David Corral - CFO - Ameropa

March 10th, 2015

The current market in Switzerland sees a number of organisations moving operations away from the country, what are your thoughts on this?

Quotas to immigration will impact the market.  I can understand why the decision was made, as 1 in 5 people in Switzerland are a foreign national, and a number of senior highly specialised positions are held by non-Swiss so it was obvious a move was needed to correct the ratio.  I was recently speaking to some friends who are Swiss nationals.  They mentioned that the people who were born and raised in the Zug canton can no longer afford to live there due to ex-pats pushing up the cost of living.  They have been forced to re-locate because of this.  However, I feel a balance needs to be achieved, as lots of corporations still need an International skill set.  Protecting the Swiss Market only for Swiss Nationals can impact on companies establishing here should an International skill set be challenging to appoint.  The situation needs to be carefully addressed.

What impact do you think the strengthening of the Swiss Franc will have for Swiss based companies in the long term?

Well, this is difficult to predict. When looking at the obvious consequences one could expect, we will probably see an impact on exports and possibly a further reduction in the tourism sector. At the same time, there will be even more focus on maintaining low costs and in particular, pressure on salaries. This added to the recent initiatives to restrict immigration, could have a negative impact on availability of staff resources for key positions where there might be lack in the local market.  

However, to the extent that Swiss companies continue to focus on the high quality differential aspect, this would be an important softening advantage.

To have a complete picture, I think it is also important to carefully watch the developments in the Tax arena.

Back to currency, the decision from the Swiss Central Bank to set a cap to the appreciation of the Swiss Franc against the Euro was an important protective mechanism for many companies back in 2011, especially for those that relied on exports, but at the same time also made many companies complacent with the situation and in that, they lost some competitive edge.

A reaction is needed to maintain the competitive advantage, despite the stronger currency.

We have already seen local manufacturing companies reaching agreements with their staff to increase the level of working hours per week, while maintaining the salaries unchanged. And this is only one example of what we could expect from Swiss companies to reduce costs and remain competitive.

On the positive side, it is also important to note that the dramatic change on the exchange rates that we saw in mid-January following the removal of the cap against the Euro, has now been somehow corrected.

In addition the US economy is showing positive signs, with unemployment rates at a low in recent years, and the US dollar is now moving towards parity with the Swiss Franc.

As a seasoned finance professional, how have you seen the role of the finance team change over the years?

I guess the most significant change is that when we talk about the finance team, we do not longer talk just about the accounting department.

Accounting looks back and deals with historical transactions, events that have already taken place, processing invoices for sales made, booking cost for financing cost incurred, etc. This is something that will continuously be done, it cannot change, but the change lays in what we do now with the historical data.

There is more and more focus on information analysis, on the use of historical data to look for patterns and attempt to build stronger and more accurate budgets and forecasts, modelling, setting and monitoring KPI’s, etc.

The change is in the value added that the finance function offers now to the Operations and to Management to make better-informed decisions.

Therefore there is greater need for accounting and finance professionals that can analyse significant amounts of data, and capture the correct messages to be fed back to Operations and the Board. And for this to be possible it is more necessary than ever that the finance team develops a broader view, I would even say a holistic view of the business. With this knowledge it is possible to really make a difference. 

There is subtle difference between being a support function and being a team that truly supports the business.

What would you say is the most rewarding part of your role?

I think what really makes me thrilled about my job is the wide and broad content and the fact that I think everyone can and must really contribute.

As I said before, the finance team can really make a difference and positively contribute to the business. In my position you have to make links between the different trading units, think ways to maximize liquidity resources and make them flow to where they are needed, flag issues where constraints may have been overseen, ensure critical reporting is available in a timely manner, liaise regularly with financiers and external advisors and so on and so forth.

What excites you about working for Ameropa?

The fact that we are an important player in the food supply chain for many countries it is extremely rewarding in itself. I would also highlight the international aspect and the sense of family and friendliness that transpires human relations within the group. And the fact that I think one can really contribute and make a difference by bringing and sharing one’s own past professional experience.

As someone who has lived in Switzerland for over 5 years, how have you found the Swiss market & working environment has changed over these years

I arrived in Zug in May 2009, and what I found was a booming small city with a large and well established expat community.

Over the past few years, I have seen companies closing due to financial difficulties, companies relocating, but also newcomers. So all in all, the market has been far from stable.

I sense that it has been increasingly more difficult for foreign nationals to change positions or find new positions in recent years.

Focusing more on the commodity trading sector where I have been working since I arrived in Switzerland back in 2009, I have seen more and more trading houses relocate some of their functions to other geographical regions, in particular to South East Asia and South America.  

But I think there is still demand in the Swiss market for highly qualified professionals.

What, in your opinion, have been the drivers for these changes?

Back in the period 2009-2012, various companies were still facing the aftermath of the financial crisis and this put pressure on performance at all levels. Costs savings and pure survival were main topics.

Another consequence has been a wider and deeper scrutiny from regulators, in particular Tax Authorities in many countries, especially in the EU. Sovereign debt has escalated to unprecedented highs and governments are under pressure to keep deficits under some sort of control. This, as a bi-product has added extra focus on tax collections. In this respect, Switzerland has been traditionally perceived as having a lenient tax system or offering tax breaks for corporates which could be considered somehow aggressive in other jurisdictions. This situation is under exhaustive scrutiny, above all from the EU and could result in significant changes in the tax landscape that we currently have. I would not rule out that as a result of these changes, some corporates would consider relocating their operations.

In addition, the referendum “Stop Mass Immigration” in 2014, which was approved only by a marginal majority (50.3%) and which is reintroducing quotas on immigration from EU countries, is having and in in my opinion will have an even bigger impact on the approach by Swiss companies to hire foreign nationals. To the extent that high-skilled labour force remains available in the local market, this should not be a problem, but it can have an impact for example on the ability for companies to relocate some of their senior executives, or even accommodate temporary international assignments. I think this is another factor that corporates will be assessing when evaluating their decision about a suitable location to establish their business.

Looking back through your established career, what would you identify as a personal highlight?

I think the most defining moment of my professional life was when I took the decision to enrol in the ACA program with the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Ireland. As a Spanish National and with limited English knowledge at the time, I knew it was going to be a challenging task, but with hard work and help from my colleagues and friends in EY Ireland, I succeeded. And ever since, this qualification has allowed me to secure internationally very interesting and rewarding positions. 

 

*Views and opinions contained within our Executive Interviews are those of the Interviewee and not views shared by EMEA Recruitment.*

 
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