Wednesday, January 25, 2012

What I Learned on my Winter Vacation

There are several indicators that I am a business and finance junkie. For example, one of the highlights of our honeymoon was touring a sugar and plantation. Another example: we own a classic VHS tape titled “From Tree to Cup” (which not surprisingly is all about coffee production) acquired as a vacation souvenir.
Consequently, as we wrap up a Disney World vacation, I can’t help but draw some impressions about our trip from the professional side of things.
Following are some lessons we can learn from Disney.

Think Big – And Long-Term
The Disney complex in Florida is 47 square miles. If we think about this for a moment, we realize that if all we planned on doing was to build a theme park and a couple of hotels there is no reason we would buy up so much land.
However, by this very large purchase, Disney obtained an option to develop a much larger resort destination, which over the course of the last 40 years or so it has done. If it had just bought for the current term, it could not have grown into what it has. In other words, Disney bought for the future.
The Disney property is virtually surrounded with the trappings of gaudy tourism - hotels, restaurants, t-shirt shops, miniature golf courses, etc. Without the land buffer from its initial purchase, developing a new theme park later would require guests to pass through this neon maze when going from one to the other. Not great when you are trying to get the guests into a magical bubble where “dreams come true”.

March Slowly (Collins would be Proud)
Much as we discussed in our last post, “Why You Can Always Be Great”, Disney is a “slow marcher”. The Magic Kingdom was developed in the early 1970’s, EPCOT in 1982, Hollywood Studios in 1989, Animal Kingdom in 1998.
While the greedy might have developed faster (and perhaps gaudier), Disney seems content to manage the pace of growth rather than immediately maximizing the property’s capacity.

Maximize Your Content’s Potential
There are a great many Disney brands. The thing I noticed during this trip was how they maximize the “content within their library”.
For example, upon entering the ticket area we heard the “Yo-Ho” pirate anthem. In the Magic Kingdom’s Adventure Land, we witnessed a street performance with characters from the Pirates of the Caribbean. As part of this performance, several children were pirate apprentices and learned some lessons related to this profession. Later, we went on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride.
Toy Story’s Woody character was seen in a parade in the Magic Kingdom, at a character greeting and on a poster hanging high in Hollywood Studios, in a parade in Hollywood Studios, in the Midway games ride, on signs marking a parking section in the Magic Kingdom, and in Andy’s room which is in the courtyard of the All-Star Movies resort.
Some might say that all this activity is about marketing and branding, and that is legitimate from one aspect, but it also has a content angle. Once the initial character and story was created, someone asked questions such as: How can this character or story line appear in other settings? Wouldn’t kids love to play at being pirates? Why not train them during a street show?

Details Matter
Part of what makes the theme park experience appealing is immersion in the ambiance that is created, and this cannot be accomplished without a lot of attention to detail.
In terms of design, if you are waiting in Space Mountain, there are space games people can play while they wait. There are videos to keep folks entertained in line. There are 8-Track tapes that cover the exits of the Pop Century resort’s 70’s buildings. The staff in Frontier Land dress differently than those on Main Street.
In terms of operations, details impact the guest experience to a great degree. For example, traffic and crowd control – someone can get out of a Disney park within minutes, contrasted with leaving a basketball or baseball game in Chicago, which can be an hour long ordeal. Cleanliness is another example - I had to look for three days to find any gum on the sidewalk.

Rejuvenate Often
Disney seems to consistently rejuvenate their parks and properties.
In the Magic Kingdom, one of the six major park areas and part of another are under redevelopment. Prior to this, a new roller coaster was added to Animal Kingdom, which previously lacked a signature thrill ride. Pirates of the Caribbean, Tiki-room, It’s a Small World, the Haunted House, all have been worked on over the past ten years.
New items are added to the mix in what might be characterized as “in-between” spaces. With area surrounding each park, they can expand incrementally, which Hollywood Studios has done. If there is a resort complex on one side of a lake, a second one can be created on the other.

Key Takeaways
Disney World, in addition to entertainment value, can provide us with examples of important management practices, such as bold long-term thinking, managed growth, maximizing content, attention to design and operational details, and rejuvenation.
·         Do you have a management insight or two that is exemplified by Disney?

