”: achieving real-time visibility requires an overlay of cash concentration services based on the agreements that banks have with one another. As operational activities are based in different countries, the service is going to be different from one bank to another and from one country to another – even within the same bank – because of local regulations. “To address this, the banking industry is looking for global standards, or at least regional standards, such as Swift instant cash reporting solutions. In the absence of such standards, the other possibility is to have a man in the middle, like a software vendor solution, that can aggregate different things and provide treasury departments with a global view and an easy way to operate”, explains Cailly.

Regional differences in instant treasury

The quest for instant treasury is not the same for everyone, and is taking different forms around the world. “If you want to look at real innovation in payments, go to Asia. They’re leading the world and are at least five or six years ahead of Europe and the United States”, according to Victor Penna, global co-head of transaction banking at Mashreq. While cheque payments and lockbox processing are still commonplace in the US, treasury in Asia is heading towards real-time and new-technology-enabled services, following on from the deployment of brand-new real-time payment infrastructures in several countries. “When a firm starts to provide access to real-time payments online using QR codes, it can attract small businesses that don’t need to use a credit card to buy”, says Penna. He cited Singapore as one of the most prominent countries with respect to payment innovations as consumers can pay with the same QR code system using any app developed within the country, as well as with Alipay and WeChat.

No more batches?

“Real-time encourages banks to move away from a batch state of mind and make the transition from legacy infrastructures and processes”, says Lisa Vasic, managing director, transaction banking at ANZ Banking Group. The European market is developing a less disruptive approach than in Asia. Euro Banking Association (EBA) clearing is reportedly planning to accelerate bulk payment procedures to a ‘better than real time’ framework. Instant payments in Europe are designed for cases where absolute certainty about a completed transaction is required before any sale can be concluded. On the other hand, immediacy seems less essential for payments such as salaries and business-to-business invoices. For these, it seems wise to move to settlement in a few minutes.

The EBA has been working on modernizing the bulk payment framework so that it moves towards a continuous gross settlement mode. This settlement mode is linked to each participating bank with pre-funding possibilities via the pan-European Target 2 system, which is operated by the European Central Bank. Alternatively, the bank can wait until it has enough liquidity in its technical account to settle.
The EBA is also seeking to establish service levels that are more harmonized between banks to enable them to offer additional services, such as intra-day reporting.

Instant treasury requires multiple touchpoints

There are already national agreements in place to deliver several settlement cycles within the same day. Finland and Ireland implement an end-settlement function during the night to ensure that payments from bodies such as pension funds or social security systems are in beneficiaries’ accounts by the first hour of the day.

Implementing new settlements requires investments by banks and changes in the way they interact with their customers. The EBA clearing plan to achieve this move from a single settlement to multiple settlements is not mandatory, but is based on consultation between the major European banks.

Leveraging the data

“Talking about the future, there are plenty of opportunities for joint spaces in which we can leverage data as early as possible to unlock new potential. Think about the sales orders that are in ERP systems. If you could share them right at the beginning with your financial partners, that would open up access to new working capital funding”, explains Christian Mnich from SAP. To unlock liquidity from the ERP system, treasurers first need to consolidate and centralize information, then capture bank statements in a single system to get more real-time transparency.

“Corporates need to do their homework if they’re to be able to follow the trend”, concludes Eddy Jacqmotte from Borealis. He also points out that extra resources are required to handle all the connections, such as bank connectivity, ERP, APIs and artificial intelligence tools, to reap the benefits of instant treasury operations.

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