What Do Finance Professionals Want From Fintech? It’s Not What You Think

The Association for Financial Professionals continued its effort to explore fintech solutions to assist corporate treasury and finance professionals during a meeting with the AFP 2017 Annual Conference Planning Task Force. The task force is charged with sorting through hundreds of conference session proposals and selecting the best of the bunch, so AFP’s subject matter experts gauged the task force’s thoughts on the budding fintech revolution.

“How are you going to look at new technologies?” Craig Martin, AFP’s director of executive programs and treasury practice lead, asked the group. He noted that the subject was also a key topic of conversation during the latest meeting of AFP’s Treasury Advisory Group. “As one person at TAG said, there are all of these shiny new toys, but are they really applicable to [treasury]?”

“If we can remove manual and repetitive tasks and put them into a technology-based solution—that should be the goal of fintech”

Practical solutions

A treasurer for a major hotel chain responded that although treasury and finance professionals have a wide range of needs, his approach is cautious. “From a corporate practitioner standpoint, I am nowhere near being interested in being on the cutting edge of fintech,” he said. “I will wait until it’s ubiquitous before venturing down that path. We make a lot of payments, but payments isn’t our business.”

The treasurer added that at the end of the day, the technology he invests in is going to be practical; it has to solve specific needs and it’s not likely to be flashy and cool.

“Fintech, for me, just means making stuff work that frankly should have been working five to 10 years ago,” he said. “It’s getting a treasury management system that talks to the banks, or getting SWIFT connectivity to work. I don’t know why we’re still suffering through that, and I imagine others are too. But day-to-day, that’s what the fintech challenge is for us.”

Another hospitality treasurer agreed, explaining that the treasury workstation his company invested in years ago is now outdated and he is looking at cloud-based solutions. “So fintech for us is whether we can move to the cloud,” he said. “That’s what we’re in the middle of right now; looking for applications that will make things easier and more efficient. So it’s kind of the basics of treasury.”

A treasurer for a telecom company who has actually been involved in the bitcoin and blockchain space explained that he sees things much the same way. He stressed that treasury and finance needs to have a reason for being proactive on fintech.

“You really have to figure out how you can apply it to delivering lower costs, supporting market expansion, improving operational efficiencies or entering new markets,” he said. “That, to me, is what fintech is about and how it can apply to the business.”

The treasurer added that his organization has a “ton” of manual processes that could potentially be vastly improved through various fintech solutions such as artificial intelligence. “Driving AI into monitoring the activities of your operations folks, to build intelligence and replicate what they’re doing—it’s very hard for a human to do that, but it’s very easy for a machine,” he said.

In treasury, everyone is being asked to do less with more, noted a treasury manager for a fast food chain. “So if we can remove manual and repetitive tasks and put them into a technology-based solution—that should be the goal of fintech,” he said. 

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