The hybrid role of Treasury at Boskalis
As a maritime multinational, Boskalis is involved in large scale projects all over the world. Due to the complexity of these projects, the Treasury department has a strategic role within the company and is a role model for other multinationals.
In the first hundred years of its existence, Boskalis was purely a dredging company. In 2010 the company – to give it its full name Royal Boskalis Westminster NV- acquired a number of other companies and, as a result, evolved from a dredging to maritime service company offering various services to different markets. Over the course of a few years, Boskalis acquired haulage company SMIT Internationale, Fairmount, Dockwise and the dredging business of the German Strabag Wasserbau.
Evolved according to needs
Boskalis has a huge project organization; the company operates in more than 90 countries across 6 continents. As a result of this expansion, the complexity of treasury work increased as well, due to various currencies, local bank accounts, financial structures and different ERP systems. “At a certain time they all have to be in sync,” says Frank Rousseau, Boskalis’ Group Treasurer. Treasury plays a remarkable hybrid role in it all: on the one hand as a ‘holding-treasury’ – namely in the area of corporate finance and everything concerning take-overs – and on the other hand closely involved with projects, mainly financial risk management. Rousseau: “Advising the Board and at the same time being close to the business locally means we play a very central role.”
Rousseau also thinks that the treasury function at Boskalis is special. His department now has 16 people who work on cash management, corporate finance, project financing, bank guarantees and credit risk management. “Our people are often directly involved with projects. The treasury organization has evolved according to the needs of the company. There is a need for strong financial and operational risk management and support for the business units, such as identifying and covering currency risks, credit risks and fuel price risks. At the time a contract is signed, all such risks have to be covered; when the project is underway you can’t intervene. Getting the order book filled is easy, but filling it with revenue-generating work is a bit harder. There is no advantage in taking on work and then doing it badly. Risk management is therefore very important in our business.” Quick involvement Large projects involve the whole treasury department in one way or another. “For example, take the construction of a new arm of the Suez canal, so that shipping can safely navigate in both directions. From 2014 onwards this has been a large project and we had to contend with local bank accounts; Egyptian pounds, which have a currency risk; and managing credit risks, financial securities, bank guarantee structures and fuel price risks. These sorts of things can lead to fluctuations in returns and costs and therefore Treasury is involved at many levels, which makes it really fascinating.”
“The Treasury organization has evolved according to the needs of the company”
1300 people in total work at Boskalis’ head office in Papendrecht, supporting the company’s large international projects. The fleet, the pools with crew, the researchers and contractors are all managed centrally. Even the preparation and implementation of tenders is done centrally, by, amongst others, Treasury, Legal and Tax. “We are involved from the moment potential work is on the horizon up to contract negotiations. But also when the order is under way, for example with payments, the management of cash”, Rousseau explains. Execution of such local projects has to be managed centrally. “We don’t have any local organizations that can develop the necessary competencies; when one project is finished the project organization moves on to the next one. After the Egyptian project, half of the people go on to the next project in, let’s say, Oman. It is, in a way, hit and run work. We only have locations in Amsterdam and Singapore that act as a permanent base for a region.”
Rousseau’s treasury organization reports to the CFO. Besides administrative and secretarial support, there is a team of four who deal with the daily cash management. Five others handle credit risk management and bank guarantees. Another team of five handles corporate finance, project finance and project development. Customer finance falls under project finance. “Public-Private Co-operation (PPS) is quite labor-intensive: if you tender for a Dutch PPS, you have to do so with a complete financing package. There are international clients – those outside the OECD countries – who have a project, but lack the financing or don’t know exactly how to develop the project.
For example, in Panama we had Punta Pacifica, where a client wanted to put two islands off the coast of Panama city. As the client had insufficient funding for this, Boskalis participated with local banks. We were therefore not only contractor/ guarantor for the complete execution of the project as far as the financers were concerned, but we also financed a part of the contract value. Treasury tries to add value in order to bring in a project.”
Another example is arranging a loan for clients with Atradius cover. “We did that last year in Colombia,” Rousseau explains. “We arranged bank financing for the client where the bank received credit insurance from the Dutch Export Credit Agency, covered by the Ministry of Finance. Credit risk for the bank is effectively carried by to the Dutch government.
This is only possible in combination with a Dutch export product. In this way we try to do more projects by contributing to the economic feasibility of a project. In addition, we are broadening our approach to project development: we are offering parties who have a project in mind the chance to develop this together with Boskalis and make a business plan that is then financeable.” Although this is not a typical Treasury activity at first sight, it fits in the strategic scope of Treasury’s role in Boskalis.
New direction for cash management
In 2014 RBS, an important international house bank to Boskalis, decided to stop offering cash management and trade finance services outside the UK. This forced Boskalis to change direction. Rousseau: “We had decided some time ago to take a close look at our cash management, but when RBS pulled out we were triggered into taking action. And we realized then, in spring 2015, that we needed external help.” That’s how the relationship with Zanders came about. “Their added value was in visualizing solutions and thinking strategically about where we wanted to be as company. They helped us to make choices, and with the set up of the whole organization.”
“As well as the complete execution of the project, we also part-financed a part of the contract value”
An important step was selecting a new bank for cash management services. Boskalis and Zanders issued an RfP and, via a short list and various analyses, we finally chose BNP Paribas for international cash management and ABN AMRO for Dutch cash management. At the same time, the cash management structure and the payment process were improved by implementing a bank-independent, central payment hub, which provided more insight into our cash flows. Rousseau: “We can now send a report of our net financial position to the Board every day: where is our money? We have drastically reduced the approximately 700 bank accounts we had and we now have structures abroad to better centralize our cash.
Furthermore: we previously had payments from all sorts of different electronic banking systems. That too is now centralized in a standard solution.”
Parallel to these changes, Zanders supported Boskalis with an upgrade and outsourcing of the treasury management system (TMS). “We had three balls in the air at the same time,” says Rousseau. “It was a big strategic project, certainly for our Treasury. It has improved our bank account structure, the payment process and the information flow. Every morning we now receive all balances for about 500 bank accounts electronically via MT940. Our TMS then generates a report which gives the CFO and me insight into our net financial position. In the UK we have just set up a cash pool and we are doing the same in Germany. In our central cash pool we have 19 currencies. Last year we took over VBMS, the former offshore wind company of Volker Wessels, and this component has also been included in the new structure. In these type of processes, Treasury used to be a follower, but now we are leading. We tell the business unit how its cash management should be structured.”
“In these sort of processes Treasury was mainly a follower, but now we are leading”
This year Boskalis won a prize from The Asset, a well known Asian trade journal, for ‘Best Cash Management Solution in Asia.’ Rousseau: “In Singapore, one of the few places where we have a permanent base, we have set up a structure with target balancing, so that every day a limited amount remains in the account whilst surplus funds are automatically transferred to the central cash pool in the Netherlands. This solution has won a nice prize and sector-wide recognition.”
Which plans and developments does Rousseau foresee in the future? “We obviously look at where we can make more improvements, but we have made great inroads over the past two years. For Treasury, support for the business units – the wider role in project finance and project development – is most important. We have a new 3 year business plan for 2017-2019, in which we show that we want to grow in dredging activities and offshore energy, the new components which we have had for several years and in which we expect high growth. As far as credit risk is concerned, we are keeping an eye on the oil and gas sector.”The Board of Directors is close to the organization and to its projects. This means that all departments have a short communication line with them. “They have insight into all projects’ financial risks and how we can cover them,” Rousseau explains. “The people we have here are really good professionals, who can handle derivatives. If you see what we have set up for our cash management and with which people we meet new challenges, then we really are ready for the future.”