Born and raised in Romania, Mihai Cheregi’s keen interest in finance and economics has seen him work across Europe. As Managing Director of the Malta branch of the United Group, an international financial services provider, Mihai oversees the company’s diverse portfolio of clients. He discusses how he came to call Malta his home, and how communication and kindness are at the heart of his leadership approach.

“I am responsible for the successful leadership and management of United’s Malta office,” Managing Director Mihai Cheregi explains. With a portfolio of both corporate clients and wealthy individuals, United prides itself on its personal approach to providing a full range of corporate and trustee services.

At the helm of the company, Mihai believes that United’s people-centric approach should extend beyond its clients to its team as well. “It’s part of my role to ensure we have a good corporate mentality and that I, myself, function as a branch of human resources,” he says. “I put a lot of emphasis on communication, which is why I have an open-door policy. My team knows they can come to my office for anything – a professional or personal issue – and that I’m here to listen and help find solutions.”

The Managing Director’s journey to his current position has involved several significant moves to new countries and, above all, an ability to make bold decisions and accept opportunities. “I left home when I was 14,” Mihai remembers. “I knew that, without hard work, I wouldn’t succeed in Romania, so I moved to Bucharest to study.”

Having graduated from the Bucharest Academy of Economic Studies – and achieved a second Bachelor’s degree from a French university in parallel to this course – Mihai decided to move to France to pursue a Master’s degree in Economics. “It was difficult to find a company that would employ a new graduate,” the fluent French-speaker admits, “which is why I decided to turn my focus towards Luxembourg, as it has a well-respected, international financial sector.”

Mihai was fortunate to meet people who gave him a chance after university. “I had actually bought a flight ticket in France to return to Romania,” he divulges. “But I secured a job interview for a role in Luxembourg, so I never actually boarded the plane. I got the job, so it was the right decision! I started working at United International Management Luxembourg in 2008 and stayed until 2013, when I was presented with the opportunity to move to Malta.”

For the Managing Director, working in Malta has been a very unexpected, but welcome, challenge. “I never saw myself leaving Luxembourg,” he says. “I thought that my professional future was already mapped out there, but I love saying ‘yes’ to new challenges and opportunities. Now, I don’t see myself leaving Malta. I’ve found the Maltese people to be very welcoming. Indeed, the Maltese and Romanians have similar family values and lifestyle!”

When he’s not working, Mihai relaxes in the kitchen. “I love cooking,” he shares. “I like to experiment. Sometimes I’ll have a dish in a restaurant and I’ll try to recreate it or add my own touch to it.” But the Managing Director admits that he’s not able to “completely switch off” due to his level of responsibility in the company, explaining that the team is always connected and on-hand to support their clients. “But when I can unwind, I also enjoy travelling. I adore the city vibes of London and Paris, but I equally like visiting the tranquil countryside in places like Tuscany and Sicily.”

When it comes to his role as Managing Director, Mihai enjoys the fact that he is involved in many aspects of the business. “I make it my business to know what’s happening in each area and I enjoy the relationship I have with our clients and my team. Of course, there are challenges – for example, implementing regulations to hold ourselves to high standards and maintain the good reputation of our company and our jurisdiction.”

Talking through the history of United International Management (Malta), Mihai explains it was founded in 2009 as part of an international group of companies serving in a range of jurisdictions. “When United Malta started, we were just offering traditional corporate services,” he says. “In 2019, we realised we wanted to offer more than that. So, we expanded our service range by acquiring a small Malta-based trust business, essentially creating a one-stop shop for our clients who require trust services, too.”

More recently, United Group has partnered with a Dutch artificial intelligence (AI) company, called Vartion, to create an in-house tool that automates compliance screening. “As a corporate service provider, we understand our risks. We are committed to combatting money laundering and the financing of terrorism, as well as any type of fraud,” Mihai says. “This new technology, a tool named Pascal, allows us to thoroughly screen our clients and business partners. It’s proven very popular within the financial sector, both in and outside the Netherlands.”

For Mihai, harnessing the power of AI is one of the keys to future-proofing the financial services sector. “The financial market is very dynamic. We must continuously adapt and update our systems to keep up with the constantly developing regulatory framework. Now AI is helping us to stay ahead of the curve. It’s a very exciting step for United.”

And when it comes to corporate social responsibility – another topic close to Mihai’s heart – United is leading the way with its United Foundation, supporting a range of initiatives and organisations related to music, art and culture, sports and social development. “We invest a lot in society,” he smiles. “We’re United by name and united by nature. The Foundation sponsors arts festivals, sports teams and non-profit organisations working in community development. You’ll notice the theme is bringing people together – and that’s what we’re all about.”

All that said, United hasn’t been without its challenges in the past year. Reflecting on 2021, Mihai describes the ‘new normal’ his team needed to adjust to. “Of course, when the pandemic first hit, safety was the priority,” he shares. “I remember the day we were advised to work from home – without hesitation we created the necessary environment for our team to work in this new way, asking them to stay safe. Last year the regulations changed, and we were allowed to return to the office. We never imposed on the team that they had to physically return to the workplace, but it was lovely to see that the team wanted to come back and connect again. As for my experience, it was challenging to manage the company from behind a computer in 2020, so in 2021 I was happy to reconnect with my team in person. “

The Managing Director believes the uncertainty of the last two years has helped unite the team even further, and United has forged stronger relationships with its clients, too. “We talked more with clients about our personal lives and the health of our families. This kind of conversation humanises people, and our clients appreciated that,” he smiles.

Meanwhile, the Financial Action Task Force named Malta as a jurisdiction requiring ‘increased monitoring’; another challenge for United, the impact of which has been felt across the financial services sector this past year. “It’s affecting the sector, no doubt about it,” Mihai admits. “With compliance measures in place, activities like bank transfers can take longer and it has an impact on our clients. However, I think this increased monitoring will ultimately see Malta, as a jurisdiction, come out of the FATF grey list stronger and more attractive than before.”

As the Managing Director leads United into 2022, he is confident that Malta’s financial sector will go from strength to strength. “I think the local authorities and businesses – all the players in the market – really are committed to improving the financial sector,” he shares. “The authorities are implementing new regulations and, from what we’re seeing, Maltese businesses are striving to offer a higher level of service to get things back on track.”

Excited for the challenges of the next year, Mihai looks forward to growing the company with a people-centric approach, leading with kindness and understanding. “Being a Managing Director requires devotion,” he explains. “You must be passionate about what you do and, just as importantly, you need to know the people you’re leading, so you can be there to support them.”

This article is part of the serialisation of 50 interviews featured in MaltaCEOs 2022 – an annual high-end publication bringing together some of the country’s most influential business leaders.

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