Thomas, why is the Swiss Bankers Association giving its support to FinTech in Switzerland?
The needs of banking clients are changing greatly. In many other areas of life, people have now become accustomed to having access to everything at all times: they can order food, do their shopping or book trips – no matter where they are. Banking clients are now also demanding this service. Furthermore, there is the fact that many so-called digital natives have already amassed their own assets. This generation is used to being able to do everything with a smartphone. If the banks do not want to lose these clients, they need to cater to such needs. It is therefore logical that the Swiss Bankers Association, as the representative of the banks, is committed to the topics of FinTech and digitalisation. Ultimately, it is also about creating optimal framework conditions so that we can operate FinTech in Switzerland; and by "we" I do not only mean the banks, but also the FinTech companies – the entire ecosystem. This is the core competence of the Swiss Bankers Association: we "influence the framework conditions".
Which framework conditions are required for "FinTech made in Switzerland"?
I believe that it primarily requires a clear commitment from the politicians in Berne: They need to provide a clear signal that they consider the digitalisation of the banking sector to be an important development and that we, i.e. Switzerland, want to do everything we can to make sure this business can be conducted successfully here. We should check whether existing regulations remain appropriate and can be applied to digital contact with clients. Example: (Cross-border) account opening. Is it still necessary for clients to visit the bank in person and bring a passport with them or does FINMA also permit a digital identity? The entire area of data security must also be approached differently today.
For the Swiss Bankers Association, it is not about sealing off the financial centre through greater regulation in order to allow the banks to continue their business in peace. But we do want for banks to be able to take advantage of digital developments just as much as pure FinTech companies that are not part of the banking industry. The digitalisation of the banking sector is not something that is going to disappear, as digital services are becoming increasingly important for clients. And despite all of the crises, clients still trust their bank, in particular when it comes to large sums of money, asset management and the administration of their salary account.
Are there financial centres who are already performing well in this area or which are doing better than Switzerland?
You should always partake in benchmarking. And cities such as London or New York are perhaps more advanced when it comes to FinTech. I believe, however, that this is also due to the fact that clients there are already asking for a lot more. Swiss banking clients are still somewhat traditional in their outlook. Nevertheless, this will change very quickly. We do not have the time to analyse things for five years and then spend three years on developing a strategy. Switzerland is, however, already a lot further along the road than many headlines suggest: We have well in excess of 100 FinTech companies; banks are bringing new products to the market in the areas of payment transactions, social lending and mortgages. We have networks such as the Impact Hub and innovation centres such as the SIX Technology Incubator and Dübendorf; and FinTech has also become an issue at FINMA. These are all very positive signs.
What is your vision for Switzerland as a FinTech location in 2020?
My dream would be that Google has a banking license in Switzerland and operates this business for the whole of Europe from here. This would be a great indication that Switzerland is also a fantastic location for digital banking. But nobody can predict the future – including us. And this is also not at all necessary. The cards are currently being shuffled. All of the established players now need to move quickly to adjust their business model. I hope that we banks put our perfectionism and extreme safety requirements to one side to some extent and take one or two risks – of course always in the knowledge that we cannot squander our most important asset, namely the trust our clients place in us. Clients only have confidence in those who have functioning systems that are secure. At the same time, however, clients will only remain where their needs are met.