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Friday, January 20, 2012

Why You Can Always Be Great

There is always a book in my briefcase.
For the past week it has been “Great By Choice” by Collins and Hansen. I decided to read this due to its popularity, though I at all times keep in mind the doubts about the research methodology discussed by Rozenzweig in “The Halo Effect”.
However, things do not always have to be rigorously true in order for us to glean something useful from them, and with that spirit in mind I think there are some things in this book we can look at.
Today we will look at one of them.

The Tortoise and the Hare
According to Collins, one of the traits exhibited by “Great” companies is “Fanatic Discipline”. The practice of the “20 Mile March” is used as a symbol and metaphor for this characteristic.
The book introduces this metaphor through a comparison of 2 people walking from Los Angeles to Maine in the United States. Person A walks 20 miles every day consistently, be it rain, sleet, snow or hail (kind of like the mailman). Person B walks 40 miles on a good day, and hunkers down in bad weather, or to recuperate.
The outcome is somewhat reminiscent of the Tortoise and Hare fable. Person A, plodding along no matter what, arrives in Maine well before Person B.
Collins further illustrates this point by comparing the successful South Pole expedition of Amundsen with the failed one of Scott. Amundsen made it, and Scott died trying. Amundsen happened to move forward almost every day, even in the face of gale force antarctic winds, while Scott, who mixed all out pushes with intermittent breaks, did not.
Even when good weather would allow for a 24 hour push to complete the remaining 45 miles to the South Pole objective, the Amundsen party only traveled 17 that day.

Don’t Get Too Comfortable
According to Collins: “The 20 Mile march creates two types of self-imposed discomfort: (1) the discomfort of unwavering commitment to high performance in difficult conditions, and (2) the discomfort of holding back in good conditions.”
In other words, we keep going when we are down, and we do it despite a plethora of excuses we could use to justify not doing it. And we leave a lot on the table even when we could legitimately take it.
It is this dual natured fact that creates for us such a golden opportunity.

We’re Only Human
The behavioral field of psychology posits two main objectives for us humans – pursuit of pleasure and avoidance of pain. People are generally programmed for these two objectives (according to this theory).
So if we contrast the “Fanatic Discipline” of the great, we have the following:
Great Organizations
Human Nature
Undertake painful activities
Avoid painful activities
Leave good things on the table
Pursue pleasurable activities

Great organizations are in conflict with human nature. For this reason, few will be able to undertake them. Few will want to.
Even those that begin with the intention to become great are likely to be talked out of it by their reasonable sounding advisors, friends, families, stockholders, other stakeholders, and the press.
The result is that very, very, very few will even seek to achieve it. So we don’t have any real competition…

It’s New Years Day
…except ourselves. And this is the critical part. We will have continuous conflict within ourselves, because we are going against human nature to accomplish this.
Going to the fitness center is usually fairly easy, there is always a locker, and a stair-master, and a set of weights available to use…except for the first few weeks of January. That’s when the place is over-run by the New Year’s resolution folks, vowing to get in shape.
However, by the end of the month, the place is back to normal again. Why?
Because to maintain that New Year’s vow means to go against human nature, to willingly seek out discomfort (when I first heard the term “no pain no gain” it was in a weightlifting context), and to avoid pleasure. Fact is, most people cannot do it.

Some Steps You Can Take
Remind yourself everyday of the objective – a key theme in Shunry Suzuki’s “Zen Mind, Beginners Mind” is the dedicated practice of meditation, which you undertake for its own sake, without any idea of benefit, everyday, without fail. While you do not necessarily need to practice Zen meditation to achieve a great finance and treasury objective, you need to focus on it with just as much determination as a Zen practitioner approaches their mediation activity, and with a similar attitude.
Make the goal real now – create a vivid and compelling sense of the goal using all five of your senses – what will things look like if it is achieved? What will you hear, from yourself and others? What will you feel? Smell? Taste?
Access your resourceful and motivational states – the field of Neuro-Linguistic Programming tells us to find instances in our past where we were motivated and committed in order to replicate and re-create them. When in the past did you achieve a goal? What did you picture to yourself that kept you motivated? What did you tell yourself? What feelings did you generate? Codify these processes and repeat them for the current objective.
Focus on What You Can Control – the first I heard of the different “Zones of Control” was in Covey’s “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” and it breaks down like this: there are areas you control, areas you influence, and areas where you can’t do anything about. Focus on what you control and increase that zone wherever possible. Minimize your focus on the other areas.

