Finance and Treasury Association Conference 2017: A Retrospective

It’s not the easiest job to try and condense everything which happened at the Finance and Treasury Association’s 2017 Conference into my first blog post. Having being a member for 15 years it has been a great experience to be able to contribute something back to the Association through being part of this year’s Conference Committee.

When we began planning the Conference at the start of the year, hopes were high that we could build on last year’s event at the Gold Coast. We aimed to put together a conference agenda which suited the changing needs of our Members, Exhibitors and Sponsors.  The theme 30 Years and Beyond: Managing Risk in the New World was a nod to the past as it was the 30th edition of the conference but also also an acknowledgement of the future as our Members adapt to an every changing risk landscape.

The conference acts as the acid test of the mood of the Australian treasury community: be they corporates, financial institutions or service providers.  I certainly took a sense of optimism from the conference.  Funding markets are probably at the most favourable point for borrowers since the GFC and, whilst treasurers are naturally cautious in their predictions for the future, there is a feeling that these market conditions may remain in the short to medium term.

Certainly with continued improvement in deal quality in the Australian domestic bond market, in terms of both volume and longer tenor, this optimism is not misplaced.  This was borne out by 67% of the audience of the audience in the debt capital markets update responding that they were moderately confident that the global recovery around the world was sustainable (by contrast 10% were very confident and 23% not confident).

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Panelists at the Plenary Session (L-R): Mandy Drury, Tony Nash, Colin Storrie and Steve Sammartino

This conference is made or broken on the basis of its opening plenary session.  Putting together a panel as diverse as a bricks and mortar retailer (Colin Storrie, Group Director, Woolworths Limited), an online retailer (Tony Nash, CEO, Booktopia) and a futurist (Steve Sammartino) was always going to have a wide range of thought provoking ideas. Master of Ceremonies Mandy Drury (Journalist and News Anchor, CNBC) allowed each speaker to bring their individual vision to life yet cleverly weavin the narrative together between the past, present and future.

I was struck by the honesty and openness which each presenter offered to the audience.  Colin Storrie was able to demonstrate how developing a robust capital management framework has been critical to his success in each of his executive roles.  He gave personal insights into decisions made during his time at Qantas, AMP and now Woolworths.  His framework is applicable to any organisation who is seeking to increase shareholder [or Member] value:

  1. Maintain Financial Strength
  2. Provide for sustainable levels of investment and growth
  3. Offer strong returns to shareholders
  4. Optimise cost of capital, funding costs and liquidity

Tony Nash’s talk Once Upon a Time there was a $10 Note referred to the daily budget his brother gave him to run Booktopia when it was initially founded in 2003 where in Tony’s words it had no plan and no vision. As an entrepreneur Tony thinks differently to the average treasurer but the learnings are definitely applicable to any finance and treasury professional. Everyone in the room is an entrepreneur even if they work for someone else and that trusting gut feeling and intuition is an important part of being an entrepreneur.

Steve Samartino’s talk Technology is the New Finance was a high energy look into the future. The smartphone has now given the consumer a world of infinite choice, so they way that you feel about the company providing that service is why you choose them. Steve looked at how quickly the world is changing: when new technologies arrive then things get solved in innovative ways.

As treasurers we need to change the way in which we think and behave in order to adapt as well. Steve made two predictions that I will remember: there will be no petrol cars in 10 years time and that each home will soon be capable of being self sufficient in energy as battery technology improves, something which Kurt Smith, Treasury Manager at Western Power, noted in a later session would put him out of a job in the future.

When I first attended the FTA’s conference some 10 years ago, the agenda was dominated by technical issues.  Technology is successfully meaning that this type of material can be moved to webinars allowing the conference to concentrate on provoking each delegate to think about issues differently.  This makes for a much more accessible agenda.

I’m going to apologise in advance at this point for not being able to mention every session which went on at conference.  With two streams running in parallel it is not possible for one person to attend every session.  However I would like to acknowledge the cumulative wealth of knowledge which was shared by every participant in the panel sessions and the work of each chair in putting these sessions together.

