Switzerland has great ambitions to go digital. The country released a digital manifesto in November 2016 with eight points to help it play a worldwide leading role in digital transformation. Digitization concerns all parts of life, but the financial sector is currently in the eye of the tornado. For a while now FinTech startups have been competing for the core business of banks who in turn grapple with mounting pressure from regulators. The outcome of this story lies somewhere in the future. Regardless, Switzerland is a bankers’ nation, and digitization will greatly influence its future.

FinTech in Switzerland: Where are we today?

The tension between traditional banking and FinTech sets the stage for the documentary FinTech Made in Switzerland. The film shows a moment in time in the Swiss financial sector that is at a crucial turning point. The film is the first of its kind in Switzerland. In a little under 45 minutes, it features interviews with bankers, politicians, startup founders and investors who explain their approach to FinTech and their plans to catch up with other established European startup hubs such as London or Berlin. All conversations from the project stream online in full length, making it the first interactive knowledge portal about Swiss FinTech.

Filmmaker Manuel Stagars conducted over 60 hours of conversations with the movers and shakers in Switzerland’s major banks and startups. In the process, a clear message emerged: Switzerland has the know-how and entrepreneurial talent to be a leader in FinTech, but to get to the next level, new and old players in the financial sector must meet at eye level and collaborate. This post summarizes some of the main takeaways from the project.

“If finance can’t improve the lives of people, we have no use for it.”

Adriano B. Lucatelli, founder of a Swiss roboadvisor and senior lecturer at the University of Zurich, says at the beginning of the film “If finance can’t improve the lives of people, we have no use for it.” This sets the bar high for entrepreneurs and bankers who explain how they plan to bring the financial sector into the digital future.

Adriano B. Lucatelli, Co-founder of Descartes Finance and Senior Lecturer at University of Zurich

Andreas Kubli, head of digitization at Switzerland’s biggest bank UBS describes one effect of technology on competition from startups: “If somebody has a good idea today, he can get to market much more easily. But the same is true for us banks as well.”

Andreas Kubli, Head Multichannel Management & Digitization, UBS

Hanspeter Rhyner, CEO of Glarner Cantonal Bank (termed “Switzerland’s most digital bank”) follows this statement with the need for tangible results in the digital offerings of banks: “If we simply made our digital services for fun with nothing to show on our balance sheet, I don’t believe people would call us the most digital bank in Switzerland. The impressive thing is that we tried something new and are successful with it.”

Hanspeter Rhyner, CEO Glarner Cantonal Bank

Why is Switzerland still not a FinTech hub?

Despite the good intentions, Switzerland is still lagging behind in the world’s FinTech rankings. Several reasons for this exist. Johannes Hoehener from Swisscom, Switzerland’s main telecommunications provider, believes that established players need to be more open for innovation coming from outside their own turf. He says “Innovation in business is not coming from inside companies. There must be exceptions, but in general it does not come from within. […] It is extremely important for a company to open its doors to accept new ideas and new business models into its own culture.”

Johs. Hoehener, Head FinTech, Swisscom Digital Business

Christina Kehl, co-founder of the insurtech startup Knip and managing director of the association Swiss Finance Startups (SFS), describes some of the frustrations of the Swiss FinTech community. She says “Switzerland as a financial center should collectively make the decision to move forward. Instead, there is a lack of coordination and financial resources. Some people think everything is OK. This is just not true. When I speak with politicians I find most of them have no clue what FinTech is.”

Christina Kehl, Co-founder, Knip & Co-founder/Managing Director, Swiss Finance Startups

Marc P. Bernegger, serial entrepreneur and investor in global FinTech startups, points toward the need for greater ambitions for Swiss startups: “What we are lacking are Swiss FinTech companies that succeed beyond the Swiss German or the French German market. Those that want to become market leaders in Europe or in the world in some areas.”

Marc P. Bernegger, Fintech Entrepreneur and Investor, Next Generation Finance, FinLeap, Finance 2.0

The need to work together

The film puts startups at eye level with banks. Niklas Nikolajsen, founder of Bitcoin Suisse, explains why Switzerland is a good base for startups in cryptocurrency or blockchain. He says “[As an entrepreneur] it would be sad to invest so many years and sacrifices only to find that you were in a jurisdiction that will pull the carpet away from under you. Switzerland has an excellent jurisdiction not only for FinTech or blockchain technology but in a large number of areas.”

Niklas Nikolajsen, Co-founder and CEO, Bitcoin Suisse

Philip Kornmann, co-founder of Advanon, a Swiss startup pioneering factoring for SMEs, says “In the beginning, how the public saw it was ‘Banking is going to be dead in ten years.’ I don’t think that is the way to go. To be successful in the market both being a bank or a FinTech company, see where your interests overlap and where you can find collaboration opportunities to grow together.”

Philip Kornmann, Co-founder, Advanon

The documentary packs 19 interviews in 45 minutes, which gives an overview of the status quo of FinTech in Switzerland in the year 2016. For those with an interest in the details of the conversations, all 41 interviews from the project are available in full length on the website of the film. FinTech Made in Switzerland has a clear message: banks, tech companies and startups need to work together to take advantage of digitization. The result of this collaboration should be happier customers who enjoy financial services that are faster, cheaper, and more convenient.

Of course, this applies to Switzerland and other banking hubs as well.

The film streams online in English and original Swiss German.

HD/45 minutes/Documentary/Switzerland/2016
English overdub

Themes from the film:

Interviews from the film in full length: