Speaking at a panel discussion on the impact of regulation on corporate treasurers, Jaya Machet, managing director of Nokia Treasury Asia, spoke of her company's travails in running its finances in China.
While Nokia's actual business is booming in the middle kingdom - now being the second largest market for the firm in the world after the US - the company, like every other, has to operate under a prehistoric regulatory system. Machet pointed to a number of banking regulations that make life very difficult for a corporate treasurer.
For instance, if you want to undertake a foreign exchange transaction in China, you need to provide your bank with the reason why you need the foreign exchange, ie the invoice. This clearly takes time and a lot of manual work.
Separately, local banks do not communicate with each other and so it is very hard to get reconciled accounts across the country. IT systems are also unsophisticated, which results in a lot of manual inputting and inevitably human errors.
"We would like to do business in China in the same way we do in the rest of the world," said Machet. She called on other international companies and banks to lobby the Chinese government regulator SAFE to improve the foreign exchange situation, to allow payments to all go through one bank, to have internal payments factories, to let banks deliver documents and for the conversion of local bank statements.
"Overall we would like to see an increase in the level of automation in China," she said. Machet's comments came on a panel dedicated to looking at how the huge increase in regulation around the world is impacting corporate treasurers. And while Machet's gripes were specific, they reflected a general feeling that corporate treasurers are facing excessive regulation.
Andrea Klein, vice president of financial services industry, strategy and marketing at Oracle Corporation, outlined the massive volume of work it took her company to get compliant with article 404 of Sarbanes Oxley. She said it took more than 35,000 man hours in the first year alone, although the time an amount of work involved was now diminishing as the company gets used to the work load.
Generally, companies are coming to realize that the burden of regulation and compliance is not going away. For banks it has always been there, and recent reports suggest that 8% of bank costs are now spent on compliance with regulations.
This could increase further as new regulations come in. For instance, in Europe, a third anti-money laundering directive is coming in where corporates and banks will have to report all transaction over Eu50,000. This will inevitably create even more challenges for companies in the future.