The concept of big data — large sets of data that may be analysed by computers to reveal trends — can appear intimidating. But it is an emerging asset for many companies and will likely grow in effectiveness.
The array of what businesses can do with all the data they collect is amazing, such as predicting buying habits of customers, segmented by age and geography. The data sets also can help with key business applications, particularly in corporate treasuries.
Uses of big data could extend to cash flow forecasting, foreign exchange, and liquidity planning. The data can help corporate teams move beyond the manual aggregation of hundreds of Excel-like templates to view potential cash flows in a more centralized way. And what if the data patterns could help your company make more advantageous decisions about timing payments to certain vendors? The possibilities are appealing.
Harnessing big data for a range of cash management applications may not be widespread yet, but things are moving fast. Some of the technology available today allows software programs to learn and update continually and develop their own logic. This necessitates having a treasurer and relevant staff nearby to guide and drive the tools to meaningful conclusions, and it may involve corporate infrastructure changes and executive buy-in, which takes time.
The appetite is growing, nonetheless. The International Data Corporation (IDC) predicts revenue from the sales of big data and business analytics tools to corporations will increase more than 50% between 2015 and 2019, as reported by InformationWeek.
Some companies already appreciate the value big data can bring to analyse flows in payment processing and inventory. One example, a leading online fashion platform, uses a dedicated team of mathematicians and physicists developing data analysis models to help with decision-making and boost learning on such variables as the impact of weather on sales.
Another example is a global paint company, which is using big data to analyse varying flows in payment processes. It enables the corporate treasury team to identify payments that use the wrong instruments and take action to correct them.
These examples of applying machine learning suggest what’s to come as businesses innovate to make their cash management processes more efficient. It’s an exciting trend to watch!
Sources: Bank of the West, CIB
Optimise your working capital with factoring
How can you keep your working capital healthy while incorporating the requisite financial flexibility? Factoring helps you to finance your cash requirements in a proper, timely and suitable way.
Securing liquidity is the key to financing your working capital requirements and keeping your business running smoothly at all times. That's exactly what factoring offers.It is a structural solution for optimising working capital. In the video below (in Dutch) in less than half an hour you will gain a clear picture of what factoring has to offer.
If you prefer to watch the video in French, click here.
Factoring: a tailored structural solution
In exchange for transferring your invoices to an external factoring company, you can count on fast, flexible financing, monitor the collection of your invoices, and protect yourself against potential bankruptcy among your customers. Each factoring solution is tailored to fit the needs of your business. This includes companies operating at international level. In Belgium, one in six companies currently outsource their invoices to an external factoring company. The same trend is evident in other European countries.
How to automatically get the best exchange rate
Companies working with several currencies often want to avoid exchange rate risks and administrative hassle. That is why the bank has come up with a behind-the-scenes solution: the 'embedded FX' service.
Embedded FX? You don't even need to remember the name, because the system works automatically, without you even having to think about it. FX doesn't stand for Hollywood-style special effects, but for Foreign Exchange, sometimes referred to as Cross Currency. You are guaranteed to come across this at some point if you make international payments, since they are not always executed in the currency of the debit account (referred to as 'mono-currency payments'). Sometimes, the currencies of the accounts the payment is being debited from or credited to may not be the same. These are FX payments. During such payments, an exchange takes place: one currency is sold and another bought, without you having to lift a finger.
The volumes on the FX market might be greater than you'd think. To put it plainly: they are enormous. Every day, more than 5 trillion American dollars are traded. That is 5000 billion American dollars, more than the volume involved in global equities trading...in a single day. The FX market operates day and night, and only closes over the weekend from 10 pm on Friday until 10 pm on Sunday.
Wim Grosemans (Head of Product Management Payments and Receivables at the BNP Paribas Cash Management Competence Center):
'On the FX market, banks essentially play the role of a wholesaler: they buy and sell currencies on the international market, and then sell them on to the customer with a mark-up. BNP Paribas is one of the biggest players, ranking among the global top ten. There is no official market rate in this over-the-counter market. Each bank determines the rate at which it wants to buy and sell currencies itself. Unofficial market rates can be found in publications from a number of public institutions (such as the European Central Bank) and private organisations (Reuters, Bloomberg etc.). These are based on the average rate offered by a number of major banks.'
The rate is always determined per currency pair, for example the euro versus the American dollar: EUR/USD = 1.1119. The most traded pair is EUR/USD, which represents 25% of daily trade. Second on the list is the pair American dollar/Japanese yen
(USD/JPY) with 18%, with British pound/American dollar (GBP/USD) coming in third at 9%.
Alwin Vande Loock (Product Marketing Manager Payments and Receivables at the BNP Paribas Cash Management Competence Center):
'As for the rate, banks offer a number of options. The rate can be a live market rate that is continuously being updated. The EUR/USD rate, for example, is adjusted more than 50 times per second. Another option is a daily rate. In this case, a rate is offered that will apply for a certain period.'