Key Takeaways
We can take our organizations to greatness, provided we are willing to not be too greedy during good times and not allow bad times to knock us off track.

·         What activities do you practice that keeps you on track to meet your goals?

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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Death by 1,000 Cuts

Assume we own an airline and our airplane is about to pull away from the gate. At this point, a lot of incurred costs have been set – aircraft, salaries, maintenance, gate fees, etc.
At the last moment a potential passenger shows up. The costs for this one additional passenger are minimal – a slight increase in fuel due to the extra weight, a couple of soft drinks, an additional snack, and that is about it.
If we determine that these additional costs related to this one passenger (the technical term is “variable costs”) are  ²20 (the symbol ² representing Treasury Café monetary units), then in theory we should be willing to board that passenger so long as the fare exceeds that amount, i.e. something ²21 or greater.
This is due to the fact that there will be some contribution to fixed costs (at least ²1).
A Time and Place
This type of decision is called “marginal” or “incremental”, in that we are deciding based on one passenger at one particular point in time.
However, by its nature, the logic of marginal analysis is not well suited to extrapolation.
For example, if we price all of our airline tickets at ²21, then we would make ²1 per passenger on the airplane. If our airplane held 100 people, we would thus contribute ²100 towards our fixed costs.
This is all fine and dandy, unless it so happens that our fixed costs for this flight are ²500. If this were the case we would lose ²400 on the flight. This is not a recipe for long-term success.
Thus, we need to make sure we are not making decisions based on a marginal approach when the fact is we are making them for a longer term.
Marginal Practices Create Complexities
For our airplane, in order to cover fixed costs of ²500, then we need to make ²5 per passenger on average (assume returns of and on capital are included in the ²500 figure for simplicity).
So while in theory we are supposed to accept the fare from the one last passenger that contributes ²1, this raises several complications.
First, the price for all the other seats needs to be slightly higher to cover the ²4 we did not earn from the last person. Thus, if we know we are going to employ marginal economic thinking when the plane is pulling away from the gate, we need to price other seats accordingly in order to hit our ²5 average.
Second, once people know of this pricing pattern, we will likely have future flights with more of folks showing up for ²1 pricing versus our needed ²5. The “full-fare” prices then need to also adjust accordingly to account for this.
This simple example illustrates that analysis is not just a simple mathematical exercise. The decision today can affect many tomorrows, a characteristic known as “path-dependency”. Since we are going to set fare prices for future flights, our estimate of “full-fare” vs. “marginal-fare” passengers introduces probability and uncertainty into our pricing decision.
There are other situations where we might mistake long-term decisions for marginal ones.
Financing Mirages
Take lease vs. buy analysis. We perform this analysis assuming 100% debt financing. We do this for a good reason, because leases are debt-like financial obligations, and will be counted as debt for purposes of most financial covenants and ratings agency assessments. If we can lease the asset at a 5% rate and borrow at 6%, we should lease. If we can borrow at 4%, we should buy and finance ourselves.
However, either way we can’t just simply stop the analysis there. If we have possession of ²1,000 in assets, financed at 50/50 debt and equity, and through the lease vs. buy exercise we find leasing more attractive, so we then lease the next ²1,000, we now find ourselves at 75/25 debt and equity rather than 50/50. This change in our capital structure is going to impact our credit rating and our financial covenants. It certainly has impacted our risk position.
A series of seemingly “one-off” transactions has now snowballed into a major long-term impact.
Strategic Mirages
Another common place where incremental thinking can go awry is in strategic situations.
If we are a firm in a line of business where our required equity return (as determined using one of the thousand variations of the Capital Asset Pricing Model) is 12% and cost of debt is 6% at a 50/50 capital structure with a 50% tax rate, our weighted average after tax cost of capital is 7.5%.
We then purchase a line of business different than our current one. Let’s assume this is a riskier business, so the required equity return is 18% at a 50/50 capital structure. Assuming the same debt cost, our weighted average cost of capital is 10.5%.
Since at the outset, the cost of capital is 7.5%, and the new line of business is small, some will simply use the existing cost of capital to value the investment in this new line. As long as it is a very small piece of the whole pie, it is probably not terribly important.
But if the new line takes off, and becomes half of our company, then we find we have a weighted average cost of capital of 9%. Since the investments were all made to clear a hurdle of only 7.5%, our investors now find we are under earning by 1.5%.
This will not make them happy.
Wear Both Hats
In order to avoid the problems above, we need to analyze situations not only in their incremental form, but also as-if they are in long-term form as well. Even if they are not, we need to pretend that they are.
If we are going to invest in an asset via a lease, then we need to anticipate investing in a future asset via 100% equity. We need to make sure that the returns from the lease investment is such that it would be achievable as if it were financed at our target 50/50 capital structure.
If we do not do this, we may never make that all-equity investment, if only because the return hurdles are so much higher they might not be achievable.
For our strategic investment, while we might have access to 7.5% money, we still need to ensure that the new line of business will be economical as if it were financed by 10.5% money. Or, we need to make sure we realize and are confident that a less than 10.5% investment today will be made up for tomorrow with a greater than 10.5% investment. 
Key Takeaways
When considering incremental or on-the-margin opportunities, we need to make sure we analyze them two ways, not only incrementally but as-if it is a long-term decision as well.
·       Can you recall a time when incremental analysis was used inappropriately in your organization?
Add to the discussion with your thoughts, comments, questions and feedback! Please share Treasury Café with others. Thank you!

