The do's (and don'ts) of winning a cash management mandate

By:
Kimberley Long
Published on:

If only winning a transaction services mandate were as simple as filling in the RFP document – though even that is getting ever more complex. Success requires a full understanding of the business you are trying to win, and the soft skills to make the relationship work. Plenty can go wrong along the way.

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DON'T: “I was in full flow at a really important pitch and thought all was going well – until I noticed that the main decision maker we were pitching to had fallen asleep!”                           Illustration: Pete Ellis


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What’s at the heart of a bank’s cash management business? Speak to any banker in the sector and the conversation will quickly turn to subjects such as client solutions, technology, scale and expertise.

But, at its most basic level, cash management is just like debt markets, or equities, or even M&A. What drives success is winning (and retaining) mandates from clients.

Indeed winning a mandate in cash management is perhaps of even greater importance. Business is sticky. Some 56% of respondents to this year’s Euromoney Cash Management Survey said they had been with their current cash management providers for over five years. Changing cash managers is a lengthy and difficult task. The time and complexity of moving to a new banking partner and adapting new technology means corporates do not make the decision lightly.

That doesn’t mean they don’t reconsider their relationships regularly. As this year’s results reveal, almost 50% of the near 20,000 corporates who took part have sent out an RFP to re-evaluate relationships within the past 12 months.

That is the starting point of a long and involved process. It can take up to a year from issuing an RFP for a corporate to begin to use a new banking partner.

RFPs can contain up to 300 specifically-tailored questions as corporates look to find the best match for their business. But aside from simply answering those questions, bankers need to do their homework to increase their chances of winning the mandate. 

Picking the right cash management partner is also increasingly important for the companies themselves. More than four out of five of those taking part in the survey say their cash management operations and partnerships have helped improve the overall efficiency of their businesses, and 57% of respondents say they have greatly done so. 

On both the corporate and the bank sides, a lot rests on choosing the right partners. So what are the key factors to winning a mandate?


Build a relationship

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You can fill in as many 300-question RFPs as you like, but you won’t win anything without a relationship with the client.

Shahrock Moinian, managing director and head of global solutions for trade finance and cash management for corporates at Deutsche Bank, says: “The relationship has to be built before the RFP is received. Winning the business is about human relationships.” Joanne Scheier, TS product manager corporate market segment, BNY Mellon, says: “There absolutely is a need to have a relationship. It’s a people business. As a rule we would not do a cold pitch, as there needs to be an understanding of the client and their future needs for a proposal to be successful.”

Building a mandate-winning relationship does not happen overnight. Any association has to be developed over time to be successful. Mladen Zaprianov, head of CEE trade finance and STEF, UniCredit Bank Austria, explains: “Between the bank and the corporate treasury it is crucial to have a long-lasting relationship. It needs to go deeper and reach the level of general management and commercial business. The relationship is multi-layered and needs to be built up.”

How can a bank build up a relationship when there is not one in place already? 

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Setting the foundations starts long before the RFP arrives on someone’s desk. This can be tackled proactively, using relationship managers to find prospective clients and pitch services before the point when they issue an RFP. 

Making the most of existing relationships can also create an opening. Every client comes as part of a larger supply network, and treasurers who have had a good experience will be likely to talk to their counterparties. John Campbell, global head of sales management, ANZ, says: “When trying to build up the relationship it can help to leverage off other existing clients. Their experiences can help to sell the business on your behalf.” 

And it can pay to look at the bright side and to the longer term even when a mandate bid fails. Benoit Desserre, head of payments and cash management, Société Générale, adds: “A relationship can start with a lost RFP. It can be the first point of contact and if you made a good impression when the corporate will be looking for new services you stand in a much better chance.” 


Be thorough in the responses

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Having a good existing relationship certainly does not guarantee winning a mandate. The questions included in the RFP document are, after all, there for a reason. Even if the corporate is already familiar with a bank’s product offering the customer wants to know how it can be used to meet its own specific requirements. 

