Treasuring the Treasurer

Strategically minded treasurers are finding new ways to add value to their jobs and boost the bottom line.

At Home Depot Inc., treasurer Rebecca Flick’s work with operations extends as far as the retail store itself. “I spend very little time in treasury,” she says. “More of my time is with other parts of the business.” Flick works with store employees to assess how efficiently employees prepare bank deposits for the store’s vault from each day’s sales.

The work with operations can beef up a treasurer’s strategic role. As a result of Flick’s effort, Home Depot executives are thinking about outsourcing the vault system to banks, enabling employees to spend less time at the cash register and more time with customers. Flick is also exploring payment options for people who don’t have bank accounts. One product in development is a debit card that customers can load with funds.

In their new functions, treasurers are also teaming up with increasingly unusual bedfellows. One of Skerritt’s current clients is involved in a joint project involving treasury and marketing. As marketers prospect for corporate customers, treasury works with them to develop various payment options to boost customer satisfaction and gain more customers, thereby increasing profitability.

Besides treasurers’ expanded involvement with other parts of their companies, another cause of their emerging prominence might well be the rise in CFO and controller turnover. A recent study by search firm Russell Reynolds showed a sharp increase in turnover among finance chiefs and controllers at Fortune 500 companies in 2004 compared with 2003. CFO turnover among the 497 companies that replied was up 23 percent; controller turnover had risen 25 percent. Treasurers, on the other hand, showed no change in turnover – it held steady at 12 percent. That’s significant, says Skerritt, because where there’s CFO turnover, executive management increasingly looks to the treasurer to take on more responsibilities and serve as a source of consistency in finance operations.

That consistency, as well as their communications with creditors, bankers, and outside parties, is enabling more treasurers to venture into another unusual function for them: investor relations. “Treasurers are responsible for dealing with credit analysts, bankers, and other parties external to the company,” Skerritt says. “Investor relations is a natural extension.”

Despite all of its recent enhancements, however, the treasurer’s job is likely to often remain a thankless one, Treasury Alliance Group’s Blumen suggests. “For treasurers, if everything goes right, you get a ham at Christmas; if anything goes wrong, you get fired,” he says.

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