Recapping AFP 2023: What Went Down?
In this podcast, Craig Jeffery discusses the standout topics that made an appearance at AFP this year. Listen in to this discussion covering RFPs, liquidity worries, and the ever-present staffing dilemmas. What do we see shaping the financial world this year?
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Jonathan Jeffery, Strategic Treasurer
Craig Jeffery, Strategic Treasurer
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Episode Transcription - Episode # 278: Recapping AFP 2023: What Went Down?
Welcome to the Treasury Update Podcast presented by Strategic Treasurer, your source for interesting treasury news analysis and insights in your car, at the gym or wherever you decide to tune in.
Jonathan Jeffery 00:15
AFP 2023 is all wrapped up and we’re back home. We got home about a week ago and we’ve had time to look back on it, gather our thoughts, and we want to bring you today some of the things that stood out to us some of the things we learned this year. I’m here with Craig Jeffery, back in the studio, on the Treasury Update Podcast. Welcome back to the show, Craig.
Craig Jeffery 00:37
It’s good to be back on the show. And also good to be back in town. San Diego was fun, but it’s also good to be here.
Jonathan Jeffery 00:45
Yes, a lot going on for that week out in San Diego.
Craig Jeffery 00:49
It’s kind of relentless from what we do. We do morning activities quite early, and then we go into the evening, so wouldn’t be sustainable for a week. But you start and then it rolls through really quickly. It’s so good to catch up with many people.
Jonathan Jeffery 01:03
So do you want to give us a little recap of some of the things that stood out to you while we were there?
Craig Jeffery 01:09
Sure. You know, the most notable thing to me was that people are back and forth at the AFP, if we go back to DC, which was a hybrid environment, that was just good to get back as COVID was was winding down, people are meeting again, Philly was like half the way back from that point. And we needed to make some improvements, the improvements in the size on these physical events, and San Diego certainly fit the bill. I know there was over 6000 people, it felt very, very good and very different from what we’ve seen the last few years during COVID and post COVID.
Jonathan Jeffery 01:42
So we may have had more people at the conferences before COVID. But for us, this was a record year with people coming to our events in our side room. So that was cool to see.
Craig Jeffery 01:51
Yeah, it’s a really good one the the ability to have conversations both on the floor and our side rooms was really good. So we had breakfast events. As you know, these were the FinTech hot seats. For the most part, we had one on tech and one on payments. We held them a little bit later 7:30 as opposed to seven, that probably a lot more people to get up and walk the distance plus being on the West Coast, West Coast time. Made it not seem so early. So those were those were mainly meant for recording. But now we had a we have an audience in the morning, as well as some of the other activities.
Jonathan Jeffery 02:25
Yeah, a weekend and finally getting adjusted back to East Coast time. It feels like I’m waking up super early when I’m waking up at 7:30. It’s insane. Do you have anything else that stood out to you?
Craig Jeffery 02:34
The idea of the power of a network is how big is the network? Who’s on the network? And what can you do on the network? And I think of the AFP is this network to learn and connect with people, the network was bigger than our kind of a lot of activity. And what we can do on the network, from conversations to different types of learning to refreshing memories was refreshing relationships was really, really quite good. Those are those are a few of the things that stood out. I think some of the other things, you know, what was new at the AFP would be meeting up with some of the newer providers like Treasury go, which is the head of that organizations a technology firm. And you can find out more about them in our analyst report, which is free on the website. And hopefully you can drop a link in George’s in heads that organization, if he was a former Microsoft treasurer, it was really good to catch up with him see him out and about in their their company be present another firm boost, it’s a payments company. They had a new they had a demo booth, they were out on the floor talking to people just good to see them and a number of other newer vendors into the space participate in at AFP, those were those are some of the good ones. We also mentioned the analysts report, we’d distributed that to all the different entries in there. The companies that were part of that there are 17 different companies over 25 treasury products covered in that report. There’s a physical distribution, but also we have that available digitally, which is where most people pick it up. So you can download that for free from the site.
Jonathan Jeffery 04:09
It’s different corresponding with people their email that have been in the report, but when they actually see it, it’s totally different. They’re holding it they’re standing in this booth with all the people around they’re seeing their love and stuff. They’ve worked on a company.
