How to be an exemplary interim treasurer
19 Sep 17
It takes particular qualities and skills to work effectively as an interim treasurer. Ben Poole explores the possibilities
Employing interim treasurers has become an established and flexible resource for companies that require treasury skills and resources at an executive level.
From a practitioner perspective, getting into the interim market requires the ability to be adaptable and open-minded towards the roles that are offered.
“For me, this way of working is better because I get to take on a variety of different projects,” explains Louise Johnston, interim senior treasury accountant at Travelopia.
“Treasury management system (TMS) implementation is a big focus for me,” she says. “Every interim project I have had over the past two years has been on a different system.
“I’ve done an implementation, an upgrade and a project automating the accounting from the TMS into SAP, for example. There is always something different to do, which is why I enjoy this type of work.”
Roles can also turn out to be much more than is initially apparent in the job description.
Corporates expect interims to come in and hit the ground running… They are not looking to train someone for a long period of time
“I remember being offered a role that looked nice, was not terribly pressured and also offered a decent salary,” says Carol Power, interim treasury manager at Aggreko.
“I took the role, but within a few weeks, the company was going through a demerger and, along with a treasurer on the other side, I was joint lead from a treasury perspective on a FTSE 100 demerger.”
When taking on an interim role, it is important to know both what you want out of the role, and what the role will demand of you. “I think recruitment agents sometimes think I am fussy, as I am clear that I don’t want a day-to-day, month-end role; I want a project role,” says Johnston.
“Sometimes you might get a small handover,” he notes, “but I have taken on a role where the person that I reported in to was signed off sick. I had to fend for myself and really hit the ground running. It is important to ask the right questions and find the right people to assist.”
“Corporates expect interims to come in and hit the ground running,” agrees Power. “They are not looking to train someone for a long period of time. They are investing in your personal attributes, and that when you join, you will go and ask whoever you need to ask in order to get through these tasks.
“Companies are looking for a package of experience and the ability to self-educate very quickly, so that you can add value in the role straight away.”
Benefits of experience
Companies often look to hire an interim treasurer when they need to call on skilled individuals flexibly and at short notice.
However, those interims at executive level that have proven experience and who see interim work as a permanent career can offer still more value in particular areas, such as managing complex treasury assignments, people management and engaging with the C-suite.
As the profile and importance of treasury have grown over the years, individuals with demonstrable high-level experience and commitment to interim management as a career have become sought after.
“Interims that specialise in treasury can add value to client organisations via their deep and broad expertise,” says Alexandra Heil, an experienced interim treasurer. “I worked for more than 15 years in permanent jobs in corporate banking and in treasury departments of large multinationals, as well as major mid-sized companies, before I started my interim treasurer career.
In the main, interims get involved with complex or extensive project-management tasks that draw on planning and delivery skills, along with stakeholder management
“Having a track record in that one particular area is attractive to client businesses. And, from a personal point of view, it means I can work in a field in which I have profound expert knowledge and feel passionately about.”
As treasury skills are transferable across all sectors, interim treasurers can find themselves working across a broad spectrum of industries, with different specific roles, throughout their careers.
“My assignments have primarily covered refinancing, relocation of the treasury operations and pure interim cover for maternity leave or pending appointment of a new permanent treasurer,” says Tim Walker, owner of TW Business Services and a former head of treasury and tax at the Post Office.
“In almost every case, however, there has been an expectation that I would use my experience to add value by reviewing existing systems and policies, and recommending or implementing improvements.”
At the coal face
Interim treasury work can be demanding. Roles often call for an immediate start and require people who can get up to speed very quickly. There is usually no time for on-the-job training from a predecessor.
They also need to be strong operationally and managerially. Successful interims need to be able to show they have proved themselves across different roles and treasury projects, and in a variety of industry sectors.
“In one recent role, I was initially brought in to manage the relocation and integration of treasury into a shared service centre, putting in place appropriate policies and procedures, and forging links with other relevant departments,” says Walker. “I was then asked to refinance existing bank debt and arrange a US private placement, review the TMS and investigate straight-through payment processing.
