Despite digitisation, personal trust is key

#passionate  #determined  #open

Without trust, relationships can’t be built and success can’t be achieved. This applies to every company, of course, but especially to banks. Urs Rohner, Chairman of the Board of Credit Suisse, discusses why trust is the cornerstone of a bank’s very foundation and what it takes to earn that trust.

Text: Redaktion ceo Magazin | Images: Marc Wetli | Magazine: Trust in the Digital Age – December 2017

How would you personally define the term “trust”?

Trust is the basis of every type of longer-term interpersonal relationship. Similarly, a company cannot succeed in the long term 
if it doesn’t have the trust of its clients. That’s particularly true of the banking sector, where additional aspects of trust come into play. For example, a trusted banking institution must have a solid capital base as well as a functioning infrastructure with state-of-the-art security precautions and trustworthy employees. Along with trust, confidentiality likewise plays an important role in the banking industry.

It’s frequently said that trust is the new currency in the financial world. How do you see things? What role does trust play for your company?

As I just mentioned, trust is the cornerstone of any long-term business relationship and is obviously nothing new for the financial world – it has always been the basis on which we operate. However, it’s no secret that our industry has been suffering from a loss of trust ever since the financial crisis. At the same time, new market players such as innovative fintech start-ups are catching up in terms of gaining client trust. That’s why we are making huge efforts to further increase the level of trust shown by our clients. At Credit Suisse we nurture a corporate culture in which our values are clearly articulated and our business principles are also systematically implemented. What’s more, we create internal incentives for client-centric, rule-based conduct.

“Without its customers’ trust, no company can succeed in the long run.”

Banks find themselves caught between the traditional relationship business and innovative technologies. Where does Credit Suisse stand on that front, and where is it headed?

The way in which we support our clients and the way we communicate with them is indeed changing due to digital solutions. Our range of services is continuously being expanded and banking is increasingly morphing from a physically anchored service business into a virtual-dominated service platform that can be accessed via multiple channels. Even so, it’s still very much a people business. So I don’t regard digitisation as a potential threat; instead I see it as a key prerequisite for a broad-based offering that’s accessible at all times as well as a way to improve the client-friendliness of our services.

Urs Rohner (born 1957) has been Chairman of the Board of Directors as well as head of the Chairman’s and Governance Committee of Credit Suisse Group Ltd since 2011. A licenced attorney, he joined the company as a member of the Executive Board in 2004. From 2000 to 2004, he was CEO of ProSiebenSat.1 Media Ltd. Prior to that, Urs Rohner worked as a practicing lawyer in Switzerland and the USA. The former track-and-field hurdler has four children.

According to media reports, Credit Suisse is now using machines to help its employees answer simple compliance questions. Are these “chatbots” important for Credit Suisse? If so, to what extent? If not, why not?

Automated solutions are already used for more straightforward inquiries in a large number of industries. Just as self-help software can help identify and solve simple problems, cognitive computing systems can provide our clients with digital support – whenever and wherever. They will undoubtedly generate major added value for the industry, but they can never fully replace the client advisor.

How important are innovation centres within an organisation to the development of new digital strategies?

A number of approaches can be used to boost an organisation’s innovative capacity. I don’t think there’s a simple, one-size-fits-all approach. In our case, an integrated model coupled with strong external support has proved successful: We promote innovative thinking within the organisation, though partly also with support from our Credit Suisse Labs start-up in Silicon Valley – which is outside of our business structures.

“We foster innovative thinking within the organisation and simultaneously gain support from our Silicon Valley start-up, Credit Suisse Labs.”

According to our annual “PwC CEO Survey,” dealing with digital data will be a differentiating factor in the future. Is that also the case for Credit Suisse?

Managing “big data” is indeed very important, and obviously I completely agree with that statement. Analysing large amounts of data and drawing useful conclusions from that process is an element of digitisation that has already changed the shape of many industries and will continue to do so. Thanks to the systematic processing of raw data, we are able to offer our clients better advice – by using intelligent algorithms to develop models for future market movements, for example, or optimizing our internal processes.

Credit Suisse Group Ltd (CS), headquartered in Zurich, is the successor company to the former Schweizerische Kreditanstalt SKA. It is one of the 30 largest global financial services companies. As such, it is classified by the Financial Stability Board (FSB) as a system-relevant financial institution and is therefore subject to particularly strict supervision. Founded in 1856, the bank has a global reach with business activities in around 50 countries and 47,170 employees from more than 150 different nations.

What risks do you think digitisation brings for society? And for Credit Suisse?

I’m convinced that digitisation first and foremost creates opportunities for individuals and companies. Clients benefit from faster, more accessible, more secure, and cheaper services. Companies, meanwhile, can boost their operational efficiency and address individual clients much more effectively. But increasing digitisation also creates potential vulnerabilities that can be exploited through cyberattacks. Active ­measures need to be taken to prevent such occurrences.

What do you and your company do to prevent cyberattacks? How important is this issue for Credit Suisse?

These days it’s virtually impossible for a company to operate without comprehensive protection from cyberattacks. We are responsible for protecting our company and clients against these kinds of attacks, and having a clear cyber strategy is an absolute must. Cybersecurity is accorded the utmost priority at Credit Suisse; here we have a very strong set-up in organisational as well as personnel terms. I consider cybersecurity to be one of the biggest systemic risks facing banks.

What role does a Chairman of the Board of Directors play in tackling digital challenges?

At Credit Suisse, the Board of Directors plays a fundamental role in determining the company’s strategy, and digital innovation has become an integral part of that strategy. On my initiative we therefore decided some time ago to set up an Innovation and Technology Committee at Board of Directors level – a committee that works closely with the Executive Board. Around five years ago, I also took the proactive step of initiating a disruptive innovation-driven incubator at group level; this began developing digitally driven business ideas back in 2012.

“I’m convinced that digitisation opens up opportunities for individuals as well as companies.”

Given today’s pressure to be contactable at all times, do you ever get the chance to go offline?

I love going to the cinema or attending the opera, where you have no choice but to be offline.

What did you dream of becoming when you were a child?

I was – and remain to this day – very inquisitive, so my career choices have constantly changed over the years. When I was young 
I was very interested in a career as a screenwriter or producer, but I eventually gave that up – even though my interest in film and media has stayed with me to this day. My fascination for the stock market and banking was also there from an early age, ever since buying my first shares at the age of 16. With the exception of five years in the media industry, I’ve actually spent my entire professional life with banks and finance companies. So, as you can see, in the end I’ve more or less achieved my childhood dream.

Saving in the age of digitisation: Credit Suisse teaches children responsible money management with its “Digipigi” bank.

Urs Rohner
Short questions – short answers

What is your favourite app?
Credit Suisse’s digital banking, particularly our trading tool.

What wallpaper do you have on your mobile phone or laptop?
A picture of my children.