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Ben Price Compare and Master of Ceremonies at the NAB Gala Dinner

Day 2 began with Adam Spencer speaking about Random Thoughts for an Equally Random Mind.

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I had written in the Programme Welcome that I was sure that Adam would make the Black-Scholes model look like a primary school maths test but was I was surprised when I was able to follow Adam’s love of the largest known prime number.  If you have time to listen to his TED talk, it is worth it.  Adam’s comment at the end of the talk that the smartphone would soon be capable of breaking down linguistic barriers for business, rendering the need for a human to translate obsolete .  This certainly resonated with me: I would love my kids to be able to speak another language but this ultimately could go the same way as the chance of them needing to sit their driving test once driverless technology inevitably becomes commonplace.

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Adam Spencer and Fiamma Morton from CBA

It was great to see diversity on the agenda for the first time at an FTA Conference with insights from Steven Asnicar, CEO, Diversity Australia.  Whilst corporate Australia is making good headway in addressing issues of diversity, inclusion and equality you still cannot solve this issue without putting each company’s culture right first.  If what you see on the surface is different to the culture then it will not be possible to succeed.  I was also not aware before this talk that age is the most significant bias in the workforce today.

We also did something new at this year’s conference. A session devoted entirely to the Risks and Rewards of LinkedIn – Uncovering Financial Treasures facilitated by Sue Ellson. Whilst LinkedIn has been around since 2003 (and Sue was one of the first 80,000 people to join) many of the audience were not aware of its networking and educational capability, simply viewing it as a huge database for recruiters. By taking the audience through both the basics and some of the more advanced opportunities, Sue seemed to engender much discussion amongst the audience whilst people hastily updated their profiles on their devices as she spoke.

Sue did an excellent evaluation of Treasurer Cale Bennett‘s online profile. Indeed this article is a promise that I made to Sue that I would look to write my first article on LinkedIn, something that I would encourage all members of the FTA to do to share their knowledge with a wider audience. Finally, in spite of it being the basis of her business, Sue recommends that you shouldn’t spend more than 20 minutes a week on LinkedIn.

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Alisa Camplin

The final keynote speaker of the conference was Alisa Camplin who gave an engrossing talk on Creating Success in Sport, Business and Life.  From the outset of this talk I was captured by Alisa’s determination to succeed – she knew in 1994 that she wanted to make the team at the 2002 Winter Olympics in spite of not being able to ski. She showed how planning + hardwork + attention to detail was key to everything that she has and will achieve in life whether that be in sport, business or family life. She also taught an audience of treasurers how to do a triple twisting, double somersault in 3.5 seconds. I don’t want to spoil the power of Alica’s story for those who may be fortunate enough to hear her speak in the future, however the work she and her husband Oliver have done to found Finnan’s Gift is inspiring.

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The author and Alan Huse from ANZ at the Welcome Drinks

The choice of the Sheraton Grand Mirage on the Gold Coast for this year’s event was a deliberate ploy to take both Melbournites and Sydneysiders away from their home turf.  In the conference welcome I urged delegates to leave the office behind, disable their technological devices and immerse themselves in the conference programme.  Judging from the participation in each session and the level of networking, this message seemed to be embraced.  If anyone is having trouble justifying to their boss why they shouldn’t be allowed to attend a conference a stones throw from one of the world’s best surf beaches then ask them to read this blog before making their decision.  It is also the healthiest conference I have ever been to with many delegates taking advantage of first light at around 4am to swim, run or walk before the morning’s agenda began.

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The CBA Juice Bar

Details of the 31st Annual Conference will be announced on the Association’s website soon.

About the Author

Alistair_McLean_Colour

Alistair McLean is a Corporate Treasurer and a Non-executive director.  He has been a member of the Finance and Treasury Association since the day he emigrated to Australia 15 years ago.  During 2017 he was the Chair of the Conference Committee, which was responsible for organising the 30th Anniversary Conference.  He blogs on treasury.blog.

Photography

Thank you to Tian Jay of KE Creative for kindly providing all the photos for this blog.

Acknowledgements

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