Global Custodian: Can you describe your career path at Clearstream?
Philippe Seyll: I graduated as an engineer, so not surprisingly I was one of the only ones in my class to go into banking. Looking back, my engineering background is a blessing when working in this business. Throughout my career, I have always worked at international firms, be it SWIFT, BNY Mellon, and now Clearstream. Working with various nationalities, all with differing points of view makes you think differently. I would say I have become a more holistic person because of how my career path was shaped. For me, all aspects of the business are important. This starts with putting the client at the centre of attention and goes to looking at the operational, strategic and sales sides.
Throughout my career, so far I’ve had two bosses who have particularly influenced me. The one I spent most time with is Jeffrey Tessler, former executive board member of Deutsche Börse Group, and before him it was Patrick Zurstrassen. They were both great coaches and gave me the freedom to develop myself.
GC: What were some of your most notable career highlights?
PS: I have the pleasure to be working with a great team. Jointly with this team, we managed to achieve some great business wins. We made a number of acquisitions, one of them was Citco Global Securities Services in 2014. This deal was exemplary for its strategic fit and the attention paid to its integration into the Group. Most recently, we acquired Swisscanto’s Fund Services business. I am thrilled about this addition to our portfolio. We learned a lot from our previous acquisitions, which I believe, has helped us enormously in closing this deal successfully.
GC: How has your background as an engineer shaped your industry outlook?
PS: Think before you act. In engineering, there is very little room for interpretation. I would, however, say that I am not a typical engineer. I think the art is to take the engineering background and add the right level of emotional intelligence to the equation. Finding the adequate balance between emotional and scientific intelligence is key to get the right mix to run a business.
At Clearstream and Deutsche Börse Group, we are not only a market infrastructure provider, but also an IT company. It is essential for us to have solid systems in place for the millions of transactions of assets or corporate actions messages we deal with. This means that despite – or actually because of – our focus on our clients’ needs, we need engineers to help maintain the system.
GC: How have you seen the industry change over time?
PS: In the late 1980s, when I worked for SWIFT, banking concentration was a big topic. You could see banks getting bigger and bigger, acquiring one another – and then in the 90s, consolidation began to kick in. From the 2000s onwards, everything was about specialisation. Especially in the securities services industry, there were ever fewer custodians operating, let alone global custodians. At the end of the 2000s and around the global financial crisis, cost discipline and concentrating on one’s core business came into the focus. As a market infrastructure, we’ve been able to support the market in this development by mutualising a lot of costs across the industry.
Now, we are in the middle of a technology shift. I have never really believed in the disruptive nature of new technology, as I am convinced that bankers are well enough equipped to accompany the change. There will be more technological changes to come over the next five to 10 years, compared to what we’ve seen over the past 20 years. The way we interact with financial institutions is different now compared to what it was five years ago, and looking at our industry, the possibility offered by technology is immense. Partnerships between technology firms and financial institutions will pave the way to a more secure, streamlined, client-friendly environment.
GC: Are you seeing the meaning of what it is to be a central securities depository (CSD) changing?
PS: CSDs are now being regulated by the CSDR, which has imposed a number of restrictions on how CSDs can change their models. I believe that this sort of regulation helps us in becoming even safer places for assets, and opening up to a larger group of financial institutions. As a market infrastructure, we often find ourselves in a position where we fill spaces left by other financial institutions who were not able to fulfil regulatory standards. But we are also positioning ourselves in different areas, all within the limits of CSD regulation. One example being that we are much more involved in securities financing today.
GC: Lastly, what makes a great working day?
PS: Seeing my family in the morning. No operational issues and knowing clients are happy. Seeing the team working well and harmoniously. As well as doing some sports, either midday or in the evening. I am a modest triathlon athlete (I do the Olympic distance), which is great to freshen your mind. Then in the evening, if I deserve it, a good glass of wine.