RFPs can differ greatly, often depending on nuances in regulation or culture. Scheier says: “In the US the process for submitting RFPs is very formal, and is often governed by corporate purchasing departments.” 

Documents may have strict rules attached, whether it is the exact date and time a document has be submitted by, or down to the length of the reply. 

Even Twitter seems to be having an impact on submissions. “Some corporates are limiting the number of characters that can be included in each response in the RFP,” says Campbell. “You need to be sharp and to the point to get the message across.” 

You need a joined-up response too. Lin Hong, director of corporate banking, Bank of China, says: “A strong capacity for strategic trans-department integration is important. It mobilizes the resources in various departments. In this way, the requirements in the RFP can be targeted into different business line accurately and quickly. Every person is a member in the service team and can be called together if needed. This mechanism lies in every project and offers great value in practice.” 


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DON'T: “We were in the middle of an intense pitch for Coca-Cola when the
refreshment trolley was brought in, and much to our horror was stacked
with bottles of Pepsi. The most senior banker in the room carefully got up
and wheeled it back out again before anyone could notice”


Most clients will give banks the chance to seek clarification on grey areas in the RFP, but don’t expect to glean any information to the detriment of your competitors. 

“Depending on how the RFP process is structured, prospective bidders can sometimes submit questions to the corporate through a formal process that insures all the recipients see the answers,” Scheier says. 


Know your customer

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The most important question for the selection process is probably not even on the RFP: why has the client issued the request? Understanding this will go a long way towards success.

“The best relationship bankers are those who put themselves in the customer’s shoes, think from the customer’s standpoint, understand their needs and business drivers, and provide relevant solutions,” says Vivek Batra, global head of sales for cash management and trade finance, GTS, DBS. “This approach is important when formulating a response to a mandate pitch. In a sense, it is akin to virtually undertaking a ‘customer journey’ and building a proposition which is driven by the customer’s needs rather than the bank’s capabilities.”

Société Générale’s Desserre says: “Most of the time the answers need to be linked to the knowledge of the company. What they put in a questionnaire might not translate all they are asking for. You can think you’ve answered everything they want but still not get to pitch.” 

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The focus needs to be placed on what the corporate is looking to become, rather than were they are at the time of the RFP. Do they plan to expand internationally? Do they want to increase liquidity through improved operational efficiency? 

“Banks can win by offering not where the corporate is now, but where they will be in three years,” says Desserre. “We knew one corporate was planning to move on to Swift at some stage, so rather than giving answers based on today we could project what they could do in several years’ time. If you offer the same as they have today you are only in line with the bank they are planning to leave.” 


Decide your differentiator

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If a bank has received an RFP, it already suggests the corporate believes it is a potential partner and will be able to meet its requirements. The next step is being invited to a face-to-face pitch. Now the competition gets really intense.

“The banks need to create a differentiator for themselves,” says Moinian. “One thing Deutsche Bank has done is to create a global solutions team which is outside of the trade finance and cash management businesses. The team will go to the top clients to benchmark them against their competitors using publicly-available data. Using that dialogue they are able to create tailor-made solutions.” 

You might not have a track record with your potential client but, just like when applying for a job, references can be useful. Putting the team front and centre shows clients you have a thorough understanding of their business. What has the team achieved for similar clients in the past?

Desserre: “When the corporate chooses the bank it comes down to your credentials. If you can offer the client 10 other client references and your competitors can only offer two you are more likely to win the RFP.” 

But don’t be boastful — as much as it’s important to make sure the client knows your credentials, show you’re offering them something unique. 

“A conversation which is ‘bank-product’ led is never as effective as one which is ‘customer-need’ led,” Batra says. “Banks can differentiate by providing insights and advice on trends and best practices.” 

And don’t forget the obvious stuff. With the banking industry under pressure, showing you’re strong and stable might make the difference in clinching the deal. Campbell at ANZ says: “Having a strong credit rating can help to open the door. The clients get a sense of stability, and that stands you in good stead.”


Make the pitch memorable

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If you’re on the shortlist you’ll be invited to present, and the pitches will be delivered on the same day, and often back-to-back. Banks need to look for a way that will make them stand out, and for the right reasons. 

