“Fostering better industry-academic collaboration is vital for a prosperous economy” – The Malta Chamber CEO

During a Press Conference for the Post-Doc Fellowship Scheme, The Malta Chamber CEO, Dr Marthese Portelli, highlighted that The Malta Chamber strongly believes that we can only have a sustainable and resilient economy if we move up the value chain and develop economic activities that generate real substance in our economy.

“Attractive regulation and our fiscal framework have served us well for many years, but maintaining and attracting new industries in the future will require us to be more innovative on other fronts as well, including in the development of technology. This requires a sound research infrastructure that is both proportionate to our size, but also one that nonetheless is able to drive innovation in all the economic sectors which we have successfully developed over the past decades,” said Dr Portelli.

While applauding the University of Malta for managing to increase the number of PhD graduates in several fields, The Malta Chamber CEO noted that the next step is to foster better industry-academic collaboration so that post-doctoral researchers can apply themselves to develop solutions that can be applied in the local industry and scaled up for export. “This requires a shift in mindset on both sides. Academics need to acknowledge that the local industry provides opportunities for commercialisation of research that will help develop our economy further, and industry needs to see the potential in local researchers and engage with them to enhance their products and services,” she said.

Dr Portelli outlined that many of the local businesses are SMEs who do not have in-house capabilities for extensive research. “Research projects, by their very nature, are risky investments, in that typically only one of several is truly successful commercially. Companies that are large enough to have several projects running have their risk spread out, and the one project that is successful typically covers the cost of several projects that would be running in parallel. However, for smaller companies, this is not likely to be the case. The Post-Doc Fellowship Scheme provides the means for smaller companies to pursue a research project with a post-doctoral researcher that is funded,” noted The Malta Chamber CEO.

“The Malta Chamber had been pushing for a scheme like this together with the University of Malta for many years. Finally, it has materialised. We are therefore happy to see these funds being awarded and hope to see the scheme grow in budget in future years so that industry-academia collaboration can become an integral part of the development of our industries. The country spends a lot of money on education, and we often question whether we are reaping the best possible results. As a Chamber, we believe that it’s not how much money we spend, but on what we spend it. Money spent on supporting research and innovation is money well invested because it contributes directly to the creation of long-term revenue streams in our economy,” emphasised Dr Portelli.

Benefits of industry-academia collaboration are numerous. Every academic that will be involved in these projects will have the opportunity to interact directly with the local industry and to exchange knowledge. Post-doctoral researchers undoubtedly have extensive academic knowledge to share.  Industry players know the market, and are able to provide insight into what incremental innovations can make their products and services more competitive. Those insights can trickle down into University lecture halls where our future graduates are being prepared for a world that is increasingly more complex and more value-driven.

In its pre-electoral document of policy recommendations “Time to Step Up”, published a little over a year ago, The Malta Chamber stated that “a concerted effort is required to push up the spend on R&I to 3% of GDP through a robust framework of accessible investment incentive programmes and support mechanisms.” This scheme is one of the initiatives The Malta Chamber recommended and supported to contribute towards the attainment of this target. “We therefore thank the Parliamentary Secretary for Youth, Research, and Innovation, Keith Azzopardi Tanti, for implementing this scheme, and the University of Malta for their support and collaboration,” said Dr Portelli.

“We wish all those who have received funding every success in their endeavours and hope to see more research applied projects being funded in future. We believe that these are the first steps on a journey in the right direction in which the success of the few who are embarking on these projects today, can inspire many others to take the plunge and look into research and innovation as a key to the long-term growth of their business, and in the case of post-doc researchers, to applying their knowledge and capabilities for the advancement of our economy,” noted The Malta Chamber CEO.

The Post-Doc Fellowship Scheme 2022 was launched last October by The Malta Chamber together with the University of Malta and Parliamentary Secretariat for Youth, Research and Innovation.

BNF Bank registers strong financial performance for 2022

BNF Bank announced a strong financial performance for the year 2022, recording a profit before tax of €12.2 million – a 35% increase over 2021.

Higher profitability in 2022 was mainly due to increased net interest income of €25.8 million (2021: €22.7 million), a result of growth in the Bank’s loans and advances to customers – its largest and main income-producing assets portfolio, along with careful liability management. In addition, net fees and commission income and other ancillary income contributed to a new operating income for 2022 of €30.1 million (2021: €27.2 million).

