Managing Director for International Services • SIX Securities Services
Native New Yorker Bob Almanas says he always knew at some point he would be working outside the United States. Perhaps this is not surprising for someone who has already spent a large part of his life outside the country before moving to Switzerland to take up a position as managing director and member of the Management Committee at SIX Securities Services. The most notable difference between Almanas’ work on both sides of the pond is that whereas before he worked for custodians, in Europe she is an infrastructure man.
Prior to joining SIX, Almanas was responsible for non-U.S. operations for State Street as a senior vice president and division head. He began his career at Citibank, where he entered the training program and got involved with global custody in its early stages in New York under Ray Parodi’s leadership.
Significantly for Almanas, at State Street he became involved in the reoptimization of the custodian’s network structure and its internationalization following the integration of Deutsche Bank Global Securities Services. State Street had been reinventing itself as a custody and fund accounting bank under the chairmanship of Marsh Carter, and Almanas’ focus was on international operations.
“It was a really exciting time, particularly with the Deutsche Bank GSS integration, to support the integration of those businesses in State Street, particularly in Europe,” says Almanas. “I was very fortunate that at the time that I had a tremendous team of managers and colleagues and worked with a number of State Streeters who really had the vision, wanted to execute on the vision and understood the business. It was especially rewarding to work with the European team, many of whom came over from DB.”
While at State Street, Almanas reconnected with long-term acquaintance Tom Zeeb, who as CEO of SIX Securities Services was also leading a process of internationalization for the market infrastructure group. Almanas and Zeeb met each other while Zeeb was at Clearstream. “One of the things I’ve always said is you get to know the character of a person when you’re sitting on the opposite side of the table and negotiating with them,” explains Almanas. You have an opportunity to understand how they articulate their strategies, how they formulate them and how they execute. I got [to] talking to Tom and learned what he planned to do in terms of the company’s internationalization strategy in the context of SIX’s ambitions and how he wanted to create, if you will, a commercial and customer orientation within SIS. I was very excited about what I heard and what I saw.”
After a series of conversations with Zeeb, Almanas got on board with SIX Securities Services’ strategy and joined the group to take responsibility for the international custody business as well as collateral management, network management, strategy and market policy. “To take the basic building blocks and expand it into the international arena was an exciting challenge,” he says.
Commenting on the key takeaways from his previous experience that he brought into his current role at SIX, Almanas says,
“When I think of common threads, there’s one thing that’s always been common in this industry. That is, integrity, honesty and trust are what really matter in this business. People entrust their securities, the reporting and servicing of their assets to us.
“When I think of the people who have really led the industry, they have a few things in common. One is their personal and professional high degree of integrity, trust and honesty, combined with vision and the willingness to make a decision.
“The other characteristic that has been so key to people who have shaped our industry is that they understand the difference between managing risk versus completely avoiding risk. Decisions carry implicit risk, so decisions must be prudent. However, avoiding decisions with the thought of completely avoiding risk can be as destructive as ignoring risk.”
One of the most important lessons learned from the Deutsche Bank integration into State Street, adds Almanas, was that it was a catalyst for the U.S. custodian to take a global view, to understand that business opportunities are global and that requirements and opportunities are different from region to region.
Almanas has similar approaches to internationalization at SIX, but its position in the post-trade value chain allows him to take a more neutral approach: “It’s the responsibility of infrastructure to be transparent, to share your thoughts and objectives with your market owners and to ensure that your objectives are consistent with theirs. Many times in the commercial space, optimal decisions are compromised to keep the analysts happy for the next quarter. In infrastructure, you can take a longer-term view. It’s a very pleasant experience because you can take a more holistic, longer-term view.”
However, the market infrastructure landscape is threatened by regulatory changes. “There is a trend among regulators and legislators in many parts of the world to impose regulation first and worry about proper formulation and its consequences later,” says Almanas. “Even when the pendulum shifts more towards the center, which it will eventually, as this is a cyclical business, the industry will be dealing with the unintended consequences of the current regulatory environment for quite some time. It’s up to us to decide how we manage these challenges and identify opportunities for our customers.”
“What I worry about is the proportion of our respective budgets being eaten up by mandatory projects driven by regulation,” adds Almanas. “I think it’s getting better, but the amount of capital and budgetary monies that have been allocated to this is just another form of tax, which we could have otherwise spent on development and innovation.”
—Janet Du Chenne