Transaction banking trailblazer: Catherine Porter, CBRE

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Kanika Saigal
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The EMEA treasury director at CBRE says: 'Treasury can be truly transformed by introducing technology.'

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THE TRAILBLAZERS

For Catherine Porter, EMEA treasury director at CBRE, technology is essential for efficient treasury services and for business development. 

“Often, but not always, it is the smaller companies that have no treasury technology,” she says. “Without a defined treasury function, it’s likely that there is no voice to explain to the CFO why investing in treasury technology is important. 

“In some instances, companies may expect business cases for new technology to be supported by explicit cost savings, but unless this is to do with the treasury transformation of a very large team, the business case for treasury technology has to be a much broader one,” she explains.

Given her experience, Porter knows that the crunch point comes when businesses expand and control over multiple transactions is critical. Then, access to technology becomes the key to the success of the treasury team. 

“Treasury can be truly transformed by introducing technology to support account visibility, standardized payment routines and just-in-time cash management using payment factory and treasury-management system architecture, combined with thought-through banking arrangements.”

When no specific technology is in place, then each business needs clear guidance from treasury on several different issues. This includes things such as how funding operates and when to repatriate cash. 

“The impact of manual solutions for cash management is usually cash inefficiency and increased work load, often to support new or expanded operations,” says Porter. “In these instances, bank relationships become even more important to help solve practical issues such as new account opening and currency control matters, for example.”

Individual needs

According to Porter, a bank should deeply understand the individual needs of its corporate clients across several countries. If the relationship manager backed by an engaged team can also introduce new and useful technology to support business growth, then this is a great combination.

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Catherine Porter

“I have always argued the importance of getting to know your banks well,” says Porter. “A periodic catch-up is a good starting point. If on both sides of the table there is good understanding of how things work and are changing, then both bank and customer are able to add more value.” 

Part of the banks’ own evolution is about the types of people they hire. 

“The easiest banks to deal with hire people with four main qualities: good interpersonal skills, an interest in treasury practices, an awareness of emerging technology, as well as industry-specific knowledge,” Porter says. “Banks should also ask treasurers for input into new initiatives and for service feedback.”

Porter has been invited to participate in events where clients and bankers can share and build solutions together. This has included Q&As at a regional client service managers’ forum and, more recently, a breakfast talk for a bank as part of a staff training programme on a non-treasury topic. 

In future, treasurers will use technology to automate manual or routine tasks, leaving more time for analysis and decision making, she says. 

“I expect distributed-ledger technology to become everyday, wherever data has to be verified by multiple parties at the same time. All treasurers would like banks to have simple processes for documentation, including KYC [know-your-customer regulations], and I assume the blockchain will help,” says Porter.

Burden

But the burden shouldn’t always fall on banks to offer the best solutions, she adds. 

“Internally, we are always working on our processes, too. For example, one of my team recently designed and introduced a portal for guarantee approval and issue. This has been a great success across our businesses.”

CBRE is the world’s largest commercial real estate services and investment firm; alongside her role there, Porter is on the finance committee at the Academy of Medical Sciences and is active in the Association of Corporate Treasurers. 

“Having some outside professional interests broadens your network and keeps you alert to trends and developments too,” she says. “Treasurers are the link to the banks and others, and most treasurers enjoy a mix of internal and external engagement. Attendance and participation at a variety of seminars and webinars is helpful.”