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Networking and innovation: Highlights from FinanceMalta 2019

Ramon Bondin, CEO of Dolfin Asset Services (Malta), shares his thoughts on this year’s FinanceMalta conference.

18 June 2019 / Macro & Markets

The FinanceMalta conference is an important event in the economic calendar of the island, providing the Maltese financial services industry with an opportunity to push its credentials and give fund administrators, investment managers, lawyers and others working in the industry the opportunity to discuss current trends and do business.

For Dolfin, which was again one of the sponsors of the event earlier this month, it has also provided an opportunity to celebrate our success thus far on the island, and our optimism about its potential going forward. It was also an informal anniversary. Bondin explains: “Last year we had got our licence and we used the conference as our launch. This year was different because we have a fully-fledged set-up, we’ve been operating for a year, we’ve onboarded clients and we’re looking to grow.”

More than 400 delegates were at the Hilton Conference Centre in early June for this year’s event, which proved successful once again. “It worked well for us,” says Bondin. “We made new contacts and had some good exposure.”

Amir Nabi, Dolfin Group COO, who also attended the event, notes: “As a non-Maltese resident, it was remarkable to see how established we have become in the island‘s financial services ecosystem after such a short time.”

Spearheading innovation

From the stage, the central message was the importance of innovation to ensure the continued health of the local financial services industry. The conference theme was ‘Malta: A Platform for Innovation’ and discussions ranged across a wide variety of topics, from fintech to artificial intelligence, blockchain, cryptocurrencies and how to deal with the threats from cybercrime.

“Innovation goes hand in hand with a digital-led environment.” – Kenneth Farrugia, FinanceMalta

“While Malta’s small size may be considered a disadvantage by some, in actual fact it provides the perfect platform for innovation as it allows new structures to be developed and introduced to the market,” said FinanceMalta’s chairman Kenneth Farrugia, in his introductory remarks to the conference. Echoing comments he’d made in a recent Dolfin Diary interview, he continued: “Innovation also goes hand in hand with the digital-led environment that the industry now operates in, which is challenging the traditional ways of doing business and, through this disruption, is providing new opportunities.”

Silvio Schembri, parliamentary secretary responsible for financial services, digital economy and innovation, had a similar message, telling the audience there was a continual need for innovation. He also discussed the government’s plans to set up a consultative body on financial services, which will serve as a forum for discussions between the government, the regulator and industry. Among other things, the new body will be tasked with formulating a 10-year strategy for the sector. “I cannot stress enough the importance of the full collaboration and cooperation of all the relevant stakeholders, if we are to achieve and sustain success,” said Schembri.

This approach is in line with Dolfin’s own view of where the industry needs to go. “There is a push in terms of innovation, trying to look at new industries and new products and trying to leverage technology,” says Bondin. “And there is also a general push towards automation at the regulatory level, so that it becomes more efficient, which would give Malta a competitive advantage when compared to other jurisdictions.”

Regulation and reputation

Indeed, the Malta Financial Services Authority said it plans to invest €10m between now and 2022 to improve its technology platform and develop more automated authorisation and supervisory processes. Joe Cuschieri, chief executive of the MFSA, said the regulator had “a vision to establish Malta as an international fintech hub” and was looking at developing a regulatory ‘sandbox’ in which companies will be able to test new services and products in a controlled environment.

“Most ‘traditional’ investment services firms now recognise that innovation is essential.” – Ramon Bondin, Dolfin

The market is certainly receptive to such ideas, with Bondin saying even traditional investment services firms are now embracing new technology. “Over the past two years, there has been a big push towards blockchain from the regulator, industry stakeholders, and also the government,” he says. “Most ‘traditional’ investment services firms now recognise that innovation is essential for their place in the future in the industry.”

A reputation for innovation should help to enhance Malta’s financial service industry in the future, but it is not enough on its own; there is also a need to ensure that high levels of service quality are the norm – something that can help to set Malta apart within the wider European market so that it competes effectively with other financial centres. “The opportunity for regulatory arbitrage is non-existent between jurisdictions in the EU, so it’s about service, quality and access. Those are the things we compete on now,” says Bondin.

Overall, there was a positive, optimistic attitude among the delegates, with boutique wealth managers, investment services, tech firms and banks all seeing a bright future for the island.

That should offer Bondin and his colleagues even more opportunities for networking at FinanceMalta conferences in the years ahead.

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