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CRE Treasury Leader Roundtable

Hello, and thank you for joining our third webinar in the Preparing for the Future Today series. My name is Erick Bowen, and I'll be today's moderator. I manage our west region Commercial Real Estate, Deposit, and Payments team. Our team members focus and understand the commercial real estate business and work closely with our clients to help provide guidance on managing cash, accounts payable, accounts receivable, et cetera.

As we entered 2020, a lot of our customers' objectives were to continue going electronic and get away from a paper-based process. We almost made it through all of Q1 with the normal customer discussions around automation, looking at outsourcing checks, electronic invoicing ideas, et cetera.

Then something called COVID entered, and it was a shock to all of us. Many employees transitioned to working from home and continue to do so. Our customers had to immediately figure out some important but basic items like, who's going to collect the mail at the office? How do checks go out? And begin a new normal of teams working virtual.

Today, we a roundtable discussion with four clients within different sectors of commercial real estate that have offered to talk about their experiences and change that they've had to make. Going alphabetically by first name, let's meet our speakers.

Amy Gindel, who's the Senior Vice President of Finance and Planning with Boston Properties and directs all aspects of financial operations for the organization. Chris Stang is Vice President of Financial Operations for the Howard Hughes Corporation. He oversees treasury, cash management, accounts payable functions for the company, and is responsible for driving efficiencies and automation within the organization through the use of technology.

Maria Smith is a Senior Vice President and is over Treasury and Corporate Operations for EDENS. Maria is responsible for the corporate and treasury management functions at the company. She is also a certified public accountant.

Sarah Toepke is Controller of Construction Accounting at Ryan Companies. Sarah brings decades of experience to her role as controller of construction accounting, overseeing an array of responsibilities related to financial reporting, operations, and compliance.

So let's get started. So we have a handful of topics today that we'd like to cover. What I'd like to do is start out within accounts receivable. A lot of change and new trends that we're seeing that are being implemented and reviewed post-COVID. How about each of you talk a little bit about some of the trends that you're seeing, items that are more important now than ever? And as we look at different things like reporting, the importance around the accuracy of this. So Amy, I'll kick it off to you, and why don't you get started, please?

Great. Well, thank you, and happy to be here. And welcome. So just a little bit more about Boston Properties before we start. So we are organized as a real estate investment trust. We have about 52 million square feet covering about 196 properties in five key markets. So we're considered a super regional REIT. So we're in Boston, DC, LA, San Francisco, and New York.

And I will say too, I think when you talk about AR, I have actually a couple of managers in AR. Was not that close to collections AR. And once COVID hit, got a call from our president to say, you guys got to figure something out. I need to know daily what's happening with collections. Who's paying us? Who's not? We had no sense of really what would happen as this pandemic unfolded.

So I think for us, we had two things that were a good starting point. One, we were partnered with VersaPay and implemented that last year in 2019. So we had I guess a collections platform, a place for tenants and all of my AR folks that were now remote to be able to move around and use an operating platform.

And then really looked at, how are we going to basically do this and report daily on the minute as cash was coming in? And we're a JD Edwards customer. So I teamed up with IT, and we basically created a database that basically brought in all of our monthly recurring payments, showed when tenants paid, and then were able to kind of report on a number of things. And the biggest one was, who paid today? Who is outstanding? And we can kind of move the slide kind of forward and/or backward for reporting.

We also looked at-- what was important to our business because we're an office predominately was retail. And retail was obviously one of the biggest areas that was hit the hardest in tenants' inability to pay. So we started tracking retail separate from office on a percentage basis.

And then really looked at industry codes just across our tenants. And what industries were they in? And really kind of handicapping if there was going to be disruption in payments.

So AR for me, again, in my role, I would be-- I was pretty far removed, and really got kind of sucked in. And I'm actually the daily reporter [LAUGHS] of all of the-- you know, who's paid and who hasn't? And I continue to do this eight, going into nine months of this. So it's certainly at top of mind, and one of the most important things that we're doing at our organization, given we don't have a lot of re-occupancy. And a lot of our buildings and tenants in different businesses have been impacted by the pandemic. So I think that's the main thing.

Yeah. Great. Thank you, Amy. Thanks for sharing that. How about you, Chris?

I gave a very-- yeah, I guess similar experience to what Amy can speak to, actually, at our company. So with my company, the Howard Hughes Corporation, we operate in five core markets across the U.S. New York, Maryland-- Columbia, Maryland, I should say, sorry-- Houston region, Las Vegas, and Honolulu. And the different real estate assets that we have go from office to retail, hospitality, as well as multi-family.

