01-06-2022 09:50

Why Thule Group went all-in on automation

In recent years, Thule Group has used automation to revamp its approach to cash management and FX handling. Automation itself wasn't the end goal but rather the means to becoming a more strategic treasury. The move has paid off, freeing up time for more complex and value-adding tasks.
Mountain bikers putting bike on the back of their car

A culture of innovation runs deep at the global Swedish outdoor and lifestyle company Thule Group, a mindset that applies not only to the company’s products but also to its treasury department. By embracing automation, Thule’s treasury team has freed up valuable time to become an even stronger partner to the rest of the business and the board of directors – two strategic and important dialogues for treasury.

For more than 80 years, Thule has focused on creating solutions to simplify life’s adventures – from car roof boxes, roof racks and strollers to backpacks, luggage and rooftop tents. The company has enjoyed strong growth and profitability, something Group Treasury Director Dino Tufek attributes to its significant investment in research and product development.

“Thule Group invests heavily in product development. The product is king in our business, and we should always have the very best and smartest functionality combined with design language associated with Thule products,” he says. This applies for existing product categories, as well as newly developed ones. For example, the company recently presented two new products to the market – car seats and dog transport – both developed in-house by Thule.

Sustainability has also been integral to the company’s way of operating since its founding in 1942, with the company committed to reducing its environmental impact in all stages of the value chain.

Yet this culture of innovation, change and improvement goes beyond just the company at large. Thule’s treasury department has been on an exciting journey to becoming a modern, automated and strategic treasury. The move reflects a broader trend among Nordic treasuries to streamline and automate their processes, according to Nordea’s annual treasury survey.

Thule's treasury team: Dino Tufek, Axel Johansson and Linus Svensson in the Thule Store in Malmö, Sweden

Thule Group's treasury automation journey

“Thule has had a treasury department for a long time, which is an advantage. We have a solid tradition, history and set of developed processes,” says Tufek.

At the same time, like the company, the treasury department is always looking for ways to improve and modernise.

In 2018, Thule changed its cash management bank to Nordea, the starting point of its automation journey. The move enabled the company to change how it handles daily cash management, especially by optimising and automating FX swaps through Nordea Markets’ automated solutions. Thule started to use Nordea’s currency robot, AutoFX, for its liquidity management and to trade spot for their smaller exposures in some subsidiaries. While the team had managed its liquidity with FX swaps before, it previously did so manually.

“That’s a big difference that not only saves time but also optimises the outcome,” says Tufek. “When you do things manually, you have to carve out the tasks that make the biggest difference as you don’t have the time to optimise to perfection.  Now we can, thanks to automation. AutoFX has many more measuring points than we had manually in the past, and it can take all positions into consideration, which means fewer open positions and therefore a much more efficient setup.”

Using AutoFX has made a big difference, saving us time and optimising the outcome.

Dino Tufek, Group Treasury Director, Thule Group

‘Easy to implement and saves a lot of time’

AutoFX eliminates the need to manually monitor account balances and then execute trades. Accounts can be swept or topped up using a spot, forward or swap in order to close positions or to manage and optimise the cash pool top accounts. Tufek calls such changes “low hanging fruit”:

“It’s such a natural thing to have this in our processes now, and I would definitely recommend it to the vast majority of treasuries. It’s easy to implement and saves a lot of time.”

What’s more, the team took its automation a step further last year by changing to a new treasury system, which enables more integrations and automation, according to Tufek. As part of the change, Thule also implemented Nordea’s “Trade retriever API,” which automates the booking and accounting of all FX trades done with Nordea. Automation not only saves time, it also minimises the risk of human error and safeguards compliance, with easier documentation.

Yet Linus Svensson, Treasury Manager at Thule, emphases that automation itself is not the end-goal, but rather a step to reach the ambition of becoming a strategic treasury.

“In the end, it’s about time management. We don’t want to spend time handling, cleaning and collecting data. We want to spend time analysing the data so we can be a relevant and strategic partner to management and the operational side of the business,” he says.

Kristoffer Jansell, Automation Lead, Nordea Markets

A two-way partnership

Thule is not alone. Treasuries’ desire to be a strategic partner to the business, specifically by playing a role in their company’s digital transformation, has been a common theme in Nordea’s annual treasury survey. Of the 200 Nordic and international large corporates surveyed in 2021, a majority said they expect their automation efforts to increase going forward. In 2020, the survey found FX to be one of the top three priorities for automation among those surveyed.

While many large corporate clients already use AutoFX, the product development for the service is always ongoing, says Kristoffer Jansell, Automation Lead in Nordea Markets.

“Thule Group, and other companies, constantly come with innovative ideas and wishes that we and our Copenhagen-based NextGen FX developers are working hard to fulfil. That two-way partnership strengthens both the treasury’s process and our own offering,” he says.

He adds that a shift has taken place since just a few years ago, when tech companies and newly established treasury departments were primarily the ones automating.

“Now, automation is all over the place, from small start-ups to European blue-chips and some of the biggest pension funds in the Nordics,” Jansell says. While automating the small, time-consuming tasks is still the top focus for most treasuries, interest in automated hedging as well as TMS- and ERP-integrations is on the rise, he notes.

Now, automation is all over the place, from small start-ups to European blue-chips and some of the biggest pension funds in the Nordics.

Kristoffer Jansell, Automation Lead, Nordea Markets

Automation: the way of the future

With less time consumed by administrative and manual work, Thule’s team now spends more time on alternative approaches, such as back-testing and visualising data, as well as engaging with the operational parts of the business, such as the purchasing, sales and sustainability departments.

Another key benefit is being able to tackle non-routine issues when they arise, whether it’s a global pandemic, war or rising inflation. With automation, one can maintain a relatively “clean desk” and be even more agile in responding to sudden events.

“We have had our share of putting out fires. With automation, our treasury is better equipped to deal with any new challenges and also focus on our main target – managing our financial risks. That enables us to continue to do what we do best – developing products that make it easier for people to live an active life,” says Tufek.

Tufek and Svensson say they see automation as the way of the future in treasury. It has also changed the team’s hiring practices as they now seek talent with IT, data and programming skills – a trend that also holds true for other parts of the business, says Tufek, adding:

“Different treasuries are in different phases of this journey, but everyone will need to go through it in the end. At Thule, we will continue on our path, aiming for constant improvement. ”

Nordea’s Jansell praises the Thule team’s willingness to think big-picture when it comes to automation:

“Instead of focusing only on one small, time-consuming process, they mapped and challenged their entire cash management setup and FX handling. The result has been to free up time for more complex and value-adding tasks.”

Jansell says a good place for treasury teams to start is to challenge the ordinary steps of their workday and think, “Could this step be done, or supported, by an API or robot?”

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