Is FinteCH the Future of the Swiss Financial Center?
Digitization is impacting a wide range of industries, including Swiss specialties like watch making (e.g. smart watches) and healthcare (e.g. medtech and digital health). It is also having an increasing impact on financial services. As digital becomes the standard in modern life, client expect financial service providers to deliver greater accessibility, improved offerings and more value for money.
The macro trend of digital within the financial services is matched with bottom-up activity coming from startups entering the industry with aims to either empower traditional providers or to disrupt them. These new players are so called “FinTech” companies (i.e. financial technology). They range from micropayment (e.g. Millipay), to wealth management (e.g. TrueWealth), to blockchain (e.g. Ethereum), and numerous other examples.
Swisscom is becoming active in FinTech, not only in a supporting role by providing more conventional services like business process and IT outsourcing, but also by developing new solutions. One example is Evoja, a solution that supports client advisory (watch a video in German). Also, we actively scan the FinTech sector for potential collaborations with startups.
In 2014, the wave of FinTech reshaping financial centers like New York and London reached Zurich. Slowly, but surely, a vibrant community is starting to take shape including entrepreneurs, bankers, investors and other key stakeholders who are creating a new vision for the Swiss Financial Center. The vision is energized by the opportunities created by the convergence of finance and technology.
An active figure helping to bring together the stakeholders in the community is John Hucker. During the day, he’s working as an innovation manager at one of Credit Suisse Digital Private Banking. In his spare time he has started finteCH meetup zurich. Since its launch in June last year, the group has hosted 10 events and grown to more than 375 active members. He also started a newsletter to reach key international players and has been advising stakeholders on how to make the most of opportunities in FinTech.
I had the chance to meet John at a recent meetup hosted at Impact Hub and asked him a few questions:
Dear John, how did you come to be passionate about FinTech?
John: I have always been fascinated about technology and innovation, but my passion for FinTech was triggered by experiences during the first few years working at Credit Suisse. Upon arriving in Switzerland in 2011, projects focused on cost cutting and implementing new regulations. While many said this would keep the industry busy for years, it was clear to me that it meant the end of the old business models and consequently, that innovation would be necessary.
What´s the idea behind the meetups? How do they take place and who is invited to join?
John: There was nowhere to share ideas on a regular basis for free and in English. So after meeting a lot of people who were interested to connect and have an impact, the idea to launch a meetup group with startup culture – open, lean, and impactful – was in line. Anyone with a real interest in the topic can join, but we focus on entrepreneurs, financial and IT professionals, investors, etc. There is a meetup each month, either over lunch or in the evening. The format is totally flexible, which is great, allowing us to try out guest speakers, panel discussion, and we even hosted an “unconference” recently.
What could be the USP of Swiss banking in the long run? What´s your vision?
John: There are still a lot of skeptics, but I think Switzerland is one of a few locations with the right mix of talent, capital, and USPs to become an important player in the global FinTech ecosystem. This all rests on values like stability, quality, and neutrality, which are still very strong in Switzerland. Building on the foundation of well-established sectors like wealth management, insurance, and alternative fund management, the future also holds great potential with blockchain technologies and financial inclusion / social finance. And in an interesting twist, I think banking secrecy could morph into data security.
What is the biggest challenge for the banking sector in Switzerland?
John: The biggest challenge in the Swiss Financial Center is the business culture which relies on reaching consensus (this can also be an asset). It was a fear of going against consensus that contributed to being unresponsive to change (i.e. business was good for generations, so don’t rock the boat). And now during the uncertain times of change, the need to reach consensus means it takes longer to find a new way forward. However, once consensus is reached (assuming there is still time to act), having all parties working together can be a tremendous asset. I am very hopeful that we can help make this happen in 2015.
To conclude, I would like to ask you a question that is a bit more of a personal nature. Is there something about yourself that might surprise our readers?
John: I actually studied Philosophy before pursuing a career in banking. It was not until years later that business and finance degrees were added. Now I wonder how long those degrees will be relevant – financial analysis is considered one of the most likely professions to be replaced by automation!
Thanks John, I am looking forward to joining the next FinteCH meetup event in May on hope to see the Fintech Scene in Zurich come together nicely in the future!