The Report Company: What does Malta's financial services sector look like today?
Kenneth Farrugia: Just 25 years ago, Malta was an offshore jurisdiction, so clearly our proposition was permeated with a tax regime which was driven by tax incentives, tax holidays and the likes. In the late 1980s, the government decided that Malta should initiate a process to embark on a journey to join the EU. This meant that we had to overhaul the way that our regulatory structure and legal structure was moulded, which took five years. This spearheaded the Investment Services Act, which is very similar to what you find in the UK.
For the first 10 years, the industry was very much driven by the domestic market. Local institutions, banks predominantly and financial intermediaries, started exploiting the new framework and introducing new services in Malta. There were a lot of asset management companies, private banking and insurance operators, and a stock exchange was introduced, but it was all focussed on the domestic market.
Once EU membership came in 2004, this was the catalyst for a paradigm shift for the industry. It started opening up to mainland Europe, because membership opened up this reality for us. And we started seeing traction. When we joined the EU, we were in effect given the seal of approval insofar of the standing of our legal and regulatory framework and the standing of our tax framework, so operators started coming here.
FinanceMalta was set up a couple of years later because we felt at the time that there was a need to set up a body to promote Malta's financial sector outside of our shores.
Today, we have achieved a lot. In the 1990s, the contribution to GDP by the financial sector was just three percent. Today, it's well over 12 percent, and employs around 2,000 people. Looking at the factors that contributed to the traction that we've achieved so far, I think one is having a single regulatory body in Malta, so it's a one-stop shop. If you want a licence, if you want to be listed, it's the Financial Services Authority. We have one single regulator. And the regulatory body is meticulous but accessible. They have a pro-business mindset. They prefer to meet applicants before actually licensing them. They want to meet the business people. They want to understand the business model. It's a relationship-based regulatory approach, which is distinct from what you experience in London.
Time to market is very competitive. It normally takes you about two to three months to license a fund, which is quite fast. We have come up with various innovations in the fund space which speed things up. In the insurance sector, we have introduced protected cell structures. We are the only EU jurisdiction to have that. We saw what worked in the Channel Islands, and we looked at it, we proved it, and introduced it within our framework.
There are the benefits to operating in Malta, such as the cost of resources here compared to other jurisdictions, the cost of running an operation here in terms of office space, low utility costs, and so on.