A lawyer by profession, Geraldine Spiteri Lucas is a technical person first and a leader second, but credits her unique trajectory with giving her the tools to effectively lead the Malta Business Registry today.
She started her career with a leading law firm, and over time, a growing interest in the corporate, shipping and aviation saw her tasked with handling such matters within the firm, until she applied – and was awarded – the position of legal officer with the Registry of Companies.
Some time later, when the Registry of Companies was developed into a stand-alone agency, the Legal and Enforcement Unit was created, and Geraldine was appointed Head of Legal. This led her to build this unit from the ground up, putting together a team of 10 employees which she would lead through various important tasks and projects, including the Malta Business Registry’s role in Moneyval and FATF evaluations.
In fact, during this time, Geraldine played a pivotal role in bringing about key changes that were crucial in updating the registry in line with European and international criteria. Elaborating on this, she explains that as Chief Legal Officer, she had the opportunity to be involved in discussions on EU regulations and directives from their early stages and owning these projects.
Then, in October 20201, she was appointed to her current role, Registrar of Companies and CEO of MBR.
Looking back on her journey, Geraldine explains, “I always do things with passion and strive to find something positive out of all the stress.” Going on to mention a few landmarks, she recalls the satisfaction tied to the culmination of every transaction, whether it was a complex merger or a closing for a ship or aircraft during her time in the private sector. But one of her most important achievements, she notes, was within the MBR: the largely compliant rating which Moneyval awarded the law she drafted in relation to beneficial owners and transparency of companies.
“This was one of the happiest and most rewarding moments in my career,” she shares, affirming that the law was not a straightforward one to draft, since there was no other jurisdiction to refer to. “It involved a lot of research and many decisions on the best way to include it in the Maltese scenario. We had to start everything from scratch,” the CEO recalls, noting that while achievements within the private sector are certainly worthwhile, “when you form part of a Government agency, Malta’s success becomes your success, and vice versa.”
Expanding on the work of the MBR and her current role, Geraldine explains that the MBR is responsible for the registration of new commercial partnerships and other legal entities, such as foundations and associations, with all entities being legally obliged to submit notifications of any changes within their company or organisation.
The MBR also offers a public portal whereby basic information on commercial entities and other organisations is made available to the public, and for commercial partnerships, there is also access to beneficial ownership information and documents, Geraldine explains, adding that the MBR is also in charge of the register of beneficial owners of foundations, associations and unregistered associations.
In addition to this, the MBR issues all certified true copies of documents submitted, issues certificates of good standing amongst others, the reservation of company names, the collection of registration and other fees, the publication of notices and the imposition and collection of penalties. Finally, it also conducts on-site investigations on companies to confirm that the information submitted to the Registrar is accurate and up to date.
Well into her first year as CEO, Geraldine has a lot on her plate. “My first priority is to do everything that is necessary to have an effective system in relation to transparency and financial crime obligations, and for FATF to remove Malta from the grey list,” she begins, describing her focus on ensuring that everyone at MBR is aware of the AML/CFT risks in relation to matters they deal with on a daily basis and that they have all the tools and resources in place to keep the momentum moving forward.
Other priorities are to safeguard the support the MBR gives to businesses. In order to facilitate reporting, the CEO reveals, “we are working hard to launch a fully fledged online system whereby all processes are easier to handle. We have also launched a survey whereby we would like to receive feedback from the general public about our services and how we can further enrich them.”
“I am a firm believer that education is the key for success,” she continues, asserting that the MBR should not appear to be an entity whereby the main element is the issuing and collection of penalties. “On the contrary, I want everyone in this sector to be fully aware of their obligations and ensure that the filings are up-to-date and correct. This is beneficial to both the entity itself and also to other entities/individuals transacting with that entity.”
And while it’s only been a few months, her journey as CEO has not been without its setbacks. “Upon my appointment, COVID-19 cases in Malta exploded, so we had to deal with the practical issues arising from that in tandem with our work,” she explains, and more recently, another crisis has impacted Geraldine’s work – the escalating situation between Russia and Ukraine – whereby the MBR is involved in relation to sanctions on companies with Russian links in Malta.
Speaking of the delicate situation involved, Geraldine explains, “we have a close connection with other authorities, including the police, FIAU and the Sanctions Monitoring Board, and keep updated with all sanctions being issued.” Drawing on the valuable experience and lessons learned from the FATF process, the CEO explains that MBR employees have more knowledge in relation to sanctions, and are able to be more proactive in relation to the steps that are necessary in a situation such as this. In fact, they have also gone so far as to highlight all Russian involvement in Maltese companies, conducted a thorough screening procedure and classified them in accordance to risk, planning ahead for possible further sanctions.
Commenting on her experience at the helm so far, Geraldine admits that coming from a legal background, the most challenging was the operations aspect of the role, but she has not shied away from it: “it is always great that you learn new notions, so I took this in my stride.”
Setting her sights on the future, the CEO lists her top priorities for the MBR moving forward, chief among which is having all its services offered online. “Work on this started some years ago, and we are now in the final phases of this ambitious project, through which every company will be registered online, and any other notifications made to the register of companies will be made online. This is also going to be extended to foundations and associations.”
Another major plan in the works is an internal restructuring process which will see the Registry of Companies split into three groups which, Geraldine explains, will feature more specialisation within each section. “I believe that when you specialise, the greater detail will allow you to give a better service, both in relation to knowledge and efficiency,” she maintains.
Concluding with one key piece of advice for aspiring leaders, Geraldine says that the most important thing is to “believe in yourself, regardless of age or gender, challenge yourself (even if you don’t always have the energy to do it) and have a vision.”
Photos by Inigo Taylor
The interview forms part of the 50 Business Leaders 2022 project. The new online serialisation on MaltaCEOs.mt will feature 50 distinguished business leaders, CEOs, and emerging business minds to create debate and encourage business leaders to share their journey with our readers.
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