The Bank’s cost-to-income ratio underlines the positive jaws generated between net operating income and general administrative expenses. A cost-to-income ratio of 61.7% (2021: 62.9%) reflects the Bank’s prudent stance towards cost control whilst not compromising on the Bank’s strategic goals.

In 2022 the Bank wrote back expected credit losses due to an improvement in asset quality. Net loans to customers at year end grew by 14% to €903.7 million, whilst the percentage of credit-impaired lending decreased from 4.1% to 2.6%.

The Bank’s Capital Adequacy Ratio improved to 19.6% (2021: 17.5%) further to the issuance of a €20 million subordinated bond, while the Common Equity Tier 1 Ratio stood at 14.6% (2021: 15.6%) – both ratios well above overall regulatory requirements.

On the back of these strong results, the Board of Directors has proposed a net divided of €0.041 per nominal share of €0.7552 for a total amount of €4,036,726.50 to be distributed to shareholders subject to their declaration in an AGM and regulatory approval.

BNF’s Chief Financial Officer, Mark Micallef, said that the Bank’s increasingly robust performance was due to significant asset growth combined with a cautious risk appetite and careful capital planning. “Our sustained Vision 2023 strategy of targeted customer focus, digital transformation and agile financial solutions covering personal and business lifecycles keeps spurring BNF’s status forward, as Malta’s bank of choice. Ours has proven to be a sustainable trajectory in the context of volatile markets and increased regulation.”

David Power, BNF Bank’s Chief Executive Officer, said “We are extremely satisfied with these positive results, which are a testament to the team’s drive, ambition and promise to deliver service excellence, combined with management’s foresight and business acumen in sometimes challenging scenarios. Our core focus remains the customer who is at the heart of all our operations. BNF Bank continues to be one of Malta’s strongest financial institutions and an important cog in the local economy, as well as a reference point for customers who require a reliable financial partner for all their needs.”

BNF Bank’s Annual Financial Report for 2022 may be downloaded from here.

Collaboration opportunities between business and education discussed during WE MAKE webinar

During the latest WE MAKE webinar, Ruben Cuschieri, Council Member and Chair of the Manufacturers and Other Industries Economic Group within The Malta Chamber, said “by bridging the gap between the academia and business, we can create innovative solutions and unlock opportunities that can drive our industry forward.”

“Through innovative partnerships between businesses and academia, we can break down barriers, create new opportunities, and ensure the sustainable growth of the industry,” he continued.

Dr Ing Paul Refalo from the University of Malta highlighted the Post-Doc Fellowship Programme that The Malta Chamber, in collaboration with the University of Malta and the Parliamentary Secretariat for Youth, Research and Innovation, awarded earlier this week. Refalo said that collaborations such as these are vital for both the academia and the business community.

During the webinar, the University of Malta showcased industry-academia collaboration in action, including a best-practice case study with Toly. The Malta Council for Science and Technology (MCST) presented one of the research grants available to support such undertakings, and finally Malta Enterprise demonstrated how through the partnering opportunities of the Enterprise Europe Network, help is provided to link academics and researchers with local and international SMEs, and vice-versa.

“The Malta Chamber believes that by sharing success stories and exploring practical ways to foster these connections, we hope to make it as easy as possible to encourage these initiatives,” said Cuschieri.

The WE MAKE Project is a collaboration between The Malta Chamber, the Malta Business Bureau and the Energy and Water Agency.

The Malta Chamber hosts MCESD meeting and voices its position on the national drugs policy and the licensing for contractors

During this week’s MCESD meeting organised at The Malta Chamber the agenda focused on:

•             National Drugs Policy (2022-2023)

•             Licensing of Contractors

CEO Dr Marthese Portelli presented The Malta Chamber’s position on both topics.

National Drugs Policy:

•             the implications of drug use vis-a-vis colleagues, other employees and the employer

•             the occupational health and safety hazards brought about by drug use

•             the need for clarity on employer responsibility in terms of OHS requirements and employer rights to information in terms of Data Protection regulations

Licensing of Contractors:

•             a step in the right direction which needs to be followed by classification of contractors

•             clear demarcation between the roles and responsibilities of the contractor and developer

•             tax, VAT and NI compliance as well as employee count verification with Jobsplus

•             better use of technology and communication at the various stages of the planning and building process between entities such as PA, BCA, OHSA, and Enemalta

•             the introduction of the Building Manual/Register

PwC Malta releases the fourth edition of its Property Barometer

PwC Malta is releasing the fourth edition of its property barometer which analyses the current local
sentiment towards local real estate demand preferences and key trends. It was carried out between Q4
2022 and Q1 2023 by means of an online survey and targeted the total population residing on the
Maltese Islands, garnering 405 responses. This edition focused on topics relating to purchasing and
rental preferences, sources of financing, regulatory developments, sustainability considerations,
sentiments towards real estate agents and available information on the market.

