IFSP Conference takes stock of the industry

29th May 2024 • News

The IFSP Annual Conference Malta’s Financial Services Proposition – A Status Check was held on 22 May 2024 at the Hilton Malta. More than 230 practitioners followed the discussions during the day.

After the hard work undertaken to exit the FATF Greylist and the publication of the MFSAC’s Strategy for Financial Services in Malta, the time had come for an appraisal of what has been achieved, and where we go from here. From an analysis of the progress made on the MFSAC Strategy to a look at what impact AI has had – and will continue to have – on financial services, the sessions covered many of the hottest issues facing practitioners today.

The areas dealt with during the conference skirted the fine line between being general enough to keep the interest of all the delegates, while remaining specialised and technical enough to ensure relevance. The IFSP thanks the conference sponsors for their support in putting the conference together. Thanks are due to KPMG, Croftz, Ganado Advocates, the Malta Stock Exchange; Deloitte; RSM, FinanceMalta; Working Town and Camilleri Preziosi Advocates for their invaluable support.

The day’s proceedings opened with a bang, as a panel of speakers, Bernice Buttigieg, Mark Bugeja and Fabio Axisa moderated by Nick Captur, President of the IFSP, looked at the MFSAC Financial Services Strategy. Dr Buttigieg told the audience that a lot of work had been done on the various strands of the strategy, most of it so far work in the background expected to yield fruit in the future. The panel’s discussion made it clear that one of the important focus points is rationalising the bureaucracy in the financial services sector.

The Malta Business Registry (MBR) was the focus of the second session of the day, with the IFSP’s Stephen Attard in a chat with the Registrar of Companies, Geraldine Spiteri Lucas. Their conversation covered a range of areas around the fast developing Registry, with a focus on its freshly launched online system. The discussion covered both the benefits expected and the teething problems the system faces, agreeing that there is “room for improvement”. Dr Spiteri Lucas assure Dr Attard and conference delegates that the registry would “not go fully online until practitioners are comfortable with the system, especially for complex transactions.”

AI and Automation in financial services was the subject of the next panel discussion, led by Steve Gingell with Gianluca Busuttil, Gordon Micallef, Keith Cortis and Prof Alexiei Dingli. The discussion began with a demystification of AI, as Prof Dingli led participants in a word game demonstrating the processes involved in the current form of genAI. The group then went on to discuss what the use of genAI may mean for financial services, with Prof Dingli and others making the case that it is not AI that presents a threat but, like other technological advances, it is how it put into practice that presents dangers. The conclusion was that the current form of AI is unlikely to be the last word, with the technology developing fast.

The final morning panel discussion tackled PMLFT. Moderated by Arianne Azzopardi, Anthony Cremona, Yehuda Shaffer, Roxanne Borg and Mirko Rapa participated in a animated discussion that took in a number of issues, but focussed on the legal challenges to the fines imposed for breaches in PMLFT procedures and on the ways in which the problems may be resolved.

After lunch, delegates split into three breakout sessions dealing with the more specialised issues. The first, moderated by Chris Curmi with Juanita Brockdorff, Trudy Muscat, Bernard Attard and Ivan Zammit, tackled tax developments. The second, led by Malcolm Falzon with George Vella, George Kakouras and Nick Calamatta, discussed potential areas of growth, and ended with an agreement that a growth area is not simply about the bottom line, noting the potential there is for green bonds and sustainability in general. This fitted well with the theme of the third breakout session, Driving Value by Integrating Sustainability into the Business. This was moderated by Wayne Pisani leading the discussion with Alex Azzopardi, Matthew Costa, Matthew Swain, Mark Azzopardi and Mark Scicluna Bartoli.

Etienne Borg Cardona moderated a discussion on The CSP framework: Moving Ahead, with Alison Cortis, Petra Camilleri, Marina Grech and Alexia Farrugia. Alison Cortis noted that since the introduction of the CSP framework and rulebook, there had been an improvement in CSP governance. She noted that this shows up in the latest updated NRA. The framework and rulebook have been developing, in a process in which the IFSP has worked closely with the MFSA.

The day was brought to a close with a free-wheeling discussion on some of the major issues in contemporary tax between four of the leading tax experts in Malta. Conrad Cassar Torregiani, Neville Gatt, Robert Attard and Andre Zarb gave delegates an entertaining, if still well rooted in reality, account of the dangers and bright spots they see on the tax horizon.