And similar as I'm seeing with the [INAUDIBLE] Boston Properties is there's obviously a heightened importance and focus on tenant rent collections, and particularly in the retail segment as a result of COVID. So we too were tasked with getting better reporting and more accurate, up-to-date reporting as to what the tenant receipts are looking like.

So to helped facilitate that process, we implemented an auto cash application within JD Edwards. So we're now receiving a bank data file from-- well, from the bank for our cash receipt activity, and we're feeding that directly into JD Edwards to facilitate the application of cash receipts. Obviously, that makes it easier and quicker to post the cash, and therefore ultimately report on it.

We're not as far along as they are in the sense that we don't have a tenant portal, which is on our list and something I want to accomplish in 2021. But the good thing is about the auto cash application that we put in place, it'll still be applicable even when we do establish a tenant portal, because there's going to be some tenants who will still continue to initiate payments outside of the portal.

So that still will be applicable. But ultimately, implementing that system whereby we're receiving that data directly into the JD Edwards application, it enables us to have more accurate and up-to-date reporting from our tenant receipts.

That's great. And Chris, was this something that was already forecasted to get done? Was it something that you recently put into place? How long have you been in implementation to get this done?

So we started it-- actually, so this was pre-COVID. So this was just something that was on the list anyway to improve efficiency. It just so happened to be it was more important that-- [LAUGHS] I may have misspoke a bit that this was a result of COVID. This was already planned prior to that. Total implementation was about six months, I would say.

But like I said, we're still working on refining the logic within JD Edwards to apply-- auto apply as much as we possibly can on the open receivables. But even if we don't have that even 100% or even at a high 90% 90%-plus percentage, at least we're still receiving the data into the applications.

So it at least allows for the manual application to occur in a much efficient-- much more efficient way than it was previously as opposed to going to a bank site and looking at the activity there. So yeah. But we're live now. We went live about three months ago.

Wow. That's great. Good. Awesome. Thank you, Chris. And Maria, how about yourself?

Hello, everyone. Thank you, Erick. Thanks for having us today. It's good to be here. So I am with EDENS. We are a private shopping center REIT that owns a $6 billion portfolio of 110 primarily grocery-anchored shopping centers in major markets from Boston to Miami on the East Coast and then over to Houston, Dallas, and Denver.

So from an AR perspective, I really echo everything that Amy and Chris said. I would tell you that we implemented a tenant portal probably about 18 months ago. And you know, I'm glad that I had it done prior to March. It's been very successful for us.

You know, for years, speaking of the auto applications, I've said that in order to improve cash application process, we really need to understand what our tenants are intending to pay. And that's been a big thing over my career that we needed. So this portal really allows tenants to post their own charges. And it's been a game changer for us, and it's really helped us through these times.

Not only that, but the other thing about the portal is we're able to capture tenant sales through the portal, which automatically integrates into our ERP system, which is JD Edwards as well. So that really has cut down on mail, cut down on traffic back and forth with everybody working remote. So that's been a great win for us. Those two features alone really made the portal a big sell up to our executives 18 months ago.

And we have support all the way to the top. And just like Amy, I'm reporting. I'm the weather reporter daily on our AR, on our collections. And in that, we're reporting on how many people are-- how many tenants are participating in the portal and making their payments? And you know, we're held to keeping them paying through the portal. So it's been a great move for us to have that in place before March.

Sure. That's great. Good feedback, for sure. Thanks, Maria. And Sarah, how about yourself?

Well, thanks, Erick, and thanks for having us. I'm with Ryan companies, and we are full service real estate and construction. So we do a lot of third party construction, real estate management, real estate development, as well as design and engineering services that kind of pull that all together. My role is more on the construction and corporate side. I'm a little less on the real estate management.

So really, when COVID hit, we actually were working on a couple of projects kind of concurrently. On the real estate management side, they had been in process with working through a portal and doing-- working on getting onboard with VersaPay. And that that's continuing and making some really good strides there.

And then on the construction side, just looking at more of the electronic payments into Ryan, we used this as an opportunity to really expedite both of those initiatives is reaching out to our customers, using this opportunity to further build those relationships to move toward more electronic payments. And to date, we're very close on rolling out VersaPay. We've had a lot of our customers that have moved over into the electronic accounts receivable.

Again, with both sides of the business, they do react very differently. We find that they have to COVID. And early on, just really monitoring receivables, just trying to use that as a temperature check. Certainly on the tenant side, you start to see some nervousness. On the construction side, we were very anxious to see what that was going to mean on that side of the business too.

So we've been really laser-focused on AR collections, not necessarily because there was a problem, but because we didn't know what was to come. And we used this also internally to decrease that discipline.

