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Today’s Treasurer: The ‘Co-CFO’

By Andrew Deichler | November 24, 2015

Although corporate treasury departments have had an abundance of new responsibilities thrust upon them in recent years, they are increasingly becoming leaner, needing to do more with less. In this new paradigm, treasurers are required to work across all areas of the business—in a sense, acting like an alternate chief financial officer.

But a substitute CFO isn’t the same as an actual CFO—and treasurers are feeling it, both from a monetary standpoint and a reputational one.

The change in treasury’s role is partially due to changes to the CFO’s role in the years since the financial crisis. With CFOs becoming more operational, treasury has been expected to take on many of the CFO’s responsibilities. But despite absorbing those duties, treasurers still don’t get the respect that they should have, noted Joseph Bizzarro, CEO of Vizant, and advisory firm that specializes in treasury operations.

“At one time, the focus of treasury departments was around investment, debt and equity, risk management and working capital management,” Bizzarro said. “What we’re seeing now is treasury performing a lot of the functions of the finance and accounting department typically do. Or at the very minimum, they have a deep involvement in a lot of the areas that impact the flow of money.”

Bizzarro noted that treasurers he works with regularly are involved in accounts payable (AP), accounts receivable (AR), billing, collections, banking, etc., in addition to all of the standard treasury responsibilities. And because of that, treasurers need to know more than just numbers and costs, he stressed. “They don’t need to be experts but they need to have a solid knowledge of technology and the processes that affect the flow of the money,” he said. “In the past they focused on all the money in the organization—as it came in, as it went out. Now they’re focusing on all the areas that impact money coming in and out.”

Many treasury departments are embracing technology that allows them to automate manual processes that use up valuable time, freeing treasury staff members to focus on less menial tasks. “There’s no question—automation has definitely made their job less manual as a whole. As a result, treasury has had to become more involved in the systems, the processes, the collections process and the software around it,” he said.

Co-CFO

Though Bizzarro acknowledged that the compensation isn’t comparable, he sees treasurers as “co-CFOs” at many organizations. But despite all of that responsibility, treasury still is not given the resources that it needs. Again, treasurers must do more with less. “We have multimillion-dollar companies as clients. Most of them have four or fewer people in treasury. That’s what’s happening right now,” he said.

Reflecting on his own experience as a former finance chief, Bizzarro noted that CFOs in general have always seen the treasurer as someone who makes sure that banking and cash management are under control. “I think, as a result of that, they never saw the need to have a lot of people in that function,” he explained. “What they failed to see, and what I see now—is that often the treasurer will know things that the CFO doesn’t. I think there’s a disconnect between CFOs and treasurers.”

So again, in order to be efficient in today’s environment, treasurers more or less have to act like CFOs. “They can’t just touch the money coming in and going out. Now they have to be involved in all aspects, just like the CFO. But I don’t think CFOs value treasurers as much as they should,” he said. “However, all the treasurers I know—and I know hundreds of them—they could be the CFO tomorrow if they had to be. But for some reason they’re still looked at like second class citizens,” he said.