“Swiss banks are well positioned”
Credit Suisse Chairman Urs Rohner explains what the Swiss financial center needs to maintain its leading position, how he sees the future of globalization and what he finds particularly fascinating about Alfred Escher.
Chairman of the Board of Directors Urs Rohner on the future of Switzerland as a financial center.
But globalization will not necessarily continue to develop in the way it has in the past. Both politically and in the area of trade, regional centers are emerging that will have a major influence on developments in the respective regions in future. It will be crucial both for Switzerland and for Credit Suisse to rapidly find their bearings and to adopt a smart position in this new landscape.
If Switzerland can’t achieve that, what would be the worst-case scenario?
As a small country with a major export economy, Switzerland is reliant on free, rules-based global trade. Our wealth depends largely on access to foreign markets, meaning that if global trade were to be severely hampered, it would have a significant impact on Switzerland. Similar tendencies are also visible in the banking sector. Although – or indeed because – digitalization simplifies the provision of cross-border services, many jurisdictions are placing new barriers in the way of those services. Some measures are designed to protect clients and are therefore justified. In the case of others, you have to ask whether they are not primarily aimed at isolating markets – ultimately harming all parties.
The relationship between the EU and Switzerland is very tense at present. It appears likely that a framework agreement will not be concluded in the near future*. What would be the best outcome for the Swiss economy and the Swiss financial center?
Having access to foreign markets is a core factor determining Switzerland’s success as a business location, with access to the EU’S internal market being of particular importance. We need stable and cordial relations with our most important trading partners. The bilateral agreement framework that is currently in place with the EU has proved effective. The bilateral approach should therefore be pursued and, where necessary, adapted and expanded.
We talked before about the change of strategy at Credit Suisse: When will the restructuring process be completed?
We are now in the third and final year of our restructuring program. At first, the media in particular doubted that we would achieve our goals, but it is now clear that our strategy is working, and we are performing well across all areas of our business. We can therefore be very satisfied with what we’ve achieved so far – although that is no reason to rest on our laurels. We’re only at the beginning of the future development of our Group.
How long will there continue to be two big banks in Switzerland?
As far as Credit Suisse is concerned, I am convinced that we are well positioned with our strong Swiss roots to continue operating successfully in our home market and also globally.
Credit Suisse does a lot of business with traditional family-owned companies and also with young firms and a new generation of entrepreneurs. What is your experience of working with millennial entrepreneurs? Do they have a different mentality to the older generation? Are they more willing to take risks, for example?
I don’t think you can describe millennials as generally having a bigger risk appetite. However, they are well qualified, have a tech-savvy lifestyle and have grown up with the internet and mobile communications. This makes it easier for them to be globally connected and to develop
At Credit Suisse, we don’t run any of our businesses today in the same way as we did in the past.
Alfred Escher was a visionary who had entrepreneurship in his blood.
other business models. If you think about the most successful companies of recent years – Amazon, Google, Facebook and Alibaba – you see that they are based on classic entrepreneurial spirit combined with a business model that would have been inconceivable without digitalization.
What are Switzerland’s strengths when it comes to founding companies that belong to the new economy?
Dynamic, growth-oriented entrepreneurship requires specific know-how, a well-qualified workforce and political stability. Switzerland has a successful system of professional training, where universities, companies and the state cooperate effectively. This public/private partnership has already given rise to many successful companies. It’s up to us to ensure that this continues.
It is 162 years since Credit Suisse was founded. In which areas of business does the bank’s age place it at a specific advantage?
With its long tradition in wealth management, Credit Suisse enjoys a high level of trust in Asia in particular – but also in other regions. We are especially proud of our heritage as the Bank for Entrepreneurs, which is inspired by our founder Alfred Escher, a true visionary who made things happen. This still shapes our business today.
What fascinates you most about Escher?
He was a visionary who had entrepreneurship in his blood. He spurred on the development of the Swiss rail network and, with the construction of the Gotthard railway, took on projects in the face of resistance that many people thought impossible. Credit Suisse was heavily involved both financially and logistically in connecting the north-south axis. The bank has been inextricably linked to Escher’s landmark construction ever since. The Gotthard railway made a major contribution to Switzerland’s prosperity at the time, as did Credit Suisse – which has continuously shown that it assumes its responsibilities beyond banking and still does so today. A properly functioning infrastructure remains a core factor and an important economic driver – especially for trade.