That's great. Yeah, that makes complete sense there. It's interesting that a lot of our dialogue discussions in the past, we've talked accounts receivable, and it seems like it was always accounts payable and automating the payables piece, and really focused on that. And now I think more important than ever is on the receivables side.

And besides doing-- Amy, I think you had mentioned before just everybody is kind of looking at doing daily reporting and all of those types of items. Are there any other types of-- and I'll throw this out to everybody. Is there any other types of trends or things that you have your team members doing to look at just collections or any type of overall trending that may be unique in the market?

Like I said, the only thing that we're doing I thought that we had never done before was really just looking at it from segment and from industry. You know, that was the biggest thing. And again, would care less about an office tenant, a retail tenant, and even just, are you a tech company, or whatever. So that's been something that was added. I don't know if that's unique, but we, as a predominantly office tenant, we're tracking that.

Yeah. And I would say EDENS-- EDENS being a retail company, we're definitely digging down into the details of the type of tenant, just like Amy said. What type of tenant and what trends are we seeing is very important to us.

Sure. That's great. Great. Well, thank you very much. And as I look at jut kind of automating the receivables as many of you have talked about and as we kind of transition into just implementing technology, a few different commentary. Obviously, I appreciate all the commentary on the receivables side. And I think as I look at implementing technology, it's always been extremely important and sometimes receives significant pushback because of resources or because of other priorities that take place.

So I do believe this year we've seen some significant advancement with technology, and maybe some things are occurring quicker than what they would have in the past. So as we transition into that, Chris, I know you've gone through some significant company transformation, and I'm curious if you can elaborate on that a little bit for the group.

Yes. Yeah, so we've actually-- beginning earlier this year, we started an effort to implement a new spend management tool, like a procure to pay platform. And really, what the intent of this is is taking from start to finish-- so the point at which from the buying process, from the procurement function, taking the initial steps that occur within that all the way through to the point in which we pay an invoice for a supplier, and connecting that all within one platform.

So the value of this is that, one, when we-- and just kind of comparing to where we're currently at now, having a centralized sourcing platform whereby our procurement department sources and looks to obtain bids for goods or services through a platform channel, awarding a contract through that.

Then along after that awarding of a contract occurs, kicking off a process to set up-- well, I guess initially go through a legal contracting process, which is a CLM tool, which is Contract Lifecycle Management. And that's actually kind of built into this overall spend management platform that we're talking about.

So really taking it in from the point in which we award the contract, or award the bid, I should say, award the work. Go into contracting through the CLM tool whereby we do the document authoring and collaboration with the counterparty and that tool. Once that legal document is executed through DocuSign, it then goes and goes back to the procurement function whereby they can initiate a purchase order against that contract.

And with all of this, by the way, I failed to mention previously is that we have budget data from JD Edwards feeding into the platform. So we have that budgetary control on the very front end when a buyer is looking to execute a purchase of goods or services, which is something we don't really-- we don't have today. So that's a new control that we're putting in place with this new platform.

And then by the means of switching over to putting a requisition through or a purchase order, we're now looking to facilitate and make easier that payment processing in the tail end much easier where we have PO-backed orders against the, I guess, the invoices that we received. So today, we receive invoices with no purchase orders to assign them to, so there's more manual routing and processing within the invoice AP function on the tail end.

Whereas ideally in the future state with the implementation of this platform, it'll be able to match up a lot of those invoices received against that initiated purchase order, therefore eliminating a lot of that AP manual processing that occurs in the back end. So we're still in the process of implementing that. We'll ideally go live in Q1 of next year. But really what this is doing is connecting what was previously disconnected processes within our organization into one platform.

And I guess another aspect of that too which I think is really cool is kind of similarly we've been talking about from a tenant portal perspective, this platform has a supplier portal whereby when we go to award a bid or work to a contractor, if they're not already set up in our system, it initiates and triggers a supplier enablement or enrollment process within a supplier portal. So we can go and collect the necessary documentation-- W9, et cetera-- from the supplier, collect their bank information, and have that feed directly into our ERPA. So that really streamlines that quite a bit, and takes something that was disconnected previously and connects it within the overall process.

So yeah, like I said, Q1, we're going to go live with it. But I think what the goal of this is is we're looking to reduce the amount of manual processing that we do. And as part of our overall company transformation plan, we're looking to cut overhead, G&A. And this kind of fits within that by reducing our overall processing times and costs.

Sure. Wow. Lot of moving parts, but once it's done, certainly will bring a lot of value to the organization. How long has the implementation already been in place for as far as how long has it been going already?