One key trend that was observed during the fourth run is that there was a shift in demand for property
sales to rentals. When compared to the previous run carried out during the same quarter of 2022,
demand for property rentals increased (Q1 2023: 31%; Q1 2022: 12%) while it fell for property sales
(Q1 2023: 42%; Q1 2022: 51%). The results of this edition registered the highest demand for property
rentals and the lowest for property purchases out of all the barometer editions carried out to date.
These public sentiments seem to echo secondary market data. Data published by the NSO, indicated
that, during 2022, the number of promise of sale agreements relating to individual buyers of
residential property amounted to 11,083, a 22% decrease when compared to those registered in the
previous year. Based on data reported in the Housing Authority’s latest Annual Malta Residential
Rental Study, by the end of 2021, the rental register comprised almost 38,000 active contracts, which
represented an increase over the prior year. One is yet to assess whether this could mean that a shift is
being witnessed from residential property sales to property rentals, based on the data included in the
upcoming Housing Authority report.

A movement between different brackets of property values was also observed in this survey, as
respondents shifted towards the lower end of the price spectrum, namely from properties valued above
€501k to those valued between €351k and €500k. This could very likely be influenced by inflationary
pressures which dented consumer purchasing power throughout the previous year.

Another finding is that different locations are initially sought after than those subject to residential
property deeds. The top five most sought after localities according to our survey are Mosta, Attard,
Naxxar, San Gwann and Birkirkara. However, NSO data shows that contracts are being registered
mostly in Saint Paul’s Bay, Birkirkara, Ħaż-Żabbar, Mosta and Imsida. People may wish to purchase
property in a certain locality but due to high prices, they end up having to settle for a cheaper location.
In the 2022 JLL GRETI , Malta was attributed a score of 3.64 in the Index, thereby falling within the
Low Transparency category. One of the areas that Malta ranked poorly in was the availability of data.
This was echoed in our survey findings as only 31% of the respondents felt that there is enough
information available in the market for them to make an informed decision before acquiring property.
The results of this survey highlight some of the realities and issues that the real estate sector is
currently experiencing. The potential shift of preference from purchasing property to renting property
may be indicative of an emanating trend, while the pressures of inflation persist even in 2023.
Understanding the current market sentiment while also looking at secondary data through improved
transparency can help address existing issues.

The Malta Chamber BOM pays courtesy visit to President of Malta

The Malta Chamber Board of Management paid a courtesy visit to the President of Malta His Excellency George Vella. During the meeting, The Malta Chamber President, Chris Vassallo Cesareo, highlighted the priorities that his presidency will focus on. These include:

• Renewed Economic Vision
• Good Governance
• Public Procurement Reform
• Sustainable Development

The Malta Chamber’s Board of Management thanked President George Vella for his continuous support and reassured him that The Malta Chamber will continue being the voice of ethical business whilst actively participating in the country’s social dialogue.

The Ombudsman meets with The Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise and Industry

The meeting focused on exploring opportunities for future collaboration between the Ombudsman’s office and The Malta Chamber particularly in championing better good governance and fair public procurement

The Ombudsman, Judge Emeritus Joseph Zammit McKeon, held a constructive meeting with The Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise and Industry, fostering a relationship of collaboration between the two organisations.

The Ombudsman thanked The Malta Chamber for extending an invitation to this essential meeting. He also took the opportunity to congratulate Mr Chris Vassallo Cesareo on his appointment as President of The Malta Chamber. The Ombudsman also acknowledged the invaluable work of outgoing President Ms Marisa Xuereb and thanked her for her dedication and contribution.

The meeting focused on exploring opportunities for future collaboration between the Ombudsman’s office and The Malta Chamber particularly in championing better good governance and fair public procurement – two subjects which are constantly advocated for by The Malta Chamber.

The Ombudsman emphasised his commitment to contribute to a fairer public administration and promoted the understanding that efficient public administration benefits the public and the administration itself.

President Chris Vassallo Cesareo thanked Judge Emeritus Joseph McKeon for accepting The Malta Chamber’s invitation for both entities to collaborate together. Present for the meeting with President Vassallo