The ACT Returns to Singapore!

As you read this, we will have already been back to Singapore, where we again, as in pre-COVID times, are running some ACT corporate treasury sessions as part of the Global Trade Review Conference 6-7 September. We can’t wait to be back and see our old friends, as well as some new (hopefully!).

We’ll be streaming in some panellists from Hong Kong and China, due to the current travel restrictions (quarantine on return), but we and GTR are very used to hybrid now, having done it already together back in February in Dubai, where it worked very well.

The topics were chosen by our Asia panel, and are as follows:

  • Accelerating ESG integration into business strategy and reporting, where we will be looking at the trends in the region in terms of shifting from a ‘principles’ discussion to faster progress on implementation around ESG. We’ll be asking the questions: How is adding purpose and value strengthening the bottom line? What is the impact on the value chain? What are some of the innovations we see in the conversion of green projects into financial instruments? What are the monetary authorities doing in this space, and what are the banks doing? And what is the treasurer’s role in maintaining momentum and upholding the ESG ethos amid rising costs, demand outpacing supply and rampant inflation?

A key question for the treasurer today is how do we best face the challenge of balancing long-term and strategic (ESG) priorities against navigating operational day-to-day challenges?

Our Chief Executive, Caroline Stockmann, will be joined in person by Yvonne Zhang, Climate & Sustainability Leader, SEA Risk Advisory, Deloitte and Paul Landless from Clifford Chance, as well as Ginny Wu, CFO/Group Financial Controller, Walkershop Footwear and Veronique Lafon-Vinais, Associate Professor of Business Education, Hong Kong University of Science & Technology (HKUST) and Chair of the ACT Asia Panel, from Hong Kong.

  • The future role of the treasurer, where we will talk about how treasurers are responding to higher market volatilities amid the Ukraine crisis, geopolitical challenges and elevated inflation and commodity price levels. We’ll be discussing how they work with employees as well as other stakeholders in a way that builds trust and loyalty.

The session will address the technical response to these questions, in a context where most treasurers have never experienced inflation before, as well as elaborate on how focusing on empowerment, authenticity, accountability, stewardship, and other skills can help leaders to hone organisational reputation, cash management, resilience and results.

Caroline Stockmann will be joined from China by Xuelin Chen, Director of Group Treasury, Trip.com and in person by Goh Seng Ti, Chief Executive Officer, BBX Holdings and Shaun Langhorne, Partner, Clifford Chance.

Fitting all the topics we’d like to into two sessions is a challenge, but hopefully we will rise to it! It will be great to have everyone engaging again in a way they could not for the last two years, though we look forward to the future when we will be able to run hybrid events by choice only, - not by necessity!

Perspectives on flexible working

It is very interesting to observe the different approaches companies are taking as regards where and when staff work. Some organisations are mandating office work, if only for some days of the week (in some cases optional, in others the days themselves are mandated), and others are taking a more flexible approach.

So what is the right answer? How do you take into account all of the following:

  • Ensuring new members of the team are trained well and don’t miss out from ‘learning by osmosis’?

  • Allowing people flexibility so they have a more balanced lifestyle and don’t ‘waste’ time on travel?

  • Ensuring people have sufficient down time, and are not slaves to their home office?

  • Reassuring people that working from home can be as productive if not more so than working from an office?

  • Maintaining a healthy company culture?

I believe that there are different approaches that work well according to the type of organisation you are. The ACT is relatively small, and our people want flexibility. Hence we have moved to a small office ‘hub’, where different teams will come in every so often to be together, and we will arrange other meeting spaces for whole team sessions – to compliment our weekly Teams catch-ups for the whole organisation.
Some larger organisations are reconsidering their options, and speaking to some recently I note a couple of things:

  • Where an organisation has large teams with, say, a large influx of recent graduates (e.g. a bank or consultancy), it seems sensible that the company is mandating a certain number of days in the office, as the new entrants need to have that ‘osmosis’ learning to at least some degree; but they also are a generation that wants flexibility, so there needs to be that flex built in.

  • Where an organisation is very large, the individual teams can often get on well working remotely, but it has been found that the overall company culture can suffer as the connection between and across teams diminishes; so again, mandating days in the office can help to address this risk.

In both cases, if not mandating exact days of the week (which is somewhat inflexible so earns a negative score perhaps), then asking more senior staff to come in more often than junior should result in there being enough leadership presence at any one time to fulfil the objectives of coaching more junior staff (including by osmosis) and setting the cultural tone.

I think we will continue to learn and experiment in this space, so any hard and fast (‘fixed’) views at this time would not get my vote!

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