We kicked it off in June, so it's a long implementation. So I say it's going to be about-- maybe about nine months.

OK. Great.

But [INAUDIBLE] as well. I mean, a big aspect of this too is there's the change management component, as I'm sure that others on the call can attest to. When implementing a new platform or a new system, the importance of having that change management throughout the organization occurring.

Because obviously, if you don't have the buy-in and the adoption of these platforms that you're putting in place, it'll really reduce the overall impact it'll have on the efficiency you're looking to drive. So that's been a huge focus of this overall project is the change management component. And again, really shifting over towards utilization of purchase orders where it currently doesn't happen.

Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. Thanks, Chris. Appreciate all the feedback. And Sarah, I know you have a solution that your team has implemented to automate some of your journal entries. Do you mind elaborating on that a little bit?

Sure. We actually started an implementation last December in doing financial flows reconciliations and automation of the journal entries. We're in the process of implementing the BlackLine software.

And really for us, because we have entities that are across different ERPs as well as just a large number of companies that we end up managing for, we're looking for a solution that could automate what was an extremely manual process of inputting journal entries, doing validation, approval, workflows, et cetera.

So we looked at solutions. So during the year, we have implemented BlackLine on our account reconciliations, which are then set up for our main companies, which are in JD Edwards, as well as some that we manage an MRI and [INAUDIBLE]. And then moved into the automation of the journal entries, which we are live with now, and it's great.

So we've put together the solution that does integrate with JD Edwards. And since that validation, if someone is doing a journal entry as far as accounts and making sure that that can be done before it goes all the way through their approval process and then gets kicked back. That validation is in there.

And then the workflow is built into the software. So then the approval process is set up so that it can go through and approve. We can do the journal entry approval. We have been using DocuSign for that. It was fairly manual, so we have made that a little bit better with doing some uploading, but essentially, it allows us to repurpose one full FTE into doing some other things, which has been a great help. So there's that piece of it.

But we're also-- we're continuing to implement different phases of the BlackLine software as well. And right now, we're very close to the bank account matching so that it basically automates the bank rec process for the 100-plus bank accounts that we currently have.

So we're in process of the software kind of builds itself with your total finance transformation software. And so far, it's been a really good implementation for us. But to Chris's point, this is a big change management thing just with our team, because really, everything that's done in accounting is being done at least a little bit differently.

And we're well on our way, and now we have to also just get our team to understand that how you do things is different now. It doesn't do the same thing that you did before, and now it happens to be a new software. But rethinking how you do things.

So that next wave of the transformation isn't going to be influencing the technology. It's just really embracing and moving forward within that technology and using it to launch off and transform what we do.

No, it makes complete sense. And congratulations. Certainly, that's something that's great when you look back at it, but tough to implement and tough for change management when you look at just individuals inside the organization wanting to make some drastic change like that. So congrats.

Thank you.

And I'm going to throw this one out there to the group as far as just tenant portals. So tenant portals, we have many discussions. Many clients are looking at them. You're utilizing it already.

And question for you. There's some clients that look at it and just can't get over the finish line to put it in place. Some clients say, well, maybe we're a little bit on the smaller side, or maybe they're just not at a point where they see it as a priority. To anyone in the group, just curious to your feedback once implemented, and just your thoughts after implementation, looking back at it.

Yeah, I'm happy to start, Erick. So for us, we looked at-- it was kind of interesting, because I was going to ask the group when we were talking about it. As an office owner, we're not getting-- we don't have a great percentage for stats for a lot of tenants actually paying through the portal.

So for us, when we actually did the business case, it was really an operational pay. Just a platform to kind of bring disparate processes. We had a collections database that we had designed, like, decades ago. We had-- using Outlook communicating with tenants. We had an in-house archive system where we would house their statements and invoices. So as a receivable person, we had to kind of use all these sources. So the big sell for us was really just a platform getting everything under-- in one location.

And then obviously being 100% paperless, right? So we used to have to come in. And we kind of made the email traverse over the past couple of years, which is sending everything out electronically. You know, not sending things in the mail, which we didn't do all that long ago, believe it or not.

So that was the big thing for us. And I think when we looked at it too, we have-- the we we're broken up by region and organizationally, you know, when we looked at it, they said it's like having 200 collectors in the platform, right?

So you can set up all these automated reminders. You can get on the 2nd of the month, the 5th of the month, the 10th of the month. Like, all these critical dates, we can kind of just set all the reminders up instead of each AR person having to go in. So for us, it was really, I think, an operational business case.