For many companies, all of this hassle with exchange rates is a real headache. Too complex, too expensive in terms of administrative costs and too many exchange rate risks. For those customers, banks have a solution: embedded FX.
Wim Grosemans (Head of Product Management Payments and Receivables at the BNP Paribas Cash Management Competence Center):
'When you make a payment in a currency you do not hold an account in, the bank will immediately retrieve a good exchange rate from its colleagues in the dealing room of the Global Markets department. The rate is usually confirmed within one hour after the customer has sent the payment. Unless large amounts are being transferred, the entire process is automatic. The IT systems used are much more efficient than they were just a few years ago, meaning that the bank is less exposed to volatility and can offer its customers a competitive rate. Embedded FX is an efficient and simple alternative for anyone who doesn't want to hold accounts in different currencies and run the exchange rate risks that entails. For the customer, it no longer matters what currency they use: the process is exactly the same. What's more, it gives them peace of mind, because they know that they'll always get a great rate.'
Working capital: far more than just an accounting term
Working capital, also known as net operating capital, presents a picture of the operational liquidity of a business. But there is more to it than meets the eye.
The success of a business actually depends to a significant extent on how it deals with its working capital needs.
The difference between working capital and working capital needs
Within the financial analysis, working capital is just one of the indicators that present a picture of the operational liquidity of a business. It not only affects general management, but also the access to bank credit or the valuation of the business, for example. This is calculated as follows:
Equity capital and other resources in the long term - fixed assets
This allows you to see whether sufficient long-term funds are available to finance the production chain. Where there is a positive result that is indeed the case, whereas with a negative result it is actually the production chain that must safeguard the long-term financing.
It is therefore useful to calculate the working capital needs as well:
Current assets (excluding cash) - current liabilities (excluding financial liabilities)
The result shows the amount the business needs in order to finance its production chain, and may be both positive and negative:
- where working capital needs are positive, the commercial debts no longer cover the short-term assets (excluding the financial). In that case, a business can rely on its working capital. If this is insufficient, it will need additional financing for its operational cycle in the short term;
- where working capital needs are negative, a business can meet its short-term liabilities without any problem. Nevertheless, it is advisable to reduce working capital needs (further).
In short, working capital presents a picture of the operational liquidity of a business, whereas working capital needs represent the amount the business needs in order to finance its production chain.
In other words, it boils down to limiting working capital needs as far as possible, thus increasing liquidity. This is crucial, especially in times of economic or financial difficulty. After all, customers tend to pay later then, while your stocks are increasing and your suppliers are imposing stricter payment terms. As a result, more and more working capital gets 'frozen' in your operating cycle, precisely when circumstances make it more difficult to attract additional financing.
Optimising working capital is not only a question of long-term considerations. In the short term, too, the business can release cash that is not being used optimally, or is being used unnecessarily, more specifically in the purchasing, production and sales processes within the operating cycle.
The working capital and the working capital needs must, above all, be geared effectively to each other. The working capital needs must be structurally less than the working capital itself, preferably with an extra buffer. However, there is no mathematical truth regarding the amount of working capital and working capital needs. Sector, activity and business model can affect this, for example.
Could your intuition help you make better decisions?
All of us have heard that little voice in our ear quietly persuading us of a new idea or a different way to tackle a challenge at work. But acting on that voice is another thing altogether. And yet...
Marcel Schwantes, an expert in workplace culture based on "servant leadership*", is well placed to recognise his intuition speaking. This small voice inside us has a tendency to bring out, from the deepest recesses of our beings, feelings that can be buried under rational layers of logical thinking.
People who are emotionally intelligent are more readily able to listen to this internal compass in order to keep themselves on the right track. But not everybody has this capacity.
How can we recognise the voice of our own intuition?
Here is some practical advice:
- If the voice signals a danger, it is undoubtedly your intuition speaking.
- Intuition speaks to you in a way you cannot ignore.
- First of all, we tell ourselves the voice is wrong.
- It gives us a message that is not particularly comfortable.
- We do not really want to act on its advice, or we tend to put off doing so.
- It seems counterintuitive!
- We allow ourselves to put it out of our minds...
Intuition and integrity – a perfect partnership
The reason why many of us still disregard this voice is that it can sometimes be unsettling. It pricks our consciousness and challenges our convictions, habits and belief systems. Yet it can hide precious inner resources just waiting to be revealed.
But to be able to utilise them, we must demonstrate integrity. When activated by the necessary bravery, this partnership between integrity and intuition can become a superpower that allows us to handle tricky workplace situations – or even run a company!
*Editor's note: Liberated leadership, as opposed to authoritarian leadership.