Friday, January 13, 2012

More Eyeballs for Dessert, Please!

We have recently covered innovation in two separate posts.
In “More Eyeballs, Please!” we looked at the topic from the point of view of number of tasks we could take immediately with minimal organizational distraction.
In “May I Have a Framework for My Eyeballs, Please?” we examined innovation from the point of view of some major strategy consulting firms.
This third post in the trilogy looks at developing new ideas and innovation from a methodological perspective.
This is an acronym for a series of questions designed to create new perspectives. It stands for:
·       Substitute – can we substitute one thing for another? Bran flakes for corn flakes? Plastic for Steel?
·       Combine – can we combine items? Raisins with cereal flakes? An iTunes store with a music device?
·       Adapt – can we use something already in existence in a new way? Duct tape the rear-view mirror? Retail store model to sell our product?
·       Modify (or Magnify, or Minify) – can we make something bigger or smaller? Can we make this phone’s touch screen bigger and call it a tablet?
·       Put to Other Uses – can we put this to another use? Use the stapler as a hammer?
·       Eliminate  - is there something we can eliminate? Can we eliminate the game controller? Can we eliminate a separate keyboard?
·       Rearrange (or Reverse) - what if things were in a different order?
Further Resources Links for SCAMPER:
Four More
If I were to cover all the other types in as much depth as SCAMPER, we would be here all day, so I am going to provide a brief description of some others along with a link to a further resource (usually the Asian Development Bank - great depth of articles in their Knowledge Center!) with more information and a listing of further resources:
Appreciative Inquiry – this process attempts to rely on theories such as positive thinking and the aspirational nature of people in order to bring more of these elements into the organization.
The Reframing Matrix – this term is used to describe looking at a question from different perspectives. A corporation might look at an issue from customers, employees, and shareholders point of view. Internally, one could look at a question from different functions viewpoints – what would marketing’s approach be? Operations? R&D? Sales? Finance? HR?
Thinking Hats – this technique uses different styles of thinking to generate different perspectives on a question or problem. Each style of thinking uses a color, so if we want to think about “just the facts” we would put on our White thinking hat.
Fishbones - the Fishbone diagram is a staple of Six Sigma methodologies. The focus for this tool generally centers around a process or event we wish to ascertain a root cause for, but there is nothing stopping us from using it for innovation rather than problem solving. The “bones” can be 6M’s, 5S’s, or 8P’s.
Get in the Spirit
Considering these different techniques can lead someone to get very confused and overwhelmed. What is the best method if we want to innovate a process? What about a new product? A service?
My belief is that any of these innovation methods will do a good job of identifying ideas (that’s why they are in this blog post and not on ‘the cutting room floor’).
What is more important is that a group of people who are motivated and interested in doing it are present.
I was once in a SCAMPER session that was part of a project where nobody was motivated to change from the status quo. There were maybe three ideas, and they were all lame.
I was in a Fishbone session once with a group and we had great fun with the technique and with each other, and came up with several ideas that could be put to use immediately or warranted further pursuit.
Key Takeaways
There are many models available that can assist a motivated team to innovate and create new ways of performing our work, the key word being “motivated team”.
·         What has been your experience in using any of these idea generation techniques?
·         Are you motivated to change your work processes and/or your organization’s products or services?
Add to the discussion with your thoughts, comments, questions and feedback! Please share Treasury Café with others. Thank you!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

May I Have a Framework for My Eyeballs, Please?