And it's not-- it's pretty reasonable, I think, from a pricing perspective. And we had tenants that were requesting it for transparency. I want to see my account. I can't believe a company like you, you don't offer a portal. So that was-- I felt like we were kind of lagging. And I agree with your earlier that we had-- all of our focus was on AP from technology. From card to Nexus to just kind of trying to make that more efficient. And we just literally caught up, I feel like, on the AR side.

Yep. Yep. No, that's great, Amy. Awesome. Great. Well, you mentioned accounts payable. So as we start transitioning into payable side, you know, there's also been continuous change on how even people will take payment because of the recent events.

So as we start on the payables end, any implementation changes that you may have done or process changes that you've put in place this year? I'm curious to hear. And Maria, I may start out with you and just ask around from your payables process, what have you seen change? Anything in the forecast as well?

Sure. So we have had an invoice processing tool for years that we really love. It works great. So that was in place for us. We were basically paperless with that tool, so that was great going into working remotely.

And I would say that what we've seen and the requests that we have had is pay us differently. How are you going to pay us? And you know, we're either check or p-card. We never really went that ACH route. And we never went that ACH route because we wanted to drive people to our card program. So it was a lot of, you need to pay us via ACH. But what we've done is we've used this as an opportunity to drive vendors to our card program. So that's been good for us.

And also, there's a few municipalities now that are taking real estate tax payments without fees. So that's been great for us this year as well. So from an AP perspective, that's probably the biggest thing for us is driving people to our p-card program.

Sure. Now you mentioned, Maria, that some new municipalities taking card. And how did you go about finding this out? Were you continuing to have team members reaching out and checking? Maybe it was a no last year, but maybe it's a yes this year? Or how did you go around that process?

Yep. Yep. So what we do at EDENS is we take on the p-card program ourselves. So you know, we're in South Carolina, so we have the hey y'all approach. So we call up the vendors constantly and we say, hey, y'all, you know, would you like to participate in our p-card program? So it's worked-- it's worked really well for us.

And we've done that same thing with the municipalities. We have somebody who runs our tax payments. She calls them up all the time. So we're just always-- we're always revisiting our vendor list to make sure that there's not another approach, if there is another approach for us. So I think we're just never accepting the normal is what we've been doing this year.

That's great. Yeah. Thank you for sharing. And Sarah, I know you've seen a little bit of a difference in your AP trends. And within the construction side of the business, maybe some differences that you're seeing working with maybe some of your subcontractors. And do you mind sharing a little bit of-- information around some of that?

Sure. Well, we have an automated AP structure as well. And very much like Maria had mentioned, we are check or p-card. We also add in there that for payment of our subcontractors, we do use an ACH platform that's tailored for the construction payment.

And through that pay platform, we saw this year there is a supply chain financing option that we partner with then a third party to provide select supply chain financing. And something that's really changed this year with COVID is that there has been a lot of demand for that financing option for our subcontractors, which has been fantastic for them that this is something that we're able to offer them. It keeps them healthier as they were going through a really uncertain time, as well as keeps our relationship really strong.

On our other AP, the p-cards have-- they have pretty good traction. I would say that this has actually helped that along a little bit, the electronic payments, as other people don't have people in the offices to get check payments.

It's also really helped us internally because we've been out of the office to make some process changes to support that technology. Again, the technology tool is only half the battle. It's getting everybody to use the technology that you have.

And even internally, getting people to accept just cutoffs, making sure that our vendors are sending things through our automated accounts payable system, our workflow, rather than telling the vendor, no, it's better if you send it to me first. You send that invoice to me first.

So we've seen some really good improvements in our overall payables process just out of necessity in this. And it's something that you don't want to waste opportunity to really reinforce the process. And thankfully, our technology was there already to really help reinforce that.

That's great. Yeah, and we continue to hear that. Seems like the momentum and continued to build as more and more vendors are getting-- are more open to acceptance of different payment channels. So certainly good feedback. And Chris, I know you've had a lot of different transformation amongst all areas within the business. How about on the payables side? Anything to add?

Yeah. Obviously, there's the spend management platform I was talking about previously. But aside from that, I guess really more so in the payment facilitation side of things, this was actually an initiative that we did last year where we implemented the ISO 20022 consolidated payables file to transmit to the banks. So reason why we went forward with that payables file was that it's a scalable solution in the sense that as other payment modalities come online, we can add those to that same file and transmit it to the bank without having to establish a new file format side.

So kind of along with that-- and really, this is more in response to COVID, which was already on our list, but it's heightened the importance of it, but from a check printing outsourcing, which has always been on the list, but we're finally doing it now. The great thing about that now is-- we've initiated that process just recently, actually. But the great thing about it is we'll be able to incorporate that within the existing ISO file that we established late last year. So it makes that more efficient and easier to add to that.

