Talented corporate treasurers can bring wide-ranging benefits to participating companies, yet the treasury function can also result in heavy losses if conducted improperly. It’s therefore doubly important that companies employ an effective treasury management strategy in keeping close tabs on their finances and taking a pragmatic approach to solving treasury problems.
World Finance spoke to Martin Bellin, founder and CEO of the global consulting and software provider for treasury management solutions BELLIN, and winner of one of this year’s Entrepreneur of the Year awards, about his experience as a corporate treasurer and the evolution of treasury.
How did your experience as a corporate treasurer inspire you to create BELLIN?
After finishing university I started working for a major German corporate group. The department I worked for would nowadays be called treasury, as it was responsible for handling forex trading and commercial papers, and assumed the role of an in-house bank. However, the treasury operations were not centralised. It was my responsibility to enable the daily reporting of the financial status, to collect money from the subsidiaries and to have an overview of our global banking business.
There was no alternative source of income, there was no plan B – but there was tireless energy and I was 100 percent convinced of my idea
This proved nearly impossible without an adequate system in place. At the time, fax machines were state of the art and Excel was in its early stages. What I needed to perform my job was a treasury management system that just did not exist. I encountered the same data collection problems in my next job, setting up a global treasury for a financially sound, mid-sized company. It was this experience and my background in IT from my university days that inspired me and I realised that the only way I was going to get a suitable system would be to develop my own. I had seen first hand what was needed, and founding BELLIN has allowed me to address all these needs and provide a comprehensive solution.
Tell us about the history of BELLIN, and the major challenges you’ve faced along the way
After setting out to create a tool for my treasury business while still working, I followed in the footsteps of so many successful entrepreneurs. I bought my first computer, set up a small corner in my living room where I worked after hours and at weekends to get a demo version of the application I had in mind ready to present. The major challenge was not the development of the application as such; it was getting a foot in the door with corporate treasuries.
A one-man business simply failed to impress multinational corporates with large treasury departments. And after quitting my job I was faced with the additional challenge of having to make sure my own business would provide enough income to support my family.
There was no alternative source of income, there was no plan B – but there was tireless energy and I was 100 percent convinced of my idea. Eventually, I found one, then a second and a third customer who in turn spread the word that there was ‘a new guy in town’. But even then, it was difficult competing with other, established providers who eyed a new player with suspicion. Consultants were reluctant to take the risk of recommending BELLIN and we were only rarely long-listed in RFPs.
Sometimes I was invited off the record and was told that I could come along to have a look at how the big boys do business. Some of these companies are now implementing my concepts, which gives me great personal satisfaction. The obstacles were high but with a family behind me sharing my vision, almost everything is possible – but it requires 24/7 work without even thinking about a day off.
What differentiates BELLIN’s treasury management system from others in the field?
The philosophy of the system is completely unique. From the very beginning I was focused on the idea of a global platform, even at times when the internet was still alien territory to most people. This is why we have been able to offer so many firsts in the last 15 years.
Our aim has always been to consolidate and connect, to reduce the number of required systems in treasury, replace spread sheets, make processes more efficient and most of all: provide added value to all group companies. We do not just benefit the highly sophisticated treasurer in central treasury but every group company, of course with the objectives of the overall business in mind. This approach forms the basis of our concepts of LOADBALANCEDTREASURY as well as AGREEMENTDRIVENNETTING, or even our five-dimensional payment processing with an integrated SWIFT connection.
How has treasury evolved, and to what degree is BELLIN a response to this?
Treasury has evolved from a highly specialised unit at headquarters to a group-wide task involving almost every subsidiary in one way or other. Topics such as Value-at-Risk have been replaced by the notion of a single bank-independent platform for all single and bulk payments released.
It is recognised by the CFO and now at the heart of the financial value chain and its key role in providing added value to hedging and funding is being acknowledged. It is an integral part of the organisation tearing down the walls between business units and legal entities. Treasury always thinks in group-wide terms and ensures the flow of communication and information between subsidiaries. In doing so, it has paved the way for global business.
A few years back, many mid-sized corporates questioned whether they could afford a dedicated treasury organisation. Nowadays, they need to ask themselves how long they can still afford not having one. BELLIN has had this group-wide role on the agenda from the outset and has been providing the tools to allow businesses to manage their treasury on a global scale – with a single platform encompassing everyone.
How is the pragmatic and efficient nature of German engineering present in BELLIN’s day-to-day operations?
Every single day we fight the temptation to ‘just fix it’. We analyse problems thoroughly and try to find an even better solution. This requires time and money but in the long run it is much more efficient and will last much longer. Today everything is fast-paced and should be applied on the spot.
We stand our ground and work on solid long-term solutions. It is not easy but our results speak for themselves and our approach has long paid off. Our customer base prefers to have a solid and thought-through solution in place, even if it may not always be what they had expected. But they know that it is going to work without any problems.
Can you tell us about this concept of Load Balanced Treasury and what it means?
A treasurer once approached me and asked for help. He was alone in his treasury and responsible for 35 group companies. The solution was simple: applying the concept of LOADBALANCEDTREASURY meant that all subsidiaries were actively involved and the treasurer went from working on his own to working as part of a team – almost like having 36 group-wide treasurers. That is what our solutions are made for. They provide functionality for all requirements to all subsidiaries in order to reflect their daily processes. This is a great help to all parties involved – from cash management to payments to financial contracts, it improves their daily work. By providing the tool to all subs, all information is available in one single database and application – in real time. The times spent on data collection can now be used for valuable treasury management tasks.
To what extent has technology featured in BELLIN’s success?
Despite starting out with the idea of spending a major part of our resources on consulting and advisory, we quickly became known for our applications. Our technology has always been the backbone of any additional services we offer and having been awarded best treasury management system at the 2015 FinTech Innovation Awards is proof of this technological excellence.
What are your ambitions for the future of the company?
We want to make a fundamental impact on treasury, to change its the role within the organisation and to be an integral part of corporate finance to delight multinational organisations with our ideas and solutions. We would like to exchange the term TMS simply with BELLIN and become an indispensable asset to any global company. We have already come a long way and will continue to pursue this goal.