unveil a new name: the Association for Financial Professionals.
The change, announced to the boom of a cannon and a display of confetti and pyrotechnics before a crowd of 5,000 last week in Los Angeles, reflects the growing responsibilities facing the group's 13,000 members, said Robert J. Simmons, chairman of the AFP's board. The consensus among conferees was that the group is casting for a wider audience in corporate finance.
Besides the traditional chores associated with cash management, today's practitioners are evaluating financial risks, making information technology decisions, and assessing the impact of bank mergers and acquisitions.
"AFP is recognizing that the scope and scale of what is being required from financial professionals is expanding," said Mr. Simmons, who is chief financial officer of Campus Pipeline Inc., a Salt Lake City company that develops technology for higher education.
The original mission of the Bethesda, Md., trade group, which was called the National Corporate Cash Management Association until 1991, was to address short-term liquidity management issues.
In another show of diversification, the AFP announced alliances with CompanyValue.com, a mergers-and-acquisitions advisory service that will be available free to AFP members, and with CFOWeb.com, a business-to-business commerce portal for capital markets professionals. AFP members will also have free access to CFOWeb.com.
Lawrence Forman, a cash management analyst at Ernst & Young in New York, was among those who said the new association name is intended to attract chief financial officers and other senior-level corporate executives. "Some people thought taking the word 'Treasury' out of the name was a mistake," said Mr. Forman, who is a member of the AFP's editorial advisory board.
The growing challenges for corporate treasury managers may be an indication of the increasingly complex relationships between corporations and their bankers.
There is much "unhappiness," said Thomas Gregory, director of Automated Financial Systems in Exton, Pa., and a former cash management executive at CoreStates Financial Corp.
Current organizational structures foster a "disconnect" in communication, he said. For example, corporations usually rely on bankers in the operations area, rather than their relationship managers, for answers to problems. Relationship managers are more likely to have credit and lending backgrounds.
Even as bankers espouse relationship banking, institutions try to differentiate themselves by focusing on product innovation and operational excellence. Wall Street aggravates this problem by demanding efficiency and revenue growth. The operational focus may ultimately damage corporate relationships, Mr. Gregory said.
What corporations want most is "relationship intimacy," Mr. Gregory said. He defined that as a banker at the other end of the telephone who knows the customer's business completely and can fix any problem.
"Corporate practitioners need their banks more than they ever did because of their own difficulties," he said. "Corporations are every bit as strapped for resources as banks are and need their banks to come through for them."
Mergers are making relationship problems even more complicated.
Denise Laussade, assistant treasurer of Darden Restaurants in Orlando, called bank mergers "jarring." They often result in procedural changes, technological conversions, and the assignment of new relationship managers for the corporate account, she said.
"You might have an account officer that you are really attached to, who knows you and can anticipate your needs," Ms. Laussade said. "You might lose that individual."
Companies are further frustrated when they must wait until a merger is completed before getting details on how the new bank will integrate systems, she said "When banks are merging," she added, "you can have a full range of emotions."
She warned corporate executives to brace for more bank mergers as the industry gets past its year-2000 hurdles.
Jane Verkouterin, senior vice president at First Union Corp., said she knows a thing or two about mergers. In her 20 years at the Charlotte, N.C., banking company, she has lived through 84 of them, including big ones with Philadelphia-based CoreStates and Signet Banking Corp. of Richmond, Va.
Mergers can give customers access to more products that enhance an existing relationship, she said. For instance, CoreStates brought First Union customers international services.
Because most customers would typically do business with both banks anyway, Ms. Verkouterin said, corporate customers get to interact with a single bank through just one system.
On the negative side, certain products or services may not survive the systems' integration. Signet's check processing system had a state-of-the-art document imaging capability, making digitized images of any check readily available to customers. However, the system could not be supported by First Union's uniform demand deposit accounting system. For the sake of consistent service, the imaging system was turned off.
"As much as we like to say we keep the best services, we (sometimes) do not," Ms. Verkouterin said. "We may have kept it up for certain specific large customers. But for some customers there was definitely a loss of imaging capability."