And like I said, I hope that as we add additional-- as RTP, things like that starts coming online, that we'll be able to incorporate that within the same file. And I think end of the say, we're still doing some check printing, which we've-- I think we've been focusing quite a bit, kind of similar to what Maria was talking about too. We've really been trying to push the virtual card program quite a bit. And if that's not an option, then to ACH.

But we're pretty much at about 80%, 85% electronic payments at this point. So I think the percentage is pretty good. And now just the check printing component now, just outsourcing that. I mean, yes, it's still paper checks, but it's certainly not something that we're handling anymore ourselves. So to me, that almost feels as though it's now electronic as well. So yeah, from a payables standpoint, I think that's all that we've done so far this year.

Yeah. That's impressive, Chris. And a lot of times we'll hear customers say, yeah, if we can get to 40% or 50% electronic payments, they will be extremely pleased. So pretty good. 80%-plus is impressive, so nice job on that. Amy, how about you on the payables side? Have you seen any changes, or has it been pretty consistent with how it's been in the past?

Yeah, we made a few changes. We actually-- we were lucky on two fronts. So we implemented our AR tenant portal and we implemented Nexus for payables. We already were a purchase order client, but did the full suite of automation. And we did that in '19, really right before COVID hit. So we at least were starting to get everybody kind of used to this whole electronic way of routing an invoice in a system and not having any paper. So that's been huge.

But we are working on trying to get other transaction types in there. We still had employee reimbursements that we were doing through AP, not through this system. And then ultimately through our payroll system, so we're working on that. And then really moving-- we're using JD Edwards' old recurring voucher program, if anybody knows what that is. But when you have a contracted service, you can basically manually recur them and set up a year schedule or two years.

And my AP staff does that, but we're getting out of that business and really relying on Nexus to try to have that recurring invoice module and piece to manage contracted stuff through there. So that's been kind of different.

But I echo what Chris said too. We are this close to pulling the trigger on trying to have at least a business continuity for outsourcing of checks. We still do. So Chris, I know how you're doing your 80%, but we should probably chat about that.

We're only at-- we're probably more like Erick. We're probably maybe 52% 48%, 52% electronic. And we measure and try to push between card and ACH too, but we're still having a tough time changing that. So we're definitely trying to come out with another at least outsourcing model for checks for the future.

Yeah. No, that's great. Awesome. So as we transition into-- I know we've talked a lot about products and technology and things that we've put in place. Something that's drastically different and is not really a product piece is just something around, I would say-- I'll call it team engagement. And the term forced to adapt certainly comes into play as it relates to most of us working virtually and an unexpected timeline of when that happened.

And I would say as you look at it from a team member perspective, there's certainly some benefits around working virtual. But then there's also, I think, some significant challenges that we all face. And this topic has come up often as we've had different client conversations.

So I want to open it up to all of you and just get your feedback around maybe some things that you've changed, some things that you're forecasting, and just things that you have seen around whether it's culture or whether it's the team member building and those items as we're managing this new norm of working virtual. And Amy, if you want to start off on your end as far as just how you're managing it today. Yeah.

Sure. Well, it's not easy. [LAUGHS] I think as a manager, I think we kind of talked about that. I sort of have a split kind of decision in my team, whether I like it, I don't, or I'm doing fine, I'm not. So I think as an individual contributor, it's probably a lot easier or it's OK perhaps to be remote kind of day after day.

I mean, I manage six business units on six different lines of business, and we do a ton of projects and technology projects. So that collaboration or just walking down the hall, or for me sort of just-- I think my work and how I do my work, it just so feel so protracted and longer to get [INAUDIBLE] results or get people around the table when you're trying to solve problems.

Or even talk about new ideas. So I really miss a lot of that interaction personally with people. And again, I think the challenge will be for us-- I mean, so many web meetings. We started out, I think, a little better with making connection with teams or we did fun things. [LAUGHS] And then now it's more like whether there's fatigue or we're just kind of tired, it kind of petered off. We were, I think, a little better and a little more disciplined in the beginning. And then it became more normal. It was a little more of a slog.

So I personally am looking forward to-- I go into the office, actually-- I'm fortunate-- a couple days a week. And there's a few colleagues who are probably 10% occupied, maybe 15% occupied in the downtown tower I'm in. So really, just anxious to have people hopefully come back to work, and as the vaccine and we kind of move through the spring. So looking forward to that. But it's really impacted a lot of, I think, our momentum and project work.

