In October, at the EUROFINANCE conference in Barcelona, the buzz words were the “robotization of the treasury function”. But can we realistically think that we will be replaced so quickly by treasury robots? I allow myself to doubt it. Before thinking for a moment to replace the man, i.e. the treasurer, by the machine, i.e. a robot, would it not be appropriate to standardize the formats and rules used? I think that in 2020-2022, the first taxis without drivers will circulate in urban cities. Some taxis may even fly. On the other hand, if the taxi will circulate without driver, I can guarantee you that the treasury department will work with a real (physical) treasurer. The time of automation and robotization will come, but after the standardization will have fully operated. It seems unlikely that a robot can work without more consistency, well-defined universally applied and rigor. So, why not? But not right now.
If I take the example of payment formats and information transfer related to these, we have the famous “XML – ISO 20022”, which has as much sub-versions as banks on earth, and even within the same banking group it can be declined differently . In the USA or Australia, you will be told that nothing beats the "BAI2" format (better to use it if you want to recuperate payment details) and in Europe some banks only swear by the “EBICS” format, or even some more local ones as "ISABEL". It is to lose his Latin.
Which app to use to pay if you retail customers or to get pay? If you want to get a competitive advantage you need to offer a maximum payment methods (up to a certain level). There is a multitude of applications and in this jungle, to make a path (i.e. way of the cross) seems to become a nightmare. Nothing is simple in this financial world; everything becomes more and more complicated, day after day. But is not it the simple, the repetitive, the formatted and the standard that can be automated? With the new IFRS 9 and changes to IFRS 7, for example, I challenge you to automate new additional reporting and disclosures required into your TMS.
No, definitely, the world of treasury and corporate finance becomes too complex and too diverse at this point to talk about robotics. Financial thought leaders mention that word while we are fighting every day to produce new reports and to get processes compliant. The machine has a time delay and when the harmonization will be in place, mechanization or robotics will then be possible on a large scale. Do not be (too) worried because somewhere this complexity and diversity is the best line of defense against the treasury machine and robots. These machines can beat Kasparov or the best Go players and even learn how to play at best in a few hours. On the other hand, the machine to replace the treasurers must still be invented. I hope that we will be able to carry out our function for a long(er) time, even if I hear it coming. The profession of corporate treasury continues to evolve fast. It's up to us to adapt our role, our way of working and processes in order to stay as “employable” as possible without stressing unnecessarily.
François Masquelier, Vice-Chairman EACT, Paris - December 2017