In last week’s “More Eyeballs, Please!” post it was suggested that we can’t seem to get enough of innovation. This may have been an understatement, since in less than one week’s time it has vaulted into the top 10 all-time Treasury Café posts!
Last week’s focus was on simple things we could do tomorrow – they did not involve a lot of organizational rigmarole, or require multiple layers of approval, or insist on senior management “buy-in”, or depend on a long involved business cases whose objective was wresting large amounts of budgetary dollars.
These are things that should almost always be avoided, so we will not focus on them this week either, though we will “turn the kaleidoscope” and look at innovation from some slightly different angles – those of the major consulting firms.
A Strategy, a Goal and a Culture
Booz & Co’s recent article “Why Culture is Key” summarizes key findings in their “Global 1000 Innovation study”.
Three strategies for innovation were outlined:
·       Need Seekers – “shape new products and services based on superior end-user understanding”
·       Market Readers – “focus largely on creating value through incremental innovations to their products and being ‘fast followers’ in the marketplace”
·       Technology Drivers - seek to solve the unarticulated needs of their customers through leading edge new technology”
When we combine the objectives and cultural attributes of all three strategies, the two top innovation goals were:
·       Superior Product Performance
·       Superior Product Quality
And the two top cultural attributes were:
·       Strong identification with the customer and an overall orientation to the customer experience
·       Passion for and pride in the products and services offered”
What strategy is best for a finance and treasury group will depend on the context of the situation. If the group is in a large, well-established firm than a Market Reader strategy will likely make the most sense, whereas in a small company a Need Seeker strategy could lead to really stellar long-term outcomes.
While the strategy may vary, the rest of it is fairly straightforward no matter who you are: shoot for superior products and services, do it with passion, and focus on your customer.
Apparently, despite its mystique, innovation is not rocket science.
Build a Network
In “Leadership and Innovation”, McKinsey & Company devotes a large portion of the article to innovation networks. Indeed, they state that “recent academic research finds that differences in individual creativity and intelligence matter far less for innovation than connections and networks”.
This is particularly intriguing since in the Wikifinance, Wikitreasury series we discussed tacit interactions in social networks to be the primary unit of work.
McKinsey outlines four critical steps in designing the “innovation network”:
·       Connect - find pockets of people with the right mind-sets for innovation with a mix of approaches, seniority, and skills
·       Engage – establish a framework around goals, objectives, time frames, levels of commitment
·       Support – determine and provide sponsorship/leadership, technology and other support required and critical knowledge and information inputs
·       Manage – recognition, performance management, assessment and tracking, membership transitions.
And four different “archetypes” of the innovation network’s members:
·       Idea Generators – come up with ideas, ask questions, willing to take risks on high-profile experiments
·       Researchers – mine data to find patterns, which they use as a source of new ideas
·       Experts – value proficiency in a single domain and relish opportunities to get things done
·       Producers – orchestrate the activities of the network, most likely to be making connections across teams and groups
Going back to the introduction for this post, we want to focus on keeping things simple. Even without a formal organizational effort, our treasury and finance groups can evaluate activities to execute the “innovation network” functions. For example, we can identify who in the organization has the innovation mind-sets and connect with them.
We can also get a sense of where our group’s strengths lay in terms of the archetypes – do we generate ideas? Are we really good at getting things done?
From McKinsey, we have learned that in order to innovate we need to work together and we need to include all kinds.
Key Takeaways
According to the consultants, innovation is not rocket science - all we need to do is get all kinds of people into a network together and focus on developing a superior product or service with passion, pride and a customer emphasis.
·         How would you go about creating an innovation network in your organization?
·         How do you focus on your customers and their needs?
·         Which of the archetypes do you fit the best?
·         If innovation is really this simple, why is it so hard?
Add to the discussion with your thoughts, comments, questions and feedback! Please share Treasury Café with others. Thank you!

