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How Tech is Empowering the Modern Treasurer

The role of the treasurer is typically not the most visible in a company. Historically, treasurers have kept tabs on an organization’s cash and managed risks and were viewed as a “back office” function and cost center. While other departments modernized and adopted advanced tools, the office of the CFO often remained a technological backwater. Today, this is no longer the case. The role of the treasurer is now strategic and conspicuous.

As risks become more complex and new tools emerge, treasurers are evolving into critical strategic partners for leadership teams. Armed with real-time data and powerful analytics, they are helping CFOs and CEOs make better decisions and boost profitability. Ed Barrie, treasurer and chief product officer at Treasury4, and Jeff Mullen, a partner at WestCap and former treasurer of Airbnb, sat down to discuss why the future of treasury is anything but boring.

Treasury used to be a forgotten back-office function. Why is that changing?

Ed: Treasury is the one team in the organization that has to look backward to explain what has happened and look ahead to project what is going to happen in the future, especially around cash flow. And now, they also have to look sideways and around corners for risks, and those risks are getting bigger. Recently, we had the banking crisis, a rapid increase in interest rates and growing climate risks. All of this  elevates the role of treasury, which can leverage data to understand risks and explain them in clear ways to management. Best-in-class treasuries are becoming a center of excellence around analytics — not just for finance, but for the broader organization.

Jeff: I agree with that, and I can share my personal experience. Before I joined Airbnb as treasurer, I hadn’t thought much about that role. As I dug in, I realized that it was an underappreciated area of finance that didn’t get the respect it deserved. My hypothesis at Airbnb was that treasury was core to enabling the entire business to run by helping to maintain the financial infrastructure while assessing and managing all the risks involved with a global platform. That evolution is continuing to occur, as more companies realize the value that a treasury group can bring.

So how should the office of the CFO see its role today?

Ed: The office of the CFO is becoming more of a strategic business partner to the CEO and board of directors — it’s not purely a finance function anymore. Rather, it’s helping leaders think through business models: How are they going to generate revenue? What’s the cost to get that revenue? What are the risks around that? CEOs are leaning more on CFOs to have a seat at the table around running and expanding the business, while ensuring compliance is happening. That’s why the office of the CFO needs great analytics to draw insights from underlying data.

Jeff: That’s a great way to articulate it. WestCap founder Laurence Tosi, who was previously CFO of Blackstone and Airbnb, describes it as “the strategic CFO.” They have an opportunity to be a proactive partner, rather than playing defense and just reporting. Technology is key to enabling that.

Why has technological innovation been slow to reach the office of the CFO until now?

Jeff: Partly, it’s that the finance teams involved in managing the budget are particularly conscious of spending money. That often leads to a reluctance to adopt new technologies. Finance is also reliant on a lot of arcane systems that do not communicate well with other systems. As the broader financial infrastructure in the banking system and markets evolves, that enables advances in technology for treasury.

Ed: I’d echo that. Traditionally, finance and treasury are viewed as cost centers. Since they’re not seen as revenue-generating, they get a smaller share of the budget and make do with less from a technology perspective. Treasury specifically tends to be reliant on enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, which lacks the functionality it needs. That’s why you see so many inefficient processes built around spreadsheets, whether cash forecasting or foreign exchange or exposure management. People get used to spreadsheets and don’t feel empowered to find new tools.

How has this held the office of the CFO back?

Ed: Not having more advanced technology inhibits your visibility and transparency, whether it’s your cash position, status of payments or forecasts around foreign exchange exposure. Instead of getting a question from the CEO or board and coming back three days later with the response, treasury teams need to be able to provide insight in the moment. The sooner you can surface data through analytics, the faster you can get answers, educate and take appropriate actions.

Jeff: It has a real financial impact. In my prior role, we had billions of dollars in transit at any given time and a complex financial platform. Developing a system that gave us better visibility into our cash enabled us to manage it more efficiently and generate tens of millions of dollars in yield. More companies are realizing that the right tools can empower the treasury, not only to enable the company’s activities but also to have a meaningful impact on the bottom line.

What tools do treasurers need these days to help guide their organizations?

