For treasury executives unsure about the permanence of remote work, April results from Future Forum’s quarterly survey of knowledge workers are impossible to ignore.
Workers called back to the office full-time reported double the decline in work-life balance satisfaction compared to remote or hybrid workers—as well as one-and-a-half times the rate of work-related stress and anxiety. Critically, workers without location flexibility were 20 percent more likely to look for a new job in the next year.
Those sentiments, combined with other forces driving the Great Resignation, like burnout, career switches, and a massive surge in job searches for remote work, are setting the stage for a continued brain drain from in-person workplaces—not something many treasury departments can afford.
“Adequate staffing has become a major thorn in treasury leaders’ sides,” says Jeremy Winfrey, Director and Principal Consultant with Bank of the West’s Treasury Solutions. “Critical components on their finance teams experienced turnover throughout the pandemic, sometimes numerous times.”
“Adequate staffing has become a major thorn in treasury leaders’ sides.”
But for organizations embracing flexible work, the Great Resignation presents an opportunity. Leading companies are wasting no time instituting once-unimaginable remote and hybrid work policies. One analysis found a 319 percent increase in remote job postings between January 2020 and March 2022 in the US. In April, Airbnb announced that employees can work from almost anywhere in the world for up to 90 days at a time, on top of already flexible arrangements. CEO Brian Chesky told Time recently, “The office as we know it is over.”
Treasury departments, believe it or not, are well-positioned to adapt. A 2020 McKinsey study measuring the feasibility of remote work found the highest potential concentrated in just a handful of areas. Finance and insurance topped the list, with three-quarters of time spent on activities that can be done remotely without productivity loss.
Treasury has had a roller coaster few years, with remote operations see-sawing from a pre-pandemic curiosity to a sudden imperative during lockdowns. Today, treasury departments are adjusting to remote or hybrid operations as the default setting, driven by talent demand and lingering dislocation risks from COVID-19 variants. With this new phase of remote treasury come new challenges. Fortunately, treasury professionals are already finding new best practices and solutions to ease the transition.
Challenges Adapting to Remote Treasury As a Way of Life
Treasury leaders have their hands full at the moment, working to deploy new, remote-friendly systems while managing high rates of workforce turnover and off-premise employees. Given the critical and time-sensitive nature of many treasury tasks—whether they’re done in the office or at home—overall uptime must be high to ensure reliable operations. That’s been a challenge since 2020, and we’re seeing three key drivers across our client base:
Despite early remote treasury challenges, digitization is already producing positive outcomes beyond efficiency. For example, better digital analysis tools empower treasury leaders to play a more influential role in corporate decisions that could influence liquidity and risk, according to the report, or require real-time cash/liquidity forecasting.
The seemingly endless cycle of new COVID-19 variants and sub-variants causing intermittent surges across the world indicates that disruption may be a fact of life for years to come. That includes the potential for future workplace lockdowns but also continued workforce shifts like the Great Resignation or additional waves of sick staff like we saw in January.
Whether it’s due to preparing for office closures and self-quarantining or positioning the department to attract the best talent with flexible work options, remote treasury infrastructure is a non-negotiable for the foreseeable future. Those who take steps now to ensure their systems are operable by everyone, everywhere, stand better equipped to tackle both the current challenge of turnover and any pandemic surprises ahead.
In some cases, treasurers have seen turnover in critical functions, not just when the pandemic started but multiple times since. Using CFOs at S&P 500-listed companies as an indicator, turnover is up considerably among finance pros, reaching 18 percent last year. That’s up from 15 percent in 2020 and 14 percent in 2019. Broader market indicators like the record-high quit rate suggest the trend isn’t abating.
Hand in hand with turnover comes the challenge of getting new employees up to speed on systems. Add to that training existing employees on new systems, and it’s no small task. Given the complexity of systems like ERPs, treasury workstations, and banking platforms, trainees new and old require dedicated ramp-up periods.
Before the pandemic, training was largely conducted in person—and it was easy to grab a colleague for help throughout the day. Osmosis seemed to take care of the rest. But in today’s remote environment, with no shoulder next to them to tap in a pinch, training for new hires and employees learning new systems needs to be more deliberate, better planned, and accessible from anywhere.
Troubleshooting in Real-time
Treasurers’ many critical, time-sensitive tasks have an added level of complexity in a remote workplace. Both turnover and training can put these tasks at risk if vacant positions are unfilled or employees are ramping up on new systems.
And let’s not forget that even savvy users can run into technical issues with platforms they know well. Most treasury pros have been there: interrupted information-reporting feeds delay cash forecasting, or an out-of-the-office employee causes a detour or delay in approval flows. Remote work can exacerbate time-sucking challenges like these without the right guardrails in place.
Remote Treasury Solutions for the Flexible Work Age
As treasurers work toward resilient remote operations, they can take a number of key steps to smooth the transition.
Automate, Automate, Automate
True, automation involves potentially costly and time-consuming procurement and IT work, and it could mean one more tool to train staff on. But the upsides are efficiency gains over the longer term, a lightened workload for time-strapped finance teams, and less exposure to broken processes and delays caused by employees leaving.
Treasury leaders should assess whether or not they’re leaving automation opportunities on the table. A review of the company’s daily treasury operations can uncover automation opportunities for both payables and receivables. Often, treasury teams have the infrastructure to support more streamlined processes; they’re just not utilizing it.
Draw on a Higher Level of Vendor Support
Increasingly, treasurers are looking to vendors for a more comprehensive set of support options. Some platforms, Bank of the West’s TreasuryNow among them, come with features like 24/7 customer support portals to quickly resolve issues that crop up during the day-to-day—even for something as simple as missing criteria for a payment approval.
Leverage Technology for Training and Onboarding
Some treasurers are finding that training and onboarding itself should be automated—in the form of guided tutorials built into critical systems—so that new workers can get up to speed easily on their own wherever they are, and existing ones can easily get a refresher if they need it.
TreasuryNow speeds up onboarding with guided tutorials built-in. These can take users through a payment workflow and other common troubleshooting scenarios all the way through to completion—potentially subbing for that loss of help from co-workers nearby.
A Future-ready Treasury
As treasurers adapt to this new era of remote treasury, it’s helpful to acknowledge how far we’ve come in a short time. Pre-pandemic, many treasurers may have had trouble envisioning their work as ideally suited for remote work. And to be fair, much of the critical infrastructure they oversee underpins the most fundamental aspects of commerce—payments. Many of the moving parts weren’t ready to be managed remotely, digitally, or both.
Some companies—often digital natives and larger enterprises with big IT budgets—may have been further along digitizing in March 2020. But many found themselves scrambling to move to a remote treasury platform that would allow them to process certain transactions electronically in lieu of printed checks and lockbox services.
Many of those digitization efforts are still underway, and there’s reason to believe it’s sparked something of a virtuous cycle of upgrades. BNP Paribas’s Journeys to Treasury report for 2021-2022 found digitization to be the second-most-named priority among treasurers, who also said they’re keen on exploring data analytics, robotic process automation, and APIs.
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