Sure. Yeah. And it is interesting as we look at the dynamic and you look at geographic locations and different locations that are operating very differently from other areas and all of those factors that go into it. Chris, I know you recently had a headquarter location change. And as you're going through all of these changes technology-wise and then working virtually and all this, any feedback from you as far as just what you've been seeing, what you've been doing as a company?

Yeah, I mean, it's tough. As Amy's saying, it's not been favorable. Obviously, the transition that we're moving offices as well as undergoing a new project implementation.

I think what I've had to do in response to that is have more meetings on the calendar that wouldn't previously exist. Whereas previously, you're in an environment where you can just kind of walk down the hall to someone's office and kind of initiate a conversation there and just collaborate, I think now it necessitates more things just being on the calendar to ensure that you have that touchpoint.

So from a project as well as a teams perspective, I have a weekly meeting that occurs-- weekly meetings that occur now, as well as just sometimes daily touchpoints or every other day or so with individual team members. I've found from a new employee onboarding perspective that it's required more hands-on attention on that. And that's where I've-- with any new employee I've onboarded that reports to me, I've had a daily touchpoint in place for the initial few weeks is they're being onboarded.

So yeah, I think those things are [INAUDIBLE]. And utilization of Microsoft Teams as well, which is I think has actually been a really good thing as far as just even the messaging back and forth. And other parties may have used it much more frequently before COVID than we did. We did utilize it internally, but not nearly as much as we do now. But it's been a very effective tool.

No, that's great. Yeah, and it's certainly-- I think everybody has said, as you talk around internally within companies and then externally within customers that the amount of meetings that everybody has during the week has certainly spiked up. So it's drastically different.

Well, one thing I'll add there, actually. And I know I just said about adding a number of meetings, which is kind of a necessity to some degree. But actually, now the calendars have been stacked up with meetings. So actually, we've had a couple blocks of time that we've taken out now per week just to schedule some time just to actually get down and do the work as opposed to blocking it to having meetings. So I think that's also been another thing as well is to have time blocked out on the calendar to prevent you from having a day full of meetings.

Sure. Sure. And Sarah, anything on your end to add just around the team building, team engagement side that hasn't been covered?

No. I mean, I echo the same things that you're hearing from everybody else. It's a lofty goal in mind to do what Chris just talked about and block actual work time so that work time does not become the entire evening. But I have not been overly successful on that yet.

[LAUGHTER]

Me either.

Really quick, Sarah. It's on the calendar doesn't mean I actually do it. But I still schedule meetings and [INAUDIBLE].

[LAUGHTER]

Good stuff. Well, awesome. Well, I'm going to throw out one final question to actually each of you. So a unique one. And as you look at sharing-- each of you sharing a top priority as we go into 2021, do you have one currently? Or is there any advice that you could give or share to our audience today? And Chris, I'll start with you.

I think-- well, I'll say one priority that we've had-- and I'm kind of behind [INAUDIBLE] with this group here as far as getting this done is just establishing the tenant portal. So we've made strides in the AR side and the auto cash application, but really taking that full circle and establishing the tenant portal. So that's on my list, and we'll get that done for next year. So that's something that's on my list.

And as far as, I guess, recommendations or suggestions, I would say looking at integrations between systems and integrating data wherever possible. And even though you might have, as I was kind of referencing before, a spend management tool, which really kind of takes a lot of different processes or disparate processes and brings them together, there's still going to be related systems that may never exist within one environment. And looking at opportunities and areas in which you can connect those systems via an integration.

And one thing that we'll be looking at as well is within Salesforce, which we use for our sales team from a lease execution-- not lease execution, sorry. From more of a leasing perspective, working that and incorporating that within the CLM tool that I was speaking of previously. So again, just really looking to connect systems, whether it be processes that you can incorporate within one platform or establishing connections between multiple systems or platforms where it can exist within one system.

That's great. Thanks, Chris. How about Maria? How about yourself?

Survive, I'd say. Survive to 2021.

[LAUGHTER]

You know, just from a business perspective, we too need to outsource checks. That's a can I've been kicking down the road for a long time, but we need to do that. But really, take care of my team. Make sure they're successful. Make sure-- just do everything I can to support them.

You know, it's a lot of challenges for everybody, and we've been really fortunate with the team. But I just need to make sure that they stay intact and we can execute on everything on our plates. And man, hopefully an upturn somewhere in 2021, right? And so you know, I don't have a lot on the list really for 2021 as priority other than outsourcing checks and just getting through this new normal, because we don't know what '21 holds.

