CEO of the Bankers Association in Liechtenstein Simon Tribelhorn about the current state of the Banking Industry in Liechtenstein and the new regulations that have come in and the effects of digitalization

EBM-You are the CEO of the Bankers Association in Liechtenstein. Could you please share your career journey with us and how tell us how you came to hold this position.

As often in life it was by pure coincidence. The whole duration of my law studies saw me working in a bank to finance my studies. Thanks to my bosses, I had the opportunity to gain some practical experience in various areas and get a great overview of the functions of a bank: what is done and how it works. It was pretty clear for me and a logical consequence that, once having finished my studies, I would want to work in a legal department of a bank. But first, I wanted to make my bar exam which I actually did in Switzerland. Twelve years ago and after having worked for several years in legal departments of various banks in Switzerland and Liechtenstein, I was looking for a new challenge. Coincidentally, at the same time there was a job vacancy at the Liechtenstein Bankers Association (LBA) which I then took. From the first moment, I was fascinated and very impressed not only by the work of the LBA, but also by its CEO at that time. The following years, I was in the great position to learn really a lot from my boss. After he left the LBA at the end of 2009, I was appointed as his successor and new CEO of the LBA.

EBM– What set of skills do you feel is most important to be successful in your position and what is a typical day as CEO of the Bankers Association?

It‘s really hard to describe a typical day at an association like ours because no day is like the other. However, that’s what makes the work even more still interesting as every day is fascinating and keeps you on your toes. Nowadays, the range of issues a business association in the financial sector has to cover is very broad and includes all kinds of activities from lobbying, media relations and financial education to participation in the drafting of legal texts and of course their practical implementation, to name but a few. In addition, we are currently living in very dynamic times dominated by constant change. Sometimes, this can be very challenging, in particular for a smaller association without the resources comparable with bigger ones and in the privileged position to have an own expert for each and every dossier. Against this background, there are no standardized curriculum vitae for becoming or being a CEO of an association like ours. Obviously, my legal background was very instrumental but I do not believe that it’s imperative to have studied law; it’s more about having an understanding of legal issues. What is essential is to prioritize, have a good sense of future trends and issues which will affect your work to be prepared to actively drive the chance. One also needs to have a strong service mentality, the ability to deal and communicate with various stakeholders and be able to rely on a great team which is clearly the case at our association.

 

EBM-2017 has been hard for Liechtenstein — new regulatory aspects caused challenging environment for Banks in the country. This year there are new challenges for Liechtenstein’s Banking sector — Payment Services Directive and the Data Protection Regulation. Can these challenges make it more difficult to operate businesses in Liechtenstein?

The year 2017 was indeed a very challenging year, not just for us, but I think for everybody it was dominated by an unprecedented regulatory agenda. However, I’m convinced that Liechtenstein managed quite well to meet all these standards in transposing and the financial center in

 implementing them. In terms of results, our members can look back at a very successful past year: both in asset under management as well as net in new money inflows which reached an all-time high. The tier-1 ratio still amounted to more than 21% on average by the end of 2017 which is really exceptional and make them very sound and stable. Having said that, I’m pretty confident that through joint forces, we will this year again be able to cope with the current and upcoming challenges.

EBM-2016 marked an adoption of a new strategy for Liechtenstein’s banking and financial centre, named “Roadmap 2020”, with its main focus on quality, stability and sustainability. Strategy was adopted for the 5 upcoming years, and one of its main goals was to position Liechtenstein as an attractive employment location in the field of international banking. What is the situation in this sphere today?

Core business of our banks is primarily private banking which is and will remain a people’s business. Even the rapidly increasing digitalisation won’t change this phenomenon, although it will indisputably change the landscape dramatically and disrupt the financial services industry. This will also have a ripple effect on the entire value chain. However, experienced professionals and dedicated knowledge is key for the future of a bank and the financial center in order to be competitive and attractive. This is why we attached such a high importance to these measures with respect to the attractiveness of the working environment in our vision, the Roadmap 2020. One of the probably most untypical but really satisfying and intriguing projects was the creation of our day-care center, the so-called “Villa Wirbelwind.” However, this is clearly not enough and we feel that the development of the working conditions remains a permanent task which we will devote our full attention.

EBM-Blockchain is booming in Liechtenstein. The Blockchain law — also known as the Blockchain Act — was announced a few months ago at this year’s Finance Forum by the Prime Minister of the country, Adrian Hasler.
How this new Blockchain law affects the business climate in Liechtenstein? Can this Act become a challenge for the financial sector?

The ongoing digitalisation is a fact. Our members are open to and embrace these developments and challenges. Digitalisation and fintech are seen more as an opportunity than a threat and they want to seize them – front-end in order to create added value for the client and back-end to improve their processes. In most cases, this will entail cooperations with other or new innovative service providers. Besides that, the Blockchain law announced reflects very well the ambition of our government to create and maintain an attractive business environment in order to stimulate and encourage innovation and entrepreneurship.

EBM-Digitalisation and Fintech — these topics are very important for Liechtenstein’s financial centre. In order to shape the future, new opportunities and challenges must be embraced within these sectors. Could you say that Liechtenstein’s Bankers Association is seizing the moments and taking advantages when it comes to Fintech? How?

Associations in the finance sector have to deal with this issue. Digitalisation in general and Fintech in particular will have a huge influence on our industry. The only question is how active you want to address it – do you want to be a driving force or a follower in your association? This means that each association has to find and define its own role depending on how important it thinks the topic is. For us and our members digitalisation is one of the key game changers besides sustainability and sustainable finance. For this reason, we perceive our role as facilitator to ensure that new business  opportunities can be realized in and out of Liechtenstein, as information sharing platform between our members and other stakeholders. Also not forgetting, supporting our government in finding and creating the most attractive and favourable business environment possible. Personally, I’m convinced that we should even more look into the possible opportunities that digitalisation may open up in order to ensure a more sustainable financial sector and investments.

EBM -What do you feel are the major benefits of companies coming to Liechtenstein?

We often hear from people coming to Liechtenstein that they have a list of things they love about our country, among them the accessibility of our regulator and the government, the open-minded culture and the business friendly environment in general. I‘m a strong believer that “time to market“ is crucial, in today‘s fast–moving world more than ever.“ Moreover, I think that Liechtenstein’s access to two economic areas namely Switzerland on the one hand and the European Single Market on the other hand, combined with Liechtenstein‘s stability and its political continuity is a strong asset. This gives companies the much needed predictability and security for their long-time planning.

EBM-Five years from now — do you think that the banking and financial sector of Liechtenstein will be different? How can digitalisation affect it?

I‘m completely convinced that the banking and financial sector will look different from today. Nevertheless, I’m equally persuaded that we’re not in the least able to imagine what will be possible in a few years’ time, since we are only at the start of a massive change. When it comes to the whole financial services sector worldwide, it is clear to me that digitalisation and sustainability will help putting the client’s needs and a sense of responsibility back into focus for everything we are doing. However, I don’t dare to gaze into the crystal ball!