Since its establishment in 2002, Sparkasse Bank pls has led the way in the investment and fund arena, positioning Malta as a solid financial services base for European institutions of its calibre. CEO Paul Mifsud – who has been with the bank since 2006 – is determined to continue steering the ship with a steady hand, while looking forward to a future of robust growth.
Few people are as passionate about the financial services sector as Paul Mifsud, CEO of Sparkasse Bank plc, a Maltese institution providing investment, depository, and fund custody advisory to international clientele. “I am most happy at work,” Paul smiles. “I enjoy the stress – it keeps me alive; it keeps my blood moving and is my raison d’être!”
Paul’s passion for his profession stems from his youth: “intuitively, I always knew this was my path. As a young man, I managed my father’s investment portfolio and that piqued my interest.” Fortune smiled upon him – and the island itself – when, in the late 90s and early 2000s, Malta started to position itself as a global market leader in the financial services industry. “Everyone seemed to be vying for the same sector, so I thought, here’s my chance!”
In 2000 – newly graduated from The Chartered Institute for Securities and Investment in London – Paul established Quest Investment Services, a financial advisory firm servicing both local and foreign clients. “I grew the business exponentially in a matter of years. Initially, I oversaw investment advice and corporate management and, by 2006, Sparkasse had become a majority stakeholder,” Paul explains.
“When I initially joined, we applied for a Category 4 Licence under the Investment Services Act, allowing us to act as trustees or custodians of investment schemes. At the time, Malta was pushing itself as a global leader in the sector and had decreed that, in order to establish a fund on the island, you needed to appoint a custodian. Realising that there was a niche offering to be explored, we strategically evolved from a retail service to a B2B institution.
“A landmark decision then meant that we simplified our offering and avoided distraction, which ultimately led to the success of the business,” he asserts. Another key milestone materialised when the bank became a SEPA (Single Euro Payments Area) member, allowing the company to act independently as opposed to finding correspondent institutions through which to trade. These successes later led to the establishment of a Sparkasse office in Ireland in 2017.
“With the help of our solid infrastructure, Sparkasse expanded beyond Malta’s shores. When I joined, our team comprised 10 people entrusted with a few million euro in asset management. Today, Sparkasse employs a stronghold of 110 members of staff, overseeing €8.8 billion in assets and custody management, with offices in Malta, Ireland, and Austria,” he explains.
Accrediting these developments to a talented team of people who are passionate about what they do, today Paul oversees all high-level decisions as CEO. As a result of company growth, Paul’s role at the bank has transformed with the opportunities and difficulties that have emerged over the years. “My role here has evolved considerably since the early days; I transitioned from hands-on advisory to being more of a mentor. I have some very talented people on my team, so I am here to troubleshoot, guide, and share my extensive industry experience with my fellow colleagues. I look at myself as the glue that helps people from different parts of the business work together,” he asserts.
Prioritising time with his staff daily, Paul makes himself available to his team throughout the morning, every single day. “My day really starts after 3pm. I believe that being available to my staff is key to their performance and morale. So, regardless of their ranking, if a staff member requires support, I am on the ground and at their disposal.”
Key to this, in his view, are strong time management skills. “I’ve always believed that time is a commodity and an expensive resource. As my job is pressurised, I have to manage my time efficiently. Ensuring an efficiently run organisation has been crucial to our success, particularly in the last couple of years, as Malta – and the rest of the globe – has had to contend with unprecedented challenges.
“On a molecular level, Malta’s greylisting definitely hasn’t helped,” Paul continues, admitting that, fortunately, so far, Sparkasse has not seen “any serious consequences”, although he insists that the situation is still in its infancy. “I think it’s only a matter of time before Risk Managers abroad update their policies and decide how they want to deal with Malta. We have seen increasing numbers of due diligence requests, which have given local service providers a proverbial ‘cold shower’. However, I do feel we need to dry ourselves off, and retain enthusiasm for our sector,” he insists.
Central to this, in his view, is to find a cause to champion. “I recall how flawlessly we transitioned to the Euro, to the point that Malta has been used as a showcase for best practices. We need to find a similar project to emulate this implementation and restore the confidence of participants in the sector.”
Paul has also taken a proactive and optimistic approach to the COVID-19 pandemic, stating that the crisis did not hit the business hard. “We could already see it coming in February
and, from early on, we switched to remote working. Luckily, our business model does not expose us to consumer risk, so COVID-19 hasn’t affected our bottom line. Life at Sparkasse was normal: our employees worked from home, and customers were still being serviced efficiently,” he recalls. However, the CEO did come to a realisation as a result of the pandemic: “if it taught us anything, it’s that we don’t need large offices! We have a proactive and focused workforce, which cooperated well with the autonomy. So, I would definitely hold off on any large property premises investments in the near future,” he attests.
Looking to the year ahead, Paul plans to cautiously lead the bank to further growth, insisting that the strategy is focused on managing their current clientele and optimising the customer experience, as well as bank resources. “We’re entering a full year of Malta’s greylisting and there will be additional pressures from the EU, so we have to operate carefully,” he says, adding that he does not foresee outrageous growth. “Our focus will be on client interaction and service consolidation. We don’t want to move away from our product line – the caveat being that if we identify a productive target, we will consider it. But, for the time being, we want to be true to our aims and execute them well.”
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