Introducing Stuart Wilkins, our man in Geneva
Our recent article on the UK SME Export Opportunities in 2014 highlighted the significant prospects available and Switzerland is certainly one building on the history that exists between these two close allies. We are seeing an increasing interest in business opportunities in Switzerland. In response to this growing demand we recently welcomed Stuart Wilkins to help build our presence. Stuart has lived and worked in Switzerland since 2004 and is a member of the Geneva Chapter of the British Swiss Chamber of Commerce (BSCC). His long career in the financial services industry working across a range of disciplines makes him ideally placed to bring his experience to the fore in developing business links in Switzerland and the UK. Here, Stuart reflects on Switzerland and its links with the UK.
Historically most people know it as a tourist destination in the Summer and Winter with its spectacular scenery and mountains – and of course chocolate! And also as a major financial centre quite often for the wrong reasons due to its strict banking secrecy rules which has put it into the spotlight in recent years. However there is a lot more to the country and particularly the strong links with the UK. Politically and economically they have enjoyed close ties ever since the 18th century sharing similar ideals and being two of Europe’s oldest democracies and major economic centres, and to this day their respective governments enjoy close contacts working together on a number of common issues. Switzerland remains one of the major financial centres within Europe , with the Swiss Franc being a stable currency, low inflation and favourable interest rates which makes it attractive for investors. It avoided the worst of the financial crisis that we have seen in recent years and Switzerland is in the Top 5 largest non-European investors in the UK and major importer of UK goods. A safe environment it has one of most diverse, dynamic and highly educated workforces.
Location, location, location
Its geographic location at the heart of mainland Europe is a major benefit and although not a member of the European Union it is nonetheless a full member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA)s. Switzerland is also a member of a number of international economic organisations, including the United Nations (UN), the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). These organisations are centred on Geneva with hundreds of other non-governmental organisations which makes it one of best places to connect with contacts from all countries in one location.
The British Swiss Chamber of Commerce
The BSCC formed in 1920 provides an invaluable bridge for its members to help develop opportunity and co-operation . The Swiss government also has a dedicated team for fostering business links at their embassy in London and there are other organisation proactively looking to support business development. In many respects Switzerland is a microcosm of the UK with a lot of highly inventive and innovative people but in a country of only eight million. Looking ahead I see four main areas of growth in the coming years, which I feel mirror those of the UK, – financial services, life sciences, consumer goods and services particularly in the luxury market and in engineering. On the financial services there is a lot of consolidation happening between banks together with changes in regulation focussed on consumer protection and transparency as a result of which we will probably see the demise of traditional banking secrecy. I see this as a good thing for Switzerland because undoubtedly the expertise exists particularly to manage wealth of individuals and families. Certainly this is creating the need for specialist resources to help adapt and manage change programmes together with adapting to more stringent regulations. Luxury goods is a key growth area particularly with the BRIC countries – watches, jewellery etc., as well as other services for example in the private jet market. Switzerland already has a strong reputation in the pharmaceutical market and we now see this being extended to other life sciences particularly in the field of new environmentally friendly biotechnologies. Lastly engineering – with such an innovative population there is a lot going on in the specialist technology for example of automotive design.
So Switzerland is a new frontier aided by its close links with the UK and Stuart is looking forward to playing his part along with our fellow partners helping businesses develop and grow in 2014 and beyond. For more details or business help in Switzerland, contact Stuart via our Geneva Office.Download this article as a PDF