Attend any corporate treasury conference these days and the chances are that the subject of outsourcing will feature on the agenda. Indeed, the concept of a company handing over bits of its treasury department to be run by a specialist third party is seen by many as one of the biggest trends of the moment.
Karen Kombrink, however, disagrees. “Outsourcing treasury isn’t a trend of the new millennium, nor even of the 1990s,” states the deputy director of Bank Mendes Gans in the Netherlands. “It’s been around for at least 40 years.”
And Kombrink has the evidence to prove it — back in 1967, Bank Mendes Gans set up its first treasury outsourcing deal with Dow Chemical, agreeing to run the US firm’s inter-company netting system in Europe and its regional cash pool.
Nonetheless, while treasury outsourcing may not be new, Kombrink does concede that it is evolving rapidly. For one, more and more treasurers are starting to do it. For another, they are going much further, and outsourcing more of their departments than ever before.
From Forex to Forecasting
Consider the case of MacGregor, the SKr3.3 billion (E340m) maker of cranes, decks and cargo systems for the shipping industry. In June 2000, the Stockholm-based company handed over the management of almost all of its treasury to a company in Dublin called FTI.
Under the agreement, FTI now handles all of MacGregor’s internal and external loans and deposits, and all of its foreign exchange deals — which together amount to around 5,000 transactions every year. FTI also manages all of MacGregor’s netting, liquidity reporting and forecasting, and its treasury accounting. The only parts of the treasury that MacGregor has retained are the setting of treasury policy, the management of bank relationships and the handling of financial guarantees, such as pre-payment and delivery-on-time guarantees, which are an important part of its business.
“Our aim was to keep the strategic long and medium-term aspects of treasury in-house but to outsource the daily operations and transaction processing,” explains Mats Hansson, MacGregor’s CFO.
A deal such as this — which takes in each of MacGregor’s business units, from Sydney to San Diego — goes well beyond traditional treasury outsourcing arrangements. Typically, those have tended to focus on just one or two functions, such as netting or balance reporting. And, in general, companies have only outsourced on a regional basis, for example, US firms outsourcing their treasury in Europe. But, as the case of MacGregor shows, that’s all changing as businesses look to outsource bigger and bigger chunks of their treasuries, and to do so on a global scale.
Such developments come as no surprise to Anne Collard, head of treasury consulting in Europe for JP Morgan. As she sees it, corporate treasury functions can be outsourced just as easily as IT, payroll or any other activities that aren’t the core business of a company. “Much of what treasury departments do is becoming a commodity. It can easily be standardised and managed by a third party,” she notes.