INTERVIEW | Rudolph Psaila: Agility in the face of adversity

Finance Malta is Malta’s national promotion body for financial services and fintech related business. BusinessToday got together with its chairman, Rudolph Psaila, to find out its vision for Malta and his own outlook for the sector in the coming years

Rudolph Psaila
Rudolph Psaila

You were appointed chairman of FinanceMalta a year ago. What is your vision for FinanceMalta? What are your priorities?

Our primary goal, as FinanceMalta, is to promote Malta as an innovative international financial services centre, and with financial services constituting one of the main drivers of Malta’s economy, I felt it was important that FinanceMalta revises its strategy, to ensure the continued success and sustainability of the sector within a changing world.

The strategy is based on five pillars, namely innovation, value creation, inclusiveness, internationalisation and being digital. We aim at focusing on innovating our core traditional sectors whilst continuing to assist in developing new sectors. Together with the other stakeholders in this sector, we also need to explore regulatory and operational innovation which will, from a legal perspective, enhance the existing financial services products and will, from an operational side, create a more efficient and less bureaucratic operational environment. In addition, we want to be closer to our members, focusing on their needs and assisting them with growing their businesses. Another important pillar is reinforcing Malta’s position as a financial services jurisdiction at an international level by forging closer links to international associations and in close cooperation with all stakeholders. It is crucial that we work together and create more synergy for the benefit of the jurisdiction and reasserting the strengths of the sector. We want to attract more students and young people to join our sector and we will make sure that our initiatives target this important group as well.

Our position will also be strengthened by increasing our presence across the digital platforms which will allow us to reach out to more international players to further enhance Malta’s strategy in financial services. We must remain forward thinking and continue to strive to uphold Malta’s propositions in an ever-changing and globalised society.

These five pillars form the basis of the initiatives we undertake and have also been the basis of our annual conference held in mid-October, which brought together all stakeholders to discuss various elements our strategy, including innovation and digitalisation, as well as Malta’s response to the legal and regulatory challenges that the sector is facing especially in the area of AML and CFT – all within the current context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

How does Finance Malta promote its work and message? Who is its target audience and how do you gauge feedback?

Our main objective is to be present in other countries and jurisdictions with the goal of increasing the visibility of Malta as an International Financial Centre, thereby enhancing business opportunities for our members by which the industry can sustain its growth. We participate in conferences and initiatives which we believe are beneficial for our members and for Malta’s financial services sector. By forging alliances and new connections, we help attract new business opportunities to Malta.

Needless to say, COVID-19 has changed completely the way we operate. As a result of the realities brought on by the pandemic, during this year all events, conferences and initiatives we planned to participate in, got cancelled or postponed indefinitely. As a result, we took stock of the situation and strengthened our focus on, and use of, social media platforms. Earlier this year we launched a new and highly informative website with a focus on user experience, especially for those international firms and investors interested in setting up in Malta, and vice-versa for our members to interact with these interested parties.

In addition, we have significantly increased our presence on our social media platforms and produced several informative video clips entitled ‘FinanceMalta ReachOuts’ delivered by industry leaders as well as our members. We also launched a survey within the financial services community – to both members and non-members of FinanceMalta – to listen to what our members have to say and to see how we can improve on delivering a more targeted service to the industry in general. In view of the positive feedback we have received in this regard, we have decided to continue producing such clips for the foreseeable future.

We have organised various webinars during the last few months, some of which were addressed at a specific target audience, including students and young people, so as to better explain the myriad of career opportunities available in the financial services sector.

Our main local outreach was the highly successful hybrid annual conference held in October with proceedings taking place at a conference venue in Malta whilst being connected via video to other contributors, panelists and facilitators in Malta and across the world. The conference was being relayed live through a web event platform that also ensured networking and interaction between the over 300 registered participants. The event brought together over 35 high-calibre speakers from various sectors of the financial services industry. All stakeholders were represented, including the country’s authorities, regulators, foreign and local experts, practitioners, lawyers, enforcement entities and the media.

How strong are financial services in Malta and how can Malta reinforce its position as a financial services jurisdiction, especially now with the possibility of Malta being grey listed being touted?

The financial services sector is a key pillar of our economy and accounts for around 10% of Malta’s GDP and employs in excess of 12,000 people and so it would be an understatement to say that reputation is of paramount importance.

Trust and integrity are fundamental pillars of any jurisdiction that wants to attract investors, especially quality, sustainable investments. Malta has stepped up on various fronts and the Authorities have put in significant effort to address the points noted in the Moneyval Report. However, the main purpose of addressing these matters is not solely due to passing the Moneyval test but it should be the priority of the practitioners, regulators, authorities, and other stakeholders to continue achieving an effective, proportionate and fair regime that works for us all with the ultimate aim of improving the jurisdiction’s offering as a centre of excellence in financial services.

We need to keep on developing a policy framework to enable innovation to thrive while maintaining a level playing field for all stakeholders within the sector, especially when it comes to legal, regulatory and compliance matters. There is much more room for streamlining and introducing efficiencies in order to achieve a balance between managing effectively risks within the legal and regulatory framework and continue growing the business.

How was the financial services sector affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?

When one compares the financial services sector to other industries such as hospitality and retail, we can see that financial services were not impacted to the same extent. Having said that, our members did face a number of challenges in particular in relation to the business development initiatives as the opportunities to travel and physically meet were and are still very limited. While the potentially lack of new business might not significantly affect 2020, the situation might be completely different if the current COVID-19 situation be extended to most of 2021. However, every cloud has a silver lining as we can use this period to look into innovating ourselves and be ready to hit the ground running when the COVID-19 situation is over.

In the case of the banking sector, it has, once again, shown resilience and adaptability and together with government initiatives, continued playing a critical role in ensuring that the Maltese economy continues to function well by providing liquidity as well as support to individuals and businesses during these turbulent and challenging times.

Overall, we can say that our members continued to serve their clients during this crisis, albeit in a less personal and face-to-face manner, but through the use of digital technology and other forms of communication. Due to COVID-19, we are all witnessing the acceleration of the transition to digital in all aspects of life – in the way we consume, communicate and entertain ourselves and, I’m sure that everyone will push to keep this momentum going.


How can innovation help Malta’s core traditional financial sectors?

Innovation in financial services needs to be given a holistic dimension. We need to look at innovation in a multi-faceted way and must not only look at innovation in terms of investing solely in digitalisation. Whilst digitalisation remains a crucial part of the further development of this sector, one must also ensure that innovation related to the legislative framework as well as the operational efficiency is also and equally considered. This requires the cooperation of the major stakeholders in particular the Authorities who are entrusted to revise legislation, policies and procedures to further attract foreign investment to Malta. Focusing on the legal and operational innovations together with digitalisation, will be crucial for our members to get new sustainable business and for the country’s economy to grow further.

How do you see Malta’s financial services evolving in the coming five and 10 years?

The current pandemic makes it difficult for everyone to predict the future or give an outlook on the sector. Definitely, our fundamentals are good and that augurs well for a recovery. However, the current economic recovery is dependent also on the developments in the medical field and we have welcomed the recent positive news in connection with the development of one particular drug.

Notwithstanding the headwinds that we are facing, I believe that there are opportunities to be seized as any crisis creates new prospects for doing things differently. Agility, in the face of adverse situations, is important if we are to maintain a competitive advantage, and we must maximise the use of technology to continue developing our legislative framework in line with the opportunities arising as well as to cater for the developments taking place internationally to innovate and take on the challenges of the future.

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