If we dared to make treasury-fiction, we could easily imagine the future of the profession and the meta-treasury. Sure, it is not for tomorrow, but it will come. In this article, we have imagined what our future might look like and the implications it will have on our profession. A new world, with obviously its "pluses" and "minuses". The digital future is inevitable, and it is fun and perhaps interesting to look at what it might be.
Metaverse, virtual treasury in three dimensions
The metaverse is an experience in a virtual environment in three dimensions, where it is possible to evolve through an avatar or a hologram. This alternative reality allows to discuss with other people but also to learn, to work or to play and even to manage. The metaverse uses augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) to create a collective universe. Thanks to these cutting-edge techniques, the metaverse uses verbal and non-verbal communication rules like reality: gestures, facial expressions, tone of voice... From a historical point of view, the term "metaverse" appeared for the first time in 1992, in the novel "The Virtual Samurai", written by Neal Stephenson. The world described in the novel is a science-fiction universe, which could be close to our future reality. What about the treasury of the future? Source of inspiration? Pure fiction? Author's or gamers' delirium? In the cinema, you will of course think of the dystopian universe of Matrix or, more recently, Steven Spielberg's film Ready Player One. MICROSOFT's recent mega-investment augurs the next steps. Cash flow is not a game, let alone a video game. Yet technology giants are betting big on this parallel world. During the health crisis-related lockdowns, games like Fortnite, Roblox and Animal Crossing - all of which feature metaverses - saw their player numbers explode. As an example, in May 2020, Fortnite had 350 million registered players. Even stronger, the Battle Royale mode accumulated 3.2 billion hours of play in April 2020, when it was first confined. What if our profession became “metaversed”?
Augmented reality, increased productivity?
It is not unbelievable, or even impossible to imagine that in a few years, the treasury will be managed in a parallel virtual universe with a sort of virtual world treasury center managed by a team spread out in the four corners of the globe and the country. It would be a kind of telecommuting in the broadest sense, where our treasurer avatars would manage the company's cash flow as a virtual team. The advantage would be to work as a team without being gathered in one place. Space savings, efficiency, reduction of carbon footprint, less commuting fatigue of employees, etc. are some examples of undeniable advantages of meta-treasury. However, there are also disadvantages that should not be minimized. The virtual team spirit remains lighter and more fragile, the morale of the troops also depends on extra-professional relationships, informal and personal exchanges, and friendship. The virtuality of work does not allow to reach the same level of cohesion and knowledge of colleagues useful for efficiency and cohesion. Working only in a virtual world augmented by robotized tasks will be much more boring, repetitive, and distorted. Technology is progress, but it is not always a sign of improvement. We will have to get used to these major changes in the way we work gradually and progressively, which will fragment society and the world of work. You may be working in cash with colleagues without ever seeing them. The days of coffee breaks at the machine, staff parties and trips abroad were good. A blessing in disguise? Certainly, productivity should be increased, but at what cost? It is possible that some people, especially young people, do not want this distorted way of working, even though they are the ones who experience these augmented virtual realities and this "gaming" fashion the most. Depression will not be excluded or the depression of being too alone and having only impersonal relationships via an avatar that is not you.
Technical problems of meta-treasury
Such cash management would raise the question of substance. Indeed, virtually, what about this crucial tax concept? Where will it be taxed? Who will do what and from where? The tax aspect will be one of the major issues to address. BEPS tax rules will have to be adapted in a virtualized world where substance will lose its “raison d'être”. It will pose the same problems as home working. Let's not talk about social security and personal taxes that disrupt working abroad without working in the country where you are supposed to work. Normally, one cannot homework more than one day per week if one resides outside the country of the employment contract. There are similar rules for tax matters, which will cause problems: where is the work done from? Depending on location of work, taxes will be applied or adjusted. This will probably be a future organizational concern.
Can metaverse change the rules of our society and the treasury?
In addition to the world of video games, the metaverse seems to be deeply embedded in society. It seems that the various confinements have accelerated the process of digitalization in everyday life, but also in companies. Facebook did not change its name for nothing. For example, in 2014, it bought the virtual reality company Oculus VR for $2 billion. Then, in 2020, they launched HORIZON, a virtual reality and multiplayer social network running on the Oculus VR headset. After entertainment, Facebook Group is now tackling the world of work with the Oculus Horizon Workrooms project, which proposes to use a metaverse to allow employees to virtually meet in a meeting room, as shown in the video below. The example of Meta now employing 10,000 people to work on virtual reality and augmented reality. The metaverse can be thought of as "an embodied Internet, where instead of just looking at the content, you're in it." The race to conquer the metaverse is on, and Facebook has every intention of being the first to arrive, followed by Microsoft. One of the challenges will be to build responsible and ecological metaverse solutions. The rules of operation will be changed, and it will be necessary to get used to a different way of working.
What will change
It is not only the way of working that will change. The techniques too: one can for example expect a daily position that will constantly change and a management not on a day-to-day basis, but during the day, with a cash position that will evolve several times during the day, with several positions including instant inflows and payments; management of other (new) asset classes such as NFT’s, crypto-currencies; virtual central currencies; “real” virtual accounts (not virtual IBANs) that some like FENNECH already proposes, and therefore virtual aggregations to give tailored visibility through a single bank account; more immediate and dedicated reports; open source systems where basic coding will allow the design of its reports as you want; real-time netting of currency positions; and much more, including continuous and instant cash-flow forecasting; immediate and secure payments and fund transfers; virtualized neo-banking as well; robotic or pre-programmed operations to lighten daily management with machines that will adapt (i.e. machine learning); perhaps interest rates and scales calculated several times a day in view of the multiplied and continuous inflows and outflows; operations in the same "D" value date; random audits, at any time and also virtual; daily valuations and permanent controls carried out by virtual R2D2 type robots; and who knows what else that we surely cannot imagine at this stage. The treasury platforms of the future are emerging, what we call next generation Treasury & Banking Platforms (TBP), like F3, which foreshadow a new era for treasury. Treasury management is not a game, but it will take some of the codes, without any doubt. Cash flow will become even more democratic, as it is being democratized by smart Fintech’s. Everything will be processed via a platform of exchange of financial instruments. Even banks will change with new disruptors like Bank of London, Neo-banks, and emerging players with same motto: “faster, cheaper, better”. Let's not talk about our treasurers' associations either, some of which are already virtualizing conferences. Again, they will adapt to the outside world and deliver other forms of services to their members. I am convinced that a conference like www.360metafinance.com Luxembourg is the future of conferences.
Pure fiction, treasurer's delusion, or reality to come?
I ask you: am I delusional or will it be possible and plausible? I'm afraid we'll get there sooner than we thought. The best is not always ahead with technology that is supposed to simplify our lives but makes us slaves to the machine, in a virtual world that is elusive at times. Everything will become possible, but the job will be different. Of course, any business will evolve to a greater or lesser extent, but the treasury is promised great advances and a grip on the entire financial supply chain, from procurement to the settlement of financial contracts. So, the key question is whether meta-treasury will offer treasury practitioners a new experience, a fusion, a kind of symbiosis or interaction between two systems without altering either of them, or if it will simply be a total break in the way they operate. The virtual treasury will keep a place of choice in this denatured, virtualized and unfortunately also somewhat sanitized world. For the better, you thought.
François Masquelier, CEO of Simply Treasury – February 2022
Disclaimer: This article was prepared by François Masquelier in his personal capacity. The opinion expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the view of the European Association of Corporate Treasurers (i.e., EACT).