Friday, January 6, 2012

More Eyeballs, Please!

Innovation is one of those business topics that always seem to be on the front burner. We can’t seem to get enough of it. And for good reason!
Innovation is the way to create growth, keep a leg up on competitors, and achieve cost savings, among other things.
Innovation can often be spurred when someone unfamiliar with what we are doing encounters our work processes. Questions that were long-ago answered and then forgotten are asked again, requiring thoughtful and intelligent thought. Often, we find that they are answered differently than they were originally.
How can we get a “fresh set of eyes”?

Rotate for Fresh Viewpoints
It is when things are fresh and new that we usually ask questions about someone or something – why are we doing this? What is it for? How does this work? What do I have to do next? What choices do I have to make?
When two or more people hold a similar role, sometimes the work can be reorganized differently. If both people do tasks x and y, then we can reorganize it so that one person does all x and the other does all y.
We then rotate these people through the various roles periodically.
The benefit to this is as follows: if someone has been performing x for the last week, then at the time they move over to y they are doing something they haven’t done in a while, and they are going to be much more likely to ask questions about the process.

Swim Upstream and Down
Another mechanism to invite scrutiny from another perspective is to meet with our “upstream process suppliers”, or our “downstream process customers”.
We can do this in a meeting setting or a site-visit type of format. The objective with this is to show the other group what we do, how we do it, walking them through the process and its results.
Since this level of detail is new to others, they serve as our “fresh set of eyes”, and their questions as they seek to understand the information can lead to new ways of thinking about what we are doing.
For example, most payments are approved through an automated process, but there are various areas where specific exemptions to this are in place. The payment processor would need to refer to several tables and lookup screens to identify the appropriate exemption.
Once we realized this, we were able modify the process with a simple fix “upstream” that avoided almost all of the extra time and effort involved with the exceptions.

Roll Up Your Sleeves
One of my favorite techniques is to do my staff’s jobs from time to time. My own eyeballs become the fresh set.
One task someone on the team performed was to prepare a report using downloaded data from a system. As I performed this task, my understanding of VBA programming led me to the conclusion that we could likely program a large portion of the task.
We ended up creating a simple Excel routine that automated 80% of the task.

Use Your Bankers
Most banks have treasury personnel that are happy to tour our facilities, sit with our people, and witness how we accomplish our various tasks.
These folks have seen a lot of organizations, witnessed a lot of tasks being accomplished in a myriad set of ways. Their “fresh eyes” on our processes, combined with that background of knowledge, can often generate surprisingly easy improvements.
For instance, upon noticing an operation that required the person to refer to several documents back and forth in succession, they recommended we install dual screen monitors for those performing that function. This very simple recommendation saved over 20 minutes per day per person.

Schedule It
When I was in the asset based lending field, we would do an annual “Legal File Review”. This entailed sitting down with the five-inch thick set of documents with a lawyer, and laboriously plowing through each one.
As part of this process, a lot of questions were asked. According to x, we should be doing y, how are we going about that? These questions provoked a lot of re-examination about the loans.
When I moved over to the corporate side, we continued this tradition with the agreements that Treasury and Finance undertake. It forces us to put our eyeballs back onto things we might otherwise not, and it has driven changes and improvements, and it has certainly ensured compliance!

Set the Stage
There is resistance to opening up work processes to outside examination. We fear we will be criticized, or appear incompetent, or that we will likely need to change. All of these feelings work against the suggestions here.
As leaders, the more we are able to create an environment where mistakes are allowed, where growth is valued, where learning and trying new things out is encouraged, will make a difference in the effectiveness of these simple techniques.
It is a necessary prerequisite.

Key Takeaways
There are simple, homegrown and inexpensive ways to keep the work fresh in the eyes of our teams. Once we have created an environment that eases the fear of change, we can create a setting for innovation by:
·         Rotating roles within the team
·         Bringing in our process partners as observers
·         Jumping into spots ourselves to perform the work involved
·         Asking our banks for assistance
·         Scheduling reviews and asking questions

·         How do you keep the work fresh in a way that brings about new ideas that improve the process?

Add to the discussion with your thoughts, comments, questions and feedback! Please share Treasury Café with others. Thank you!