Personalising the pitch goes further than putting the brand logo on the slides and learning the name of the CEO. Some creativity with the pitch documents will demonstrate that a presentation is more than just a standard package that is trotted out to any prospective client. 

It is also important to understand the corporate’s image and branding. Does it have specific language or phrases it uses as part of its branding? 

Kathryn Wyon, head of specialist services, GTB, at Lloyds Bank, says: “We tailor pitch documents to mirror the client’s corporate colours and vocabulary in order that sections that refer to them reflect their collateral and seem familiar.” 

It is about more than just making a pitch look pretty. Creating something that the company can relate to will go a step towards forging the relationship. 


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DON'T: “We carried out a client pitch on WebEx and a lively discussion was going on between the bankers involved. It was only later we realised the entire content of the messages had been visible on the screen of the corporates”


“For a post-delivery company we created collateral in the form of postcards and letters with our key messaging for how we would meet the client’s needs,” she says. “The more quirky, creative ideas can show that we are thinking about the client business and help to stand us apart visually.”


Use tech and data

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Once, having a strong technology offering could be the key element to winning a pitch. But some technology is now ubiquitous: for example, being able to offer a mobile app is no longer going to win you a mandate. 

The proposals need to take into account the sophistication of the clients. If they are looking to create a more streamlined internal process they will not want to be dealing with physical documents from their banks.

“A certain amount of tech has become commoditized,” says Scheier. “If a client is looking at remittance processing, for example, they don’t expect to be receiving hard copies anymore; similarly, they’ll be looking for online tools for exception management.” 

Instead, the banks need to work out how they can provide a service to their corporates that uses their capabilities and the data available

Peter Jameson, head of trade & co-head of product management, GTS EMEA, at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, says: “Clients look to the banks for information. They want to know metrics and how they compared with others in their markets. They want to be able to benchmark against their peers to understand their business and the systems they should use.” 


Be corporately responsible

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As well as knowing what the bank can deliver in terms of capabilities, corporates increasingly demand that their banks meet certain ethical criteria. This used to be a side issue but it is now a weighting factor in the decision making process. 

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“The split in the decision for formal invitations to tender can be 40% to the products and services, 40% on price, and 20% on other elements that also include corporate responsibility,” says Wyon at Lloyds. “We want to go beyond the specified banking requirements and ensure the bank has an affinity on a relationship level and demonstrate how we can support the client.” 

It does not have to relate to international projects or national campaigns. Even smaller projects in the area local to the business headquarters of a specific client could be a clincher. 

“For our mid-market clients we try to focus on their local area; articulating things that will hopefully resonate with them on a personal as well as professional level,” says Wyon. 


Get the price right

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This remains the most important part of any pitch. A bank can be as good at all the other factors as it likes, but if it cannot compete on price, then the presentation team will come away empty handed every time.

Indeed the price factor is becoming more important all the time, and some bankers aren’t very happy about it. Some industries are even changing their approach to how bids are accepted, putting all the emphasis on the price and removing the relationship aspect completely. 

 “We are seeing more sealed bid approaches to RFPs, especially those led by procurement,” says Jameson. “In Europe some clients have moved towards sealed bids as a way to ensure objectivity and accountability for their decision-making.”

Jameson is wary about the implications of this: “In my opinion, this can be a race to the bottom, as the cheapest wins. This approach means that the existing relationship isn’t considered.”

It is the cost that will sometimes be the deciding factor. “It can come down to pricing. But for a bank, knowing the right pricing to offer is not always easy with a prospect,” says Desserre. “Indeed, if you have the perfect services, prices will still vary based upon expected side businesses. If they are too expensive they won’t choose them.” 

In these cases it could be important to factor in different elements. Is this corporate important for the bank? Could this business lead to more fees in other areas? 

“The bank needs to be flexible,” says SG’s Desserre. “For example, if a company has large daily deposits of $1 billion then you can be tempted to offer the services for free when for the same services with a company having very limited deposits, you would offer the services at a cost.”