Cash managers have always had to act quickly to support corporate clients’ access to liquidity and credit. But now more than ever, clients are turning to bank partners for quick, sometimes emergency, support as companies struggle to stay afloat during the coronavirus pandemic.
For large companies that have strong, long-term relationships with their financial partners, the banks will pull out all the stops, confident that they will be rewarded with loyalty once the economy stabilizes.
“We have provided multi-million financing packages to some of our corporate clients in less than 12 hours,” says Ole Matthiessen, head of cash management at Deutsche Bank.
“This is something we have been able to do quickly – not only because we have the liquidity to do so but because we know our clients well, understand their business and once things return to normal we are confident that they will reward us with their loyalty,” he says.
In March, Deutsche Bank secured half a million face masks for the health ministry of a major European country. The masks were due to leave South Korea for Europe, but because there were some initial delays in processing the transaction, there were concerns that the masks wouldn’t arrive in Europe on time. The bank stepped in and expedited the payment so that the shipment could be dispatched.
How do you access cash during a pandemic? Digitally, of course- Victor Penna, Standard Chartered
When the Philippines closed financial markets in response to the pandemic, Deutsche Bank helped a payment services provider to maintain foreign exchange flows through the bank’s app, FX4Cash, so the company could stay afloat.
“In both cases, we were able to work quickly to facilitate the cross-border payment to ensure that business would not be delayed,” says Matthiessen.
“If we hadn’t intervened, the consequences could have been dire,” he says.
One way to better manage scarce liquidity resources – and free up valuable manpower at the same time – is to take a digital approach to cash management, which corporate treasurers are scaling up as remote working becomes the norm.
“How do you access cash during a pandemic? Digitally, of course,” says Victor Penna, global head of treasury solutions at Standard Chartered.
“This isn’t just about transferring money digitally, locally or cross border – whether that is to receive payments, pool cash or draw down credit lines – but also digitizing the vast amount of paper work that also needs to be carried out to allow these transfers to happen in the first place,” he says.
Digital signatures instead of wet signatures are increasingly becoming the norm as company employees are forced to work remotely. Instead of insisting on original documents, many banks are allowing documents to be signed and lodged digitally, avoiding the need for couriers and meeting social distancing rules.
“In this environment, I wouldn’t be surprised if cheques become obsolete, given that individuals and company employees may not be able to visit a physical bank branch to make deposits,” says Penna. “Instead they will be requesting their customers to pay them electronically.
“Behaviour is changing and we are all becoming much more comfortable with digital solutions. There is no turning back from here,” he says.
Cash managers are also seeing clients’ focus shift to parts of treasury that have been previously ignored and are stepping in to support this change in priorities. Accounts receivables in particular are becoming a key concern and having the digital means to allow clients to keep track of this is increasingly important.
“When it is business as usual, accounts receivables are often ignored, only for companies to take notice when their vendors start going slow on their payments,” says Manish Kohli, head of payments and receivables at Citi.
“We are already having conversations with our clients on how they can manage their account receivables quicker and more efficiently to shore up valuable liquidity, and unlock working capital in times of stress,” he says.
According to Kohli, accounts receivables will gain importance in treasury functions as delays in payments act as a proxy for stress within the supply chain. Again, the solutions will be digital. “Transaction banking is one of the most tech-forward sectors in banking, we already have the right digital solutions to support clients as they adjust to the new normal,” he says.
Corporate treasurers also rely on their banks to give them accurate information. Now more than ever, businesses across the globe are reliant on up-to-date data in order to make decisions around working capital management.
“Companies had time in the past to filter through information and spend time on manual reconciliation, but this isn’t the case anymore,” says Kohli.
“This may encourage a wave of consolidation around banking relationships for corporates, as they increasingly rely on one trusted source to inform them as opposed to a number of banks that may have conflicting views,” he says.
“It won’t change relationships entirely, but I do think we will see companies that have the capacity gravitate towards global transaction banks.”