Could you explain the role and what you would like to accomplish in the next few years?
First of all, I am very honoured to have been considered and appointed as the new chair of FinanceMalta. I will support the organisation in any possible way. I consider that my role is to help ensure a constructive and open dialogue between my fellow board members – who are all very talented and fully dedicated to their task – and the management team of FinanceMalta. I hope that my exposure, as Partner and Head of Advisory at Grant Thornton Malta, to many different businesses and sectors will also be useful by bringing another perspective to the analysis of certain issues.
FinanceMalta is today a 200-member strong organisation, all working closely together to raise the visibility of our finance centre. We are currently experiencing a rapidly changing financial services landscape, and I believe these are very exciting times for the industry. The big question is what's next for Malta's financial services sector. While there is no easy answer, at FinanceMalta we are currently exploring where disruption is taking us next and one of our priorities is certainly to help our financial services industry leap forward.
We are not alone in this transformative journey. Set up as a public-private partnership, FinanceMalta is collaborative in nature. We have the support of the government but we can equally rely on the expertise and knowledge of the private sector to constantly adjust our strategy in order to target the right markets in the right way and to continue attracting new business to Malta.
What are you most looking forward to and what do you see as the biggest challenges in your role in 2022?
2022 marks the 15th anniversary of FinanceMalta, and the country achieved an important objective: Malta was removed from the list of increased monitoring jurisdictions of the FATF. This is the acknowledgment of the significant improvements that the country has made, as a whole, in order to satisfy all the criteria set by international standard-setting organisations.
In other words, strong foundations exist to pursue our objectives in the best possible way in the years to come. However, we certainly have more work to do and as a country we are committed to preventing financial crime, beyond the end of the greylisting.
Although Covid-19 is still around us, the second quarter of 2022 was also the first quarter, since the start of the pandemic, that can be compared to the "pre-pandemic years" in terms of conferences, events and networking opportunities. We are now looking forward to continue focusing on our core activity: promoting Malta as a destination of choice for financial services and meeting investors, stakeholder and business partners live and in person.
What are two or three areas that you would like to really hone in on during your tenure as FinanceMalta Chairperson?
We will certainlycontinue promoting the core sectors of asset management, insurance & reinsurance, as well as private wealth. However, there are indeed a few new areas that we will place a greater strategic focus on.
One area are thecapital markets. The Malta Stock Exchange has been a key contributor to initiatives aimed at developing Malta into an international financial centre, although so far it has remained largely a domestic exchange. I do believe it holds potential for international growth.
Sustainable financeis also high up on our agenda. While the growth of sustainable finance activities has been constrained by a lack of uniform definitions and standards, we are firmly focused on greening our financial system.
The other area we, as a country, are working on is improving the conditions for start-ups, especially those in theFinTechspace. Malta already has several home-grown FinTech success stories in addition to foreign entrepreneurs who set up on the island. There are a number of exciting initiatives taking place. For example, the Malta Financial Services Authority is looking at introducing cross-border sandboxing while we are working on building relationships and forging closer ties with global venture capitalists.
What can you tell us about FinanceMalta's long-term plans and your approach to creating value for members, investors and the financial services sector as a whole?
We are, very often, the first contact for potential investors. When we participate in international events abroad, FinanceMalta and its members are those who provide the first introduction about Malta. We assist investors by facilitating meetings and creating the right conditions for them to better understand the concrete opportunities that our jurisdiction offers.
Cooperation with other stakeholders is crucial and has been one of the priorities of FinanceMalta, especially in recent years. Attracting new business to our shore is in the interest of all stakeholders, and FinanceMalta is doing its utmost to join efforts with other key players, when possible.
In the last year there have been instances where we have participated in international conferences and events together with other entities, and we appreciate that this approach is extremely impactful in the eyes of prospective investors who could learn what Malta has to offer in a relatively short period of time. It is our intention to further promote this approach because we firmly believe that we can obtain much better results, and give Malta a higher visibility internationally, if operating in synergy with other players.
What markets are high on FinanceMalta's agenda at the moment?
The United Kingdom has always been, and still is, a fundamental market for us, in all sectors, for many reasons: historical, linguistic, political. In Europe, the main markets are Italy, Switzerland, Germany and Central/Eastern Europe.
Outside of the European Union, the main target markets are the UAE, Israel, Singapore, Hong Kong and the USA. During the pandemic, we had to limit our promotional activities in some of these markets, but we are now gearing up and hope to be able to start promoting the jurisdiction in these regions again from 2023.
An important part of our business proposition for investors from non-EU countries is our role as gateway to Europe. From Malta, financial services companies can access the EU's massive single market of over 450 million people.
Do you have a personal message to share about Malta and its financial services sector?
The main message is that Malta is open for business. It is a very simple message, but it reflects the mindset of the country and its approach to business. The whole ecosystem is business oriented, and I am not referring only to the public agencies and entities and the private sector. The Maltese workforce shares the same mindset.
From a costs perspective, Malta is definitely a more effective solution than many other European jurisdictions, and the use of English as on official language provides clarity and comfort to investors.
Obviously, there are a number of checks in place to ensure that we attract legit, sustainable business that brings added value to our economy and to our people.
George Vella is Partner and Head of Advisory at Grant Thornton Malta and has 25 years' experience in corporate and project finance, research and development, strategic and project management. He started his career in 1995 at PwC where he worked in assurance, advisory and risk management.
In 2001, he joined the Corinthia Group and fulfilled a number of roles both locally and abroad, including that of Finance Director at the Corinthia Grand Hotel Royal in Budapest and Corporate Finance Executive at the Corinthia Head Office. Previously, he worked at APS Bank.