Craig Jeffery 04:21
Yeah, and it’s when people when people see this is a this book is over 160 pages. It’s gonna get a digitally a kind of like flip through it really quickly. But when you see it physically, it’s it’s pretty impressive. There’s a lot of really good information there. You know, one of the things Jon, you’re aware we’ve done the FinTech hot seats where we interview people on technology. We started that back in 2000. I can’t remember what year it was. That was the Orlando event. First time we exhibited on the floor. We started doing these hot seats, usually interviewing one company at a time. We had lights, camera, we recorded those. We’ve moved those into a side room and made the more of a panel discussion on particular topics. Some of these exhibit halls don’t allow you to project, you know, put put speakers or amplify things to have people come around if you do that in your booth. So we’ve moved and change that. But one of the things that was interesting saw some different recordings happening. Trovata was doing a podcast, from their booth with lights, and then the audio equipment. That was great to see that type of energy on the floor again. Very, very fun. So we, we think these are great opportunities to share record and catch up with people who are all in one space, you know, for just just a four or five day period if people come in early.
Jonathan Jeffery 05:39
So this is Strategic Treasurer’s, what, eighth years with a booth?
Craig Jeffery 05:44
I don’t remember. It’s been a few years. So I think it’s it sounds like it’s probably eight years. Yeah.
Jonathan Jeffery 05:50
Throughout those years, we’ve made changes each year. What were some of those changes that happen this year?
Craig Jeffery 05:56
Well, we moved the FinTech hot seats that we’ve been doing as a panel discussion at seven to 7:30. I think I mentioned that before. So look for videos on those coming out in the next couple of months, we changed you know, Ky, who heads up all our marketing stuff came up with this whole new way of drawing people to the booth for prizes, but also making those educational. So there’s this whole, select a prize, you get it from a ping pong ball, and then you use that ping pong ball to vote. And we’ll probably share a little bit more about that. But this allowed you to vote for what were the biggest pain points. The key prize was this ice pack or head, whatever those things are that you put on your head, if you’re you’ve got a headache. And so the thing was on removing pain points, and essentially how to remove those. So people would figure out what their prize was, whether it was a Yeti cooler, or a phone charger, or whatever. And then they would take that ping pong ball and vote. And so from the floor, you could see the voting add up over the time of the AFP. And we also ran that in conjunction with the virtual online voting as well, people were voting for what their key pain point is. So all that information is combined. December 7, we have an a webinar on the results, we’d invite people to tune in to that. What are the results? What do they mean? What are some implications? That should be good, fun. Other changes? Well, we didn’t really change our lunches, we continued our lunches with the focus on corporate practitioners on Monday. And then regional and super regional banks participating on Tuesday, we want to have a an event to thank people who are in these different cohorts of types of companies provide good contact, let them content and let them dialogue freely. And that’s really so encouraging to us. Because those lunches are fully formed, we started those. And then it was always trying to get people to come to an event. Now they’re the room’s full, we even have to change the table setup so we can fit more people in the room. It’s just a really, really good way to connect with people there.
Jonathan Jeffery 07:59
Yeah, bankers lunch is always a lively and lively bunch. Let me jump back to the you’re talking about the live survey with the ping pong balls, I printed off a picture of it. From at the end of the conference, we can see the results live. And a lot of people at the conference floor walked up and were reading it because you see our booth and the first thing you look at is the size of the booth. Second thing you look at is this big sign that says, Which is your greatest pain point in treasury? And we had five categories listed here for them to choose from data and analytics, liquidity forecasting, rework from errors, fraud and controls, and then the last one is staffing limitations. It was very interesting to see it rise throughout the weekend. And Craig, let’s take a look at this picture and see if you have any, if there’s any comments you have or description of what you heard from the people as you’re talking to them go through this process.
Craig Jeffery 08:52
Sure. Liquidity forecasting is such a top area that’s been such a major concern and pain point for organizations since well, before COVID, probably the last eight or 10 years. Almost every survey shows that that’s that’s a top item for treasury people. And it’s it’s spend more time on it if they could they plan to spend more time they want to invest in technology. And so during times of stress, it becomes even more important never, it never falls down hardly at all. But it does accelerate. So early COVID times of times of turmoil. Everyone’s trying to solve that problem, the expectations continue to be high. What was surprising to me too, is data and analytics coming relatively close to it pretty high up number number two if you’re only selecting a single pain point, and so this I think is this is a key recognition of people saying how do I take advantage of the tech that exist and perform better analysis whether it’s related to forecasting counterparty risk, different exposures or business areas. The staffing limitations was none for three, I’ll be honest, I expected that to be. I expected that to be fourth out of the five, not third. But I guess one of the things we see is there is pretty significant even for the people who are at the AFP, people that voted online, who might not have been able to come to the AFP noted at a higher percentage than those that were there. So that might even fall along those lines. But there’s just quite a bit worth talking about and what you know, what are your peers doing and experiencing and how you can resolve those and are we present on this, we’ll also share the different services, from consulting, to training to data, how we help organizations solve these pain points. So I’m looking forward to those types of discussion. It was good to get people going vote and getting involved that also ties into our focus and emphasis on on research.
