An industry titan, Credit Suisse is driving digitalization in its broad product portfolio, as chairman Urs Rohner details
PR: What can you tell us about Credit Suisse’s digitalization agenda and the innovative solutions, projects or technologies you will unveil in the near future?
UR: Digitalization is fundamentally altering the way banks operate and engage with their clients. At Credit Suisse, we routinely ask ourselves what the client of the future will look like and how private banking will evolve as a result of digitalization. Today, individual clients do most of their banking on their cell phones. We already have a sophisticated mobile banking platform to meet their needs. Importantly, we not only leverage technology in our client-facing operations — we have also started digitalizing processes in our compliance function. For example, we have tools that provide a single, centralized overview of clients who have different relationships with the bank globally. I believe that five years from now, banks will look very different to today. We may see some traditional banking roles disappear in the future. That said, there are still many areas of banking where the human element remains essential such as providing advice, understanding the markets and defining investment strategies.
PR: How will Credit Suisse maximize the opportunities created by cryptocurrencies and distributed ledger technology (DLT), sectors where Switzerland is already a global leader?
UR: Many banks started working with DLT at an early stage to store data. Based on our own detailed analysis, we believe DLT has huge potential, but it is also important to be mindful of the risks involved in terms of cyber-security. We are focused on ensuring we have the right procedures and people in place so we can navigate this rapidly evolving area.
PR: What comes next for Credit Suisse? How will you ensure you will continue to deliver growth?
UR: We have successfully completed our three-year restructuring and transformed the entire group. We are comfortable with the new structure of our bank and can now focus our full attention on serving our ultra-high-net-worth and entrepreneur clients globally. We now have a more resilient business and are in a good position to operate profitably, even when the cycle turns. We will take a disciplined approach to growth, continuing with the strategic direction we have defined. We are convinced this is the best way forward for Credit Suisse.
PR: Just how important is the US market for Credit Suisse and what is your main focus in the Americas?
UR: The US market has always been of key importance for our business. It is the home of our investment bank and we now have one of the best advisory investment banking businesses of any European bank. Our global markets business in the US is a sizeable operation — especially in product categories like securitized products and credit generally.
Cryptocurrencies: Where smart money and the sharpest brains flock
Already home to scores of leading blockchain developers and cryptographic companies, Switzerland has become an important hub for key players in this technology-driven sector as it gears up for rapid global growth
Switzerland’s banking and financial services sector not only looks after wealth but also creates substantial revenue for the federal government and the cantons where market players are based. The bustling cities of Zurich and Geneva are undoubtedly the most famous backdrops for such operations, with every tenth Swiss franc generated directly by the financial sector. Within the canton of Zurich, the industry accounts for the creation of almost every fifth Swiss franc. One of the more noticeable actors in this field, Zug is an increasingly important and powerful player as it targets the title of Switzerland’s “Crypto Valley” through blockchain innovation. As industry group the Crypto Valley Association (CVA) notes: “Crypto Valley is quickly becoming a global center where emerging cryptographic, blockchain, other DLTs and firms can thrive in a safe and vibrant environment. “Crypto Valley has already attracted dozens of leading cryptographic firms and organizations including Ethereum, Monetas, Bitcoin Suisse, Xapo, ShapeShift, ConsenSys and Tezos.”
Widespread support crucial to success
The industry receives strong support from local and federal authorities. In December 2018, the Swiss Federal Council published a report detailing the regulatory framework for cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology. Prepared in consultation with various stakeholders, including the CVA, the report indicates federal officials will not seek to draft and implement new legislation for crypto and blockchain issues, but will apply existing laws instead.
“The report is entirely in tune with the CVA’s goal to create the best possible framework conditions for ‘Crypto Nation Switzerland’” said CVA Policy and Regulation working group chairman, Mattia Rattaggi. “This approach best represents the principle of technological neutrality and, crucially, ensures maximum consistency within the current legal framework while keeping it principle-based and flexible. “To a large extent, the report also confirms what we, in the Crypto Valley community, have known for some time — that Switzerland’s regulatory system is already open and relatively flexible. These are attributes that have been fundamental in the Crypto Valley’s emergence as a global hub of blockchain innovation.”
