While the concept of a $5+ billion operating budget can be quite abstract for many, for the Office of Treasury, making sure the University has the money to keep running smoothly is all in a day’s work. Craig McCurley, Director, Office of Treasury Management; Sara Desens, Manager, Debt Asset Management; and Kit Sum Lam, Manager, Cash Management discuss how their work is driven by a commitment to Harvard’s mission.
What do you do and what is your team’s contribution?
Craig McCurley: The Office of Treasury Management is tasked with ensuring that the University has sufficient money available to pay our bills. We issue all debt for the University and lend the funds out to Schools for capital projects. All bank accounts originate through the Cash Management team. We help fund annual cash activities of $5+ billion, working closely with Harvard Management Company.
Sara Desens: So, within the office Craig describes, I lead the Debt Asset Management team. We are responsible for the University’s external debt portfolio (bonds issued in the capital markets to finance capital needs), the internal loan portfolio (funds lent to Schools) as well as the University’s liquidity and short-term investment pools. In addition, our group is a key contributor to Harvard’s financial management and strategic planning efforts, providing analysis and support for senior University leaders and the Corporation and Finance Committee.
Kit Sum Lam: I oversee Cash Management and Cash Receipts. Cash Management manages banking relationships and credit card merchant accounts for the Harvard community, as well as the cash funding for the daily needs of the University. Cash Receipts manages all incoming cash, checks or wires. We provide banking services for the whole community – opening bank and credit card merchant accounts, reconciling bank accounts, providing guidance on wire payments etc. Harvard wouldn’t be able to manage its day-to-day business without this work.
What don't people know about what your team does?
Kit: People are generally aware that we manage the University’s banking needs. I think people are less aware that a big part of what we do involves managing risk – for example, working with our banking partners on the latest fraud protection services, and partnering with HUIT to oversee the University’s credit card compliance efforts.
Sara: I think that people may understand the operational nature of what we do, such as making payments on bonds, but they may not know that we also collaborate on a wide variety of strategic initiatives, including the capital planning process and long-term financial planning.
What is most challenging about your work?
Sara: The biggest challenge is also the most exciting thing for me – helping to manage the wide range and scope of projects we work on, from things such as the University’s annual debt compliance process to monitoring the Central Bank’s performance. I am continuously learning.
Craig: Since so many University activities involve cash in some form, we get pulled into a lot of different things each day. If a problem occurs with a cash transfer halfway round the world, we need to become involved - routine financial transactions can quickly become very problematic if there are any hiccups along the way.
Kit: Communications and outreach – it’s a challenge to make sure that departments and schools know that they can come to us, rather than try to handle these banking issues themselves, so making sure that the community knows who we are and what we do.
What are the professional backgrounds of your team members?
Craig: We have a broad mix of backgrounds, ranging from former investment bankers to folks who have spent their whole careers working at Harvard. That mix helps us navigate both external markets and the internal Harvard landscape. Regardless of our backgrounds, we share a commitment to the University’s mission – that is why we work at Harvard.
Sara: Our team members come from a variety of backgrounds and each brings a unique skill set that contributes to making us a well-rounded group, and gives us opportunities to learn from one another. I spent 13 years in banking, working in public finance with government and not-for-profits. I came to Harvard three years ago, and I’m very much enjoying being on the not-for-profit side of the table.
Kit: I come from a higher education background and am a certified treasury professional with 16+ years of accounting and 10 years of management experience. The average Cash Management team member has 10-20 years of experience. Collectively we form a powerful team striving to support the University’s vision and mission.
What does your best day look like?
Craig: Success can manifest itself in many ways, both big and small - a big example would be the recent $2.5 billion debt refinancing that we estimate will save Harvard around $35 million each year. A small example would be tracking down misplaced funds on behalf of a faculty member or student. A good day is any day that helps Harvard focus on its academic and research mission.
Kit: Our best day is when we are able to help people in the University solve their problems. For me personally, a great day is when I can help my team be successful.
Sara: I really enjoy the analytical, hands-on part of the job. That being said, it’s very satisfying when I or my team has the opportunity to collaborate on projects with Schools and other units across the University. Success for me is when these projects come to fruition and the analysis or recommendation makes it way to the intended audience and is well-received or subsequently leads to a positive financial outcome for the University.