“Partnerships are the best kind of relationship”
Swiss banks can hold their own against major international banks, fintechs and tech giants, says Anke Bridge Haux. The Head of Digitalization & Products at Credit Suisse in Switzerland discusses increasing collaboration, “magic moments,” and her own analo
Anke Bridge Haux, Head of Digitalization, on collaboration in the digital age.
Ms. Bridge Haux, in a digital, globalized world, what do Swiss banks stand for?
Our clients can answer that question best. The aspect they mention most often is still trust. The banks’ immense stability and longstanding collaboration are also important to them. We already focused on these client needs in the past. We still do today and will certainly do so even more in the future. In an increasingly complex world, people need secure, strategic partners in financial matters – such partners can be found in Switzerland.
Swiss banks are considerably smaller than their American and British competitors and have correspondingly smaller development budgets. How does Credit Suisse manage this disadvantage when it comes to innovation?
Although I am the Head of Digitalization, I find the quest to have the highest possible digital budget is an antiquated notion. Digitalization is an enabler. It serves to make things possible, but it is not an end in itself. Let’s compare digitalization to the invention of the steam engine, which only offers any benefit when it is used correctly. In other words, the very first thing you need to know is what the budget is for. Moreover, the investment needs decline over time. Once you’ve built a good platform, it’s relatively easy to add smaller, lighter modules later on.
Will that be sufficient against the strong competition, some who also come from different industries?
Swiss companies work together today more than they did in the past. Such partnerships are a key feature of the Swiss economy. In recent years we have seen the rise of a mindset recognizing that there are advantages in working together on common solutions to some issues – even though some of these companies are competing with each other. Companies are becoming more aware that by acting together on these initiatives, we are supporting the Swiss economy as a whole.
In the last century, it took almost 50 years for the Swiss to agree on a joint clearing house. Suddenly, everyone is working so well together these days – where did this culture of collaboration come from?
The partnerships began in payment transactions, where digitalization disrupted the status quo early on – even beyond the borders of Switzerland’s financial center. Recently, for example, the TWINT payment platform appeared. Another example is electronic identification, the E-ID, a major and critical innovation that will be practical in a wide array of different industries and something that tends to be underestimated. A joint office for “know your client” processes and a digital Swiss Exchange are also being discussed a good deal. These could all be opportunities to create synergies while still complying with client confidentiality guidelines.
In the world of finance, fears that one of the new tech giants could completely throw the sector into turmoil are nothing new. Why hasn’t that happened – at least not yet?
The large tech companies usually operate in a less regulated environment, with a completely different culture. The relatively heavy regulation in the financial sector represents a barrier to their entry into the market. This takes a great deal of expertise, and the cost associated with that is high. Rather than founding a bank or buying one,
they are therefore looking for ways to operate alongside us.
The question is always how can elements of different value chains be combined. How can the best aspects of the bank be combined with the best of the tech company. I think it’s a positive development that partnerships are being considered more, although we typically partner with the smaller fintechs, rather than very large companies.
There was still a lot of skepticism just a few years ago about the young start-up companies in the financial sector. We believed they represented a threat to the business of the traditional institutions. Are you afraid of the competition?
No, the fintechs are a positive addition. Here, too, partnerships are the best kind of relationship. They allow both sides to use their core competences optimally. The fintechs develop solutions for a very specific problem. And they do this very well. We, the banks, handle integrating the solutions into the regulatory framework and into our channels. This creates economies of scale. At Credit Suisse, we serve half a million clients through Online and Mobile Banking. It would be practically impossible for a fintech to build a market like this on its own. What consumer wants to have ten different banking apps, each one for a single banking service?
How do partnerships like these work?
We have a team that works exclusively with fintechs and is deeply embedded in that scene. More and more, there are occasions when our own clients are involved with start-ups and let us know, “This company has a great solution – take a look.” If we like the idea and if the underlying platform is well built, then integrating those innovations moves along relatively quickly.
How do clients benefit?
Let’s take a recent example. A fintech developed a platform that brings together invoice issuers and payers in order to motivate them to pay early. Offering discounts can be an attractive option in a low interest rate environment. We recently integrated this platform, and it’s being used a great deal.
Now let’s get to the analog part of the interview. Why will the personal consultation still be important in a hundred years?
There are some key moments in client relationships, internally we call them “magic moments,” that leave a lasting impression on people – in terms of their experiences and the resulting future decisions. These consultations will never be possible digitally.
Such as when buying a house?
For instance. For most people, buying real estate is the biggest transaction they will ever make. The accompanying consultation focuses on much more than the technical aspects of a mortgage, interest rates, tranche sizes and fixed versus variable rates. The questions include things like what if something happens to me? What happens when the children move out and the house is empty? What if I retire – how can I pay the interest on the mortgage? These magic moments also include decisions concerning retirement provision.
Which part of your life can you personally not imagine ever doing online?
(Laughs) I deal with digital things all day long, but I am more of an analog type of person. My environment is essential to me. Human contact cannot be digitized. I’m a passionate gardener, and I love to jog and ride my mountain bike – I love being outside in nature. And even my work is fundamentally about people. Technology has to help improve human interaction – that’s its only objective.
Human contact cannot be digitized.
Anke Bridge Haux ( 40) is the Head of Digitalization & Products of the Swiss Universal Bank division of Credit Suisse.
Improving human interaction: Impact Hub innovation center in Zurich, supported by Credit Suisse.