Jonathan Jeffery 10:55
We’ll be talking more about this on December 7. If you’d like to hear these specific results, head over to our website, strategic treasure slash webinars, and you’ll see the webinar they’re taking the pain out of treasury while you were talking to people in front of this game, what were some of the common the common themes and conversations what were people struggling with this year? That’s that was new.
Craig Jeffery 11:15
Yeah, on the liquidity side, a lot of conversations on liquidity, many of them centered on the forecasting methods and tools, which is you know, along the lines with the game of course, but but focused on liquidity, you know, pricing, cost of funds has risen and accessing more liquidity for many organizations become much more challenging. So that’s that was a key area. Staffing, we did hear a lot about that the capacity of organizations changing workforce, the Zoomers coming in having different expectations. Being both a challenge and a huge benefit to companies helping them think through what’s going on. Um, this was this was far more impactful than I would have thought than I’ve been thinking. So I’m trying to play catch up to what the universe is the universe of treasury people are experiencing another area besides talking about technology, we talked about technology, with so many people, almost every project has technology with it. But the other area where there’s a lot of conversations had to do with requests for proposals, banking payments, technology, people are looking to up tear their their banking, structure their services, upgrade their technology, or put in technology to support the new payment rails to manage the the ongoing increasing threat to the payment processes. So RFPs were another big topic, probably bigger than other years that we’ve seen, or at least I ended up having more conversations on that in San Diego.
Jonathan Jeffery 12:49
Why do you think RFPs were something people are struggling with now as opposed to the last couple of years?
Craig Jeffery 12:55
I’m not sure but one here here’s a hypothesis, at least there’s been more attention, there’s there certainly more attention to reducing costs, the ability to perform a to improve financial performance and reduce costs is definitely being pushed out through the organization not so much that they’re stopping projects, but they’re saying how can we how can we be more efficient and RFPs our way of retooling or retuning or realigning what you’re doing with your banks, it’s opportunities for new tech, which would allow you to do quite a bit more to just scale up without adding a lot of staff. And then the fact that there’s so many changes in the payments front, you know, instead of making changes in 10 different systems to support new payment rails or sanction filtering or whatever the issues are, people are looking at tools to help them on the payment front. And so, you know, an RFP or a selection, selection effort is really part of that time, you know, encompassing those in one package RFPs or selecting new providers, new tech. And I guess that’s that’s why I would see those are so important from a economic standpoint, and the change in the environment as well as the threat from from the risk side.
Jonathan Jeffery 14:07
Do you think these corporates are making more changes in their banking structures now versus the last couple of years? And that’s why it’s coming up.
Craig Jeffery 14:15
I think that I think there’s plans to do a little bit more a little bit more realignment, you know, the issues and challenges with a number of banks on the financial stability has caused people to rethink a few things. And one of those is not putting all of your eggs in one basket, all of your operational eggs in one basket. Many, many years ago, there might have been a number of large companies might use three banks to handle activity and allocate it, let’s just say 60% 30% and 10. But over the years, it became more and more we’d call it rationalization or compression and bring it down to one or two banks and the recognition on the operational side. You really can’t just go with one bank once you reach a certain size and so organizations are doing a little bit of dividing that up to have better coverage, better diversification, certainly on the operational side. And so I think that’s where that’s coming into play mostly.
Jonathan Jeffery 15:12
So are you saying that fire extinguisher salesmen do better in neighborhoods where one house is burned down?
Craig Jeffery 15:18
I wouldn’t say that I’m sure that’s true. You know, it’s like, it’s not you, if your neighbor gets broken into all of a sudden you’re buying the home alarm system or someone burns down, you do it. There’s, there’s increased awareness of what’s what’s gone on. That’s one of those things where, you know, as humans, we get more alerted to risk when something happens. We think it when it’s not super common, that something occurs, we get complacent, too complex that happens in Treasury, risk oriented individuals in treasury get too complacent. It’s the whole rebuilding, you know, houses on the on the floodplains of the Mississippi or rebuilding a house on the shores of the Atlantic, you know, right. Right near the coast, things get wiped out and every so many years because of a hurricane, the concerns about counterparty risk and fraud and figuring out how to do better with those should be front of mind all the time. But we forget about those things. You’ve probably heard me mention the, when there’s a tsunami in Japan, they’re like, oh, they discovered these rocks that said, Don’t build lower than this. This is how high the floodwaters of the tsunami hit. And then I can’t remember how many hundreds of yours it was a go, but they put these warning rocks, right? And then people ignore it. It’s like, okay, that’s that’s myth. Or it’s, that’s so rare that we don’t have to worry about it. Well, you do have to worry about those things they do occur.