Switzerland’s success in accelerating digitalization is reaping rich rewards
By connecting the brightest minds, the cross-industry association digitalswitzerland is forging new frontiers, as its founder and Ringier CEO, Marc Walder, explains
PR: Please give us a general overview of the digitalswitzerland project, such as how it started and what you have achieved so far?
MW: It all started at the 2015 World Economic Forum in Davos. I asked the CEOs of large enterprises and institutions like UBS, Swisscom, SBB, EY, Swiss Post, ETH and Economiesuisse, if they would join an initiative with the goal of making Switzerland a leading digital hub. They all did. So we started with ten members. Today, digitalswitzerland is proud to have more than 130 committed members. It has become the country’s most important and effective initiative regarding digitalization
PR: What are some of your most significant projects and concrete actions right now?
MW: Switzerland is the world’s most innovative economy according to several rankings. We are working hard to keep it there. We structure our work around six horizontals: education and talent, start up enablement, corporate enablement, politico-economic environment, public dialogue and international connectivity. Our major projects include Swiss ID, a digital identity for people living in Switzerland. With Swiss ID, you log in quickly and securely to Swiss online services, identify yourself and provide signatures online. We also introduced a national Digital Day, which is unique in Europe. Hundreds of thousands of people across the country experience digitalization for 24 hours. Another major project for us was computational thinking for kids. We distributed a little robot called Thymio to Swiss schools enabling children to learn computational thinking in a playful way.
PR: Where does Switzerland stand in regard to digital technologies and how does it compare to the Americas or Asia?
MW: Switzerland is small but strong and for many years has topped indexes for innovation, entrepreneurship and competitiveness.
We are global leaders for employing highly-skilled foreigners, smartphone use, intellectual property rights, employee training, investment risk, pupil-teacher ratio, R&D spending, and scientific and technical employment. We have some areas needing improvement, including high-tech patent grants, starting a business, IT and media stock-market capitalization, e-participation and immigration laws.
PR: How is digitalswitzerland working with universities, young graduates or start-ups?
MW: With ETH Zurich and L’École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland has two top-ten tech universities. Both are working very closely and efficiently with us. This is crucial for our initiative.
PR: In that context, what is your final message to our readers?
MW: Everyone has digitalization at the top of their list, yet the speed, power and strength of change and disruption is still underestimated by many companies, governments and institutions. At the same time, the chances and opportunities it offers are bigger than the danger.
Digitalization is transforming and streamlining key tasks and systems in financial services
The perpetual development of powerful cutting-edge technologies is constantly pushing the boundaries and creating robust demand for new financial products and services. Financial institutes must be agile and innovative if they are to meet the exacting needs of customers, regardless of whether the clients are companies or individuals. Big data is increasingly big business, as enterprises invest heavily in their digital offerings, and people spend more of their time and money online, often while on the move.
Digital future set to tighten margins
Leading international financial services figures like EY are convinced sector players of all sizes need to rethink their strategies to achieve success in today’s challenging client- centric ecosystem environment. “Entire ecosystems compete against each other: the local market becomes a global platform, the product-based business model becomes a client-service-centric business model, and competition turns from brand base to an ecosystem-based form of competition,” says Marcel Stalder, CEO of EY in Switzerland. “Companies must transform their operational models. The digital future shows shrinking margins across every industry. The future will revolve around an integrated finance risk capital management system, as the digital future will not be in silos — it will be integrated. “Companies need to increase automation, robotization, digitalization and significantly decrease costs. Outsourcing, standardizing and offshoring aspects will be key to cutting these costs.” EY has helped to shape the digital future of Switzerland for a while as a founding member of digitalswitzerland and is already among the world’s leading blockchain firms. This is due to the group’s drive to become the first professional services provider to introduce blockchain and cryptocurrency. The company wanted to explore the technology for itself first and engage its personnel. “The human factor — and this is important to me — is key in the whole transformation we are in,” Stalder continues; “How we work, what culture we have, how we lead and how we recruit, develop and motivate our people is a core factor of success. Technology is only the driver.”