The Global Treasurer spoke to Tim Murphy, Treasurer at Square and newly appointed board member at Trovata.io, to find out more about his views on why the sector is ripe for tech-led disruption, how innovation is good for treasurers and why a whole new raft of organizations are set to benefit from the latest treasury tech.
There has been relatively little innovation within the treasury technology space for the past 10 years. Why do you think that’s the case?
Fundamentally, I think it’s because the addressable market in the treasury technology space is small. There are only so many treasury systems and treasury workstations. There’s only a limited universe of companies to target. Once you get to a certain revenue point, $500m of revenue, or something like that, they’ll start to think about getting an actual treasury department, and once they start to get bigger the Treasury Department will look to automate and look for assistance. It’s a fairly small universe of companies that end up in the market for a treasury system. It’s not like an ERP system, or a human resources management system, where any company is going to need it.
So, I think the existing players in the space have been able to continue on with very little innovation and without keeping up with the technology, like in most other enterprise software applications.
You recently joined the board of directors at Trovata.io, who are trying to extend treasury technology to this ‘less traditional’ audience. Why do you think the company is well positioned to exploit this space?
I think Trovata.io is the first group in a long time that has really tried to take a new approach to it. And part of it is that I think the underlying technology has gotten better. Banks themselves have made it much, much easier to connect. There are all manner of connected banking infrastructures, which make it a lot more open and Trovata is really the first company that’s trying to take advantage of it for the corporate treasurer. Open banking is going to be revolutionary. Being able to take advantage of that with a truly cloud based application that you can get started with very quickly is hugely powerful.
How does your experience as a treasurer, most recently at Square tie into to this? Have you used technology and digital solutions to really transform the treasury function?
That’s an interesting question. Square has done so much around financial innovation. If you look at our peer to peer application cash app, and what you can do there with instantaneous transfers, being able to buy and sell Bitcoin, all we’ve done on the merchant settlement side and so on, it’s really dynamic. Yet, you get to the treasury side and we’re still using a 20-year-old TMS to balance accounts out! That’s the same in so many treasury departments where you just don’t have the same kind of investment in treasury technology that you do elsewhere in the business.
While I think the technology that they’re developing at Square to run all of our products will eventually be repurposed for treasury, I look at my own systems, and it’s still a laborious chore to get, you know, BAI files connected and, to be able to get balance of transaction reporting.
With that in mind, do you think treasurers are open to innovation, if it’s the right innovation?
Oh, I think they love it. Treasury departments are generally not the first ones to get funding or development resources, so you end up looking at the same set of systems, and you kind of make a Devil’s bargain about what you really need to get. You’ve implemented enough that you can make it functional. But I’d be hard pressed to identify any organisation, certainly outside of very large corporates that have done a lot of in-house development, and hesitant to say that there’s a lot of people who are really thrilled with what they’ve got in terms of a treasury management system, or a treasury workspace.
I think that, as people see the Trovata product develop, and people take one look at it, they’re going to immediately love the innovation and love the fact that somebody is finally taking a new approach and matching up with the technology that’s advanced everywhere else.
How can treasurers convince their CFO that they need to invest in this technology?
I think for every company it’s going to be a little bit different. For companies interested in working capital management, a dynamic tool is really going to improve what they’re able to do there.
For complex international organizations that have payroll in multiple countries, money that needs to be moving to meet needs all over the globe and so on, a next generation treasury workstation is going to be a critical tool. Just being able to have visibility over where cash is, at any given point, is hugely valuable.
You can imagine the instance when you’re able to give your CFO, or even CEO, a mobile application where with one touch, or facial recognition so they don’t even need to touch it, they get a glimpse of global balances snapshot worldwide. I think that a tool like this can expose the work of treasury to a much broader swathe of the organization. Being able to get a system up and running in hours, as opposed to months, is also going to be a way to talk to your CFO about investment.
Automation puts time back in the hands of treasurers, enabling them to be a much better partner for the organization, rather than just grinding out the back-office functionality. It turns the conversation into one about adding value, rather than treasury being a cost center.
You’ve been quoted as saying you look forward to “helping Trovata democratize the treasury function for a massively underserved broader market beyond large corporates”. What does this mean for treasury technology?
I’ve implemented a treasury system or workstation at a number of companies, ranging in revenue from $300m to $3bn or so at Amazon. It was always a high bar, to be able to get the funds to figure out how to do the implementation and to get the resources, and the commitment from the other teams. the Trovata solution could allow a company without a treasury department – newer companies with a controller or a finance manager trying to juggle multiple jobs, including making sure the money’s in the right place.
A tool like this can open up a powerful treasury management tool for companies of much smaller sizes than traditionally would have even been able to entertain this. By partnering with banks, potentially being able to bring these tools to customers earlier in a company’s lifecycle, giving them immediate visibility to cash, which is such a crucial lifeline for any business, particularly businesses that are smaller and getting started, I think it’s really going to open up this space and change the overall size of the total addressable market.
I think that, in turn develops the real power to drive additional innovation, as Trovata is seeing how many more companies are able to take advantage of this technology. They’re going to widen the field as people start to realize what a tool like this can do for working capital, for international operations, for managing cash across subsidiaries. There are a lot of applications that people in a normal corporate evolution don’t even start to take advantage of until they’re a much larger size. Trovata has the potential to change that.