Yep. Yeah. And I appreciate the open feedback. You know, as you think about all of us thinking the same thing, and there's that burnout factor that people are talking about. And although working virtual has its benefits, there's also a lot of areas where-- I've heard a ton of feedback around you just don't leave work because you're working from home now, and it's not something that you leave behind. And so to some individuals, depending on what your situation is, where you're working at home, it's just a whole different environment.

And so to your point, it is a huge focus. I know it is here at the bank, and one that we continually look at as far as just ideas and things to do that are fun and different, because you're not able to have these team, group projects together and meetings in a conference room together, and all these things that we were used to in the past. So certainly appreciate the feedback, Maria. Now Sarah, how about yourself?

You know, we've actually got a couple big priorities coming up in 2021. The first is a little less technology-based, but revamping all of our profit-- our reporting profitability measurement metrics.

And with that, I guess there's a technology impact or tie-in with just being able to run our business more on data. So looking at that, the data warehouse. So that'll be a significant change overall to the company we've been working on through 2020, and will be a fairly significant rollout in 2021. It'll be definitely from change management, probably one of the most significant ones that we do.

And then on the technology side, we are going down the road of treasury workstation. I feel like we might be the ones who are lagging a little bit here, just based on the number of bank accounts and entities that we're managing. But really building out our treasury function with treasury workstation and some dedicated treasury support on our team. So we're moving in that direction as well as just trying to keep our other systems moving forward and adoption and maximizing.

Yeah. Yeah, some big projects ahead. That's for sure. Thanks, Sarah. Amy, how about yourself?

So like Maria, I think I like that line. Try to just survive.

[LAUGHTER]

That struck a chord. It's been a long year, and it's not even over. But I think the fatigue. Kind of worried about teams too and fatigue, and just people keeping up and keeping kind of their spirit up and energy. And not getting, like, I can't do this much longer. And so I've done a lot of personal outreach to our people. OK, they have different home situations and challenges, right? Wherever they are in our lives, especially families with young kids and trying to do homeschooling and virtual classes, so that's been interesting.

But like Maria too, we've done a ton in the past couple of years from big technology projects, so I kind of echo that sentiment to, what Sarah said, just really trying to look at optimizing what we have. Like, trying to get tenants to pay more through the portal, looking at Nexus and just kind of optimizing that machine. [LAUGHS] So that's been-- and that's just kind of a lot of work. It's not as fun. I usually like a good, new project. And I don't know that there's a ton.

But one thing that-- it's a little off topic, but kind of interesting is that we formed a diversity and inclusion committee within our company and organization in response to the George Floyd murder. So we as a team-- and I'm focused on supplier engagement. So we're going to do-- and hopefully survey our vendors and really understand what they're doing as around environmental, social governance, and really focusing on diversity and inclusion.

So I like what Chris was saying too. We need to then have an onboarding process to be able to ask vendors questions. And that would be one of them. We're really trying to benchmark minority and women-owned businesses. So really just focusing a lot on our supplier base and really engaging them and communicating our values for Boston Properties, and want to know what theirs are, and the impact-- how we do business with them in the future.

Yeah. That's great. I was actually reading-- on the diversity side, I was reading an article just saying, you know, the differences of working virtual now, and you have so much diversity when you're in an office together with so many different team members just kind of spread amongst yourself.

And so as we're now working, many of us virtual, you're still together as a group, but at the same time, you're not really together as far as all your team members in one place and really creating that diversity together versus it's now yourself amongst maybe the close group of individuals that you're with. And it's an interesting article around some of that and how that may have an impact as we continue working a bit more virtual.

Right.

Great. Well, thank you so much. Yeah. It was great feedback, Amy. And to everybody, I want to say, just thank you so much. Amy, Chris, Maria, and Sarah, it's been great to go through all these different things. And I think we touched on a lot of topics that a lot of people are going through and will appreciate hearing. And certainly appreciate everybody for taking all the time out of your busy schedules to sit down at this round table and have this discussion.

So again, really good information that was shared. And as every individual continues to navigate through what I would say uncharted waters at times, it is challenging. And to our attendees, we wish this session would have been in person and on stage, but we certainly hope you enjoyed the webinar. And we thank you very much for your time and continued partnership together.

As mentioned, this webinar is our third of a four-part series, but will be our last one for 2020. So be on the lookout for invitations for our fourth and final webinar series that we will kick off in 2021.

So immediately after this session, there will be feedback that will be requested. And we certainly value any candidate feedback and any focus items that can help us steer what's important for content in the future. So I wish everybody a safe and healthy upcoming holiday season, a happy new year. And thanks again for your continued interest in our Preparing for the Future Today webinar series. 

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December, 2020

CRE Treasury Leader Roundtable

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