Jonathan Jeffery 16:43
Yeah, people stopped building their house on the hill after Pompeii. On the hill after Pompeii. I was watching the thing on that in their documentary on that, and they’re saying is so beautiful that people just built up the hill until after the volcano erupted. Nobody built on the hill after that they were they were turned into stone. Yeah, something about seeing what happens to your neighbors makes you much more aware. Let’s go into circle back around AFP. And next year, what’s going on next year? For me? It seems like we just well, we just finished a week ago, and already making plans already booked in the booth already booked in the side rooms, stuff like that.
Craig Jeffery 17:22
Yeah, that some of that starts. For those who aren’t familiar with the whole conference process. Most most organizations are booking booth space, well before the current year. So we were booking that I don’t know in the summer, what our booth spaces. So Nashville is the 2024 location of the AFP. I think that’s called Music City. That’s excellent. That’s within driving distance for us where we are less about four hours. I’m looking forward to it conceptually, physically, I’m glad we have some breathing room before our group starts focusing on it. And I know Kai is going to kind of cocked up something else for the booth that’s unique, and fun. So she’s done that every year, I’m looking forward to that. We’re gonna go with a slightly smaller booth, because we’ve always we’ve had this booth and a side room. And I don’t think we need to bring 18 to 20 people every year to man those areas, we we found we can be a little more efficient and effective. Instead of having eight squares on the floor, instead of 20 by 40, or 30. By 30. We’re gonna go 20 by 30, we’ll have just as much sitting space and room to work out of but I think we found how to be a little more efficient from in working from a couple locations. And I’m going to ask that we find out can we bring a bike to the convention centers because it just seemed like we were hitting 20 25,000 steps every day in work shoes. And a bike would be way way easier if they allow it. That’s a joke.
Jonathan Jeffery 18:55
Craig Jeffery 18:57
Definitely not rollerblades.
Jonathan Jeffery 19:02
Everyone will recognize this. Oh yeah. Those are those guys in rollerblades everywhere.
Craig Jeffery 19:07
Well, it’s that’s one of the things there’s so much there’s so much going on. You might go I’m going to this session over here. I’m going over here. I’ve got to go to our side room and it’s like, okay, this is a nine minute walk is a five minute walk. And you’re doing this, you know, constantly throughout the time. It’s just there’s so much going on. Yeah, that’d be nice if there was a bike but you know.
Jonathan Jeffery 19:26
Yeah, they say that the booth in the side room or next door but getting from the hotel walking over to the side room in the morning for the breakfast was like 25 minute walk. It’s like almost a mile.
Craig Jeffery 19:39
Jonathan Jeffery 19:39
Well, we had a great year at AFP. We’re looking forward to the next round. You have anything else you want to add? For the listeners? Yeah, it was it was very, very effective for us. Very helpful, so good to catch up with longtime friends and colleagues and customers over the years and have a new bunch of new conversations to meet new people. So this is a huge event for us. I think I think the AFP is a must attend event for every major treasury group that they need to send at least one person each year, and probably more if you’re if you’re larger, and maybe you need to rotate staff, there’s too many developments changes in relationships to miss out. I would say there’s a lot of really good, you know, regional and super regional conferences in Treasury. And so splitting people up among some of those different events makes a lot of sense. But this is this is a real key seminal event for if it was just for relationships, it’d be worth it. If it’s just for education, it’d be worth it. If it was just for being able to have conversations on the business development side, it’d be worth it. So each of those makes it worth it. And then you compound them together. It’s it’s really worth it. So I’m looking forward to the next day of p. And it was so good to meet so many of our listeners there. We talked about the the podcast and content that they read that that makes us feel really good. We we work hard to put out a lot of content. And having people comment on it was it was strangely warming and rewarding. Yeah, or closing in on half a million downloads on the podcast. And while I was talking to people there, most people knew what the podcast was that I had conversations with. So that was cool to see on my part. But thanks. Thank you all for listening. And we will see you all next year at AFP. And also next week on the podcast. Have a good one.
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