Our Head of Strategy, Christine Schmid, was interviewed by Thomas Sucic, Editor-in-Chief at EY Switzerland’s New Normal Magazine, a new publication from EY that focuses on the post-pandemic world, which features regular, honest and open dialogues about what’s next, with various leaders and decision makers across Switzerland. The interview with Christine covers many aspects of how business leaders approach the new world, from how to nurture strong relationships, how to act socially responsible, up to additiv’s immediate priorities when tackling the new uncharted territory.
A new normal is surrounding us all currently. The source of it is the new virus and how we are reacting to it. How did you first hear about COVID-19?
I heard about it through the media. We’re very active in Asia, so various clients and our Singapore office went into lockdown way before Switzerland. When we realized this thing was spreading exponentially, we decided to protect our people by sending them home early and in an orderly way.
As a digital-first business, how did COVID-19 affect you?
As an international fintech firm, we can work from anywhere. Working from home didn’t change much other than that we introduced daily wellbeing catch-up calls. In terms of response to the new business environment, we immediately saw the challenges that the industry would face; the need to undertake digital transformation, immediately and yet with very limited budget. For many this seemed like an impossible challenge but, by focusing on what was really needed, we were able to productize a standardized wealth management solution. We put together the services and were ready to roll it out in just two months. We understood that a lot of our clients might be struggling with project costs so we decided to waive these and go by software-as-a-service fees from day one as these don’t need the same level of budget approval. We plugged on a one-month cancellation period to make our product really flexible. Client demand has increased because the awareness is there that you need to transform the operating model. You need to ensure the servicing model no matter where you are and how you work, including or especially in times of volatility. The acceptance of open platforms and ecosystems has also grown during the crisis. The acceptance that you can’t do everything yourself to deliver.
How do you maintain strong relationships with customers during these times?
You can start from scratch via digital channels only, but at some point personal interaction might become way more valuable. additiv is not a new company so our contacts already knew us, that helps with all the digital communication. I don’t think we’ll go back to the heavy travel schedules of old. We don’t need to because our technology has allowed us to find a balance. I think we’ll still meet regularly, but less often, and do the rest digitally. And honestly, in terms of health – for the person travelling but also for the planet, in terms of sustainability, it’s something we need to change. And it’s possible.
Talking of sustainability, what projects is additiv working on to help society?
First, we’re providing more transparent platforms for microfinancing. This brings down the cost of lending for very small enterprises. Second, we’re working on wealth inclusion. That means technology solutions powered by financial companies that allow that you make wealth investments starting on a very small scale – 20 or 30 dollars a month. Third, we provide wealth solutions in the area of financial planning/pension. With increasing pension gaps, it has become very important. And wherever possible we combine our efforts with Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) labelled investment solutions. Incidentally, I believe this must become the new normal if we want to save our planet.
What will the new normal look like for additiv over the next two months? What will you focus on?
The crisis has brought opportunities closer. Demand you were hoping would develop and unfold over the coming years is suddenly here right now. Now the question is: how do we manage growth, without jeopardizing results? How do we now steer this company? It’s about productizing, implementing, scaling and partnering. We have to maintain our innovative power but also keep up the growth. I think the return to how we were doing business and working before will be slow. Companies have seen that it is possible to work efficiently from home, even in areas like advice for very wealthy clients or execution in a bank. This gives more freedom. At additiv, we anticipate more work. We believe finance is at the heart of the economy; it’s part of a social system, part of our planet. But its priorities are shifting – finally.
Although we are living in very uncertain times – let’s talk about what could happen in the near future. How do you picture yourself and your company in two years’ time?
That’s a good and tricky question. On the company side, two years from here I expect that we will have managed to scale up to sell our solutions even more efficiently – directly, through partners and indirectly. We’ll have opened up beyond finance as a sector to offer finance-as-a-service that you can plug into corporate systems like HR, or a consumer platform – a proper ecosystem approach. We’re only successful if our end clients understand the risks and the value behind their financial decisions. Making finance affordable and simple – that’s at the heart of it. For myself. I think in Switzerland we have been in a health-happiness bubble for some time and this looks likely to continue. I have two teenagers and I want them to be aware of this privilege. It’s important to remain humble, use your voice and raise your kids so they find their place in our society globally. I also want to keep contributing to diversity. If I look into the longevity theme, with our population getting older, faster, and people living longer, we need all the brainpower we can get as a society. I see myself as a motivator but also a contributor in changing leadership towards a more inclusive style.
Finally, what would be your three key takeaways to prepare for what’s next in the “new normal”?
1. Avoid the “first three seconds” pitfall – the beauty of this planet is that people are hugely diverse – gender, background, color. Ask questions, be curious and truly listen.
2. Provide direct, open feedback – people may not even realize it if they’ve said something that hurts you, so feed it back openly and neutrally. This is important.
3. Use your power to empower others – be generous in sharing your strengths, knowledge and your network.