Ed: They need access to the data wherever it sits: the ERP or accounting system, banks, the sales system, the forecasting system used by the financial planning team. They need to bring all that data together, leverage analytical tools and synthesize that information to not only explain what happened, but also forecast with more than reasonable confidence what’s going to happen based on the current trajectory of the business.

Jeff: I agree — it’s very much about the data. You need visibility into all your cash and other assets, as well as your liabilities, so you can be thoughtful and proactive in planning. Treasurers and their teams also need tools to execute in a secure and efficient manner.

Can you share a lesson from your time as treasurers?

Ed: I could talk about that for the rest of the day! One is that companies should lean into the treasury. It’s not a boring profession — it’s an interesting intersection of the organization, the banking industry and in many cases capital markets. It’s a great nexus point to educate management about issues they need to be aware of and levers they can pull to drive outcomes for the business. Another lesson: Pay attention to the details — they matter.

Jeff: I’ve always found it interesting that most other aspects of finance are largely concerned with areas in the company’s control: how much you’re going to spend, what your customer acquisition costs are. In treasury, you have to think about all those things but also about how external market factors — whether interest rates, equity markets or debt markets — impact the company. It’s fascinating to translate that sort of market expertise into how it affects a given business.

What do you see as the future of the treasury function?

Ed: I foresee more automation of the transactional aspects, from payment processing to reconciliation to forecasting, to a degree. That will allow teams to spend more time looking forward and into areas that have not been addressed before, especially through the lens of risk management. As the treasury gets access to better and more timely data, it’s going to become even more of a center of excellence around analytics.

Jeff: Treasury will be more strategic for every company. There will be more of a focus on how and why cash balances change rather than simply reporting. Richer cash data will enable better decision-making and better risk management and make finance departments better thought partners for the CEO. More people are going to realize how important it is to equip the treasury with the best technology available and how powerful they can be as a result.

Speaking of technology, WestCap recently led the Series A investment round for Treasury4. What do you hope to accomplish with the partnership between WestCap and Treasury4?

Ed: We hope to build the best-in-class platform not just for treasury but for the broader general and administrative (G&A) function: legal, controllership, internal audit, maybe even real estate and financial planning and analysis. We want to bring everyone together on a comprehensive, collaborative platform that leverages their collective data. I’m super excited about the talent and experience that the WestCap teams bring to the partnership.

Jeff: This is a topic that many of us at WestCap have been passionate about for decades. We believe it’s an incredibly underappreciated yet powerful tool for companies to have this type of visibility. It allows them to do more effective risk management and cash management, becoming a meaningful profit center through the deployment of tailored investment programs. Our goal is not just to create a great company in the form of Treasury4, but also to create a definitive platform that will allow many businesses — including the rest of our portfolio companies — to become far more efficient and effective.

About the contributors

Jeff Mullen is a Partner at WestCap and a member of the firm’s Investment Committee. Before WestCap, Jeff was Treasurer of Airbnb, joining in 2016 as its first Treasurer and building its treasury and insurance solutions teams. Before joining Airbnb, he worked at Goldman Sachs for 16 years in a variety of roles, most recently as a Managing Director in its Investment Management Division. Jeff started his career as a corporate attorney at the law firm, Simpson Thacher & Bartlett, where he worked from 1995 to 2000. He currently serves on the board of directors HelpMeSee, Inc. and the Fabretto Children’s Foundation.

Ed Barrie is Chief Product Officer for Treasury4 and is responsible for product strategy and capabilities. Ed engages with customers and partners to understand their challenges and needs and incorporates their feedback into the Treasury4 product roadmap. Prior to co-founding Treasury4, Ed spent six years at Tableau Software & and was responsible for building Tableau’s award-winning treasury organization. Previously, Ed spent six years at Itron, Inc. (NASDAQ: ITRI) and seven years in Microsoft’s Global Treasury Department with responsibility for treasury systems, including the company’s SWIFT implementation and treasury operations. 


The above is provided as an illustrative example and designed to demonstrate the benefits to portfolio companies of partnering with us.  The information is aimed at prospective portfolio companies and not intended to solicit investors, or an offer to purchase any securities.  The experiences highlighted may not necessarily represent or be indicative of current, past or future results and experiences with portfolio companies.