“This role was not unusual and required a mix of professional experience, ability to gain a quick overview of the business, and a detailed understanding of the existing people and processes in treasury and in the departments interfacing with treasury. It also required close cooperation with external advisers.”
“The most interesting thing for me is in finding how you can apply your skills and technical ability to individual businesses and their business risks, which are always going to be different,” says Power.
“One treasurer may interpret things in a much different way to the next treasurer,” she notes. “The treasurer or CFO and I will debate different ways of doing things. Neither way is wrong, and I think that is the sort of thing that you have to learn to adapt to – your way is not always right, because it is not the only way.
“I love it, and I think you have to have that in your character – to enjoy it and not be fazed by it.”
In general, interim treasury assignments fall into three categories:
1. Working on treasury projects
There are a wide range of corporate goals that can be well served by the provision of temporary treasury expertise and additional headcount.
These include items such as the selection and implementation of a TMS; building up treasury functionality or creating a treasury team after a sale, divestment or merger; implementing cash pools; optimising cash management processes; negotiating complex loan agreements; and restructurings.
“There can also be interesting opportunities within banks, transferring specialist knowledge of corporate treasury needs to assist with the development of bank products and services,” says Heil.
2. Bridging a vacancy
Many interim assignments arise when the permanent position holder is unavailable for a certain period, whether through sickness, maternity leave or other forms of extended leave.
Interim assignments may also arise when an ideal permanent employee has been recruited, but is not immediately available due to the terms of their current employment.
3. Project and stakeholder management
“In the main, interims get involved with complex or extensive project-management tasks that draw on planning and delivery skills, along with stakeholder management,” explains Heil. “This can include applying for budget, elaborating and following a project plan, ensuring individuals adhere to deadlines, presenting to steering committees and so on.”
Do not forget your own business
A key aspect of an interim career is the need to think beyond the day job. Interim treasurers have to run their own businesses, which means that, alongside the demands of their current assignment, there will be a requirement to keep their knowledge up to date.
In addition, there is the need to build their professional profile and reputation, promote themselves within their market, differentiate themselves from the competition by promoting their USP and ensure that potential clients can reach them.
Attending treasury gatherings, such as networking forums or the ACT Annual Conference, can be a good way to keep informed on the latest topics, make new contacts and enhance your profile.
Working as an interim can come with financial and administrative burdens, such as taxes, healthcare, insurance and retirement provision. “Since interims are only paid for time worked, it is important also to factor in periods when there is no assignment,” says Heil.
“Interim work can be a heavy commitment,” she adds, “and therefore it is important to find a balance between the more demanding phases of an assignment, and periods devoted to finding new business and downtime. In fact, managing that balance may be one of the bigger challenges of my job.”
Qualifications and qualities
Interim treasurers need…
- Sound technical and business qualifications;
- Up-to-date knowledge of treasury;
- Wide professional experience in both operational and managerial roles across different sectors and styles of companies; and
- Good cross-functional knowledge of business processes and function, plus a good understanding of the interfaces between treasury and other disciplines, such as accounting, financial control, legal and supply-chain management.
The personal qualities required include…
- Ability to work under pressure;
- Results-driven and target-oriented;
- Ability to work and communicate across functions and with stakeholders at different levels within organisations;
- Passion for treasury;
- Entrepreneurship; and
- Strong organisational skills
While consultants usually concentrate on elaborating concepts and models, and evaluating strengths and weaknesses, the interim treasury manager takes responsibility for hands-on realisation.
To do that effectively, they need to understand the company, its business model and its specific cash flows from the very beginning of an assignment.
“You need to have the approach that you are not going in to act like a consultant,” says Power. “This may be how some people perceive you when you join a team, and will wonder whether you will roll your sleeves up.
“In one interim role I was asked this in the interview – a month into the job I asked the guy what he thought and he absolutely agreed that I got stuck in with the team. I take it on as if it is mine, as if I were a full-time employee.”
Reasons for hiring an interim manager
- Availability at short notice;
- Proven experience and skills;
- Potential to transfer knowledge and expertise;
- Additional headcount;
- Ability to work independently of internal politics;
- Providing the external view; and
- Fixed-day costs.
About the author
Ben Poole is a freelance writer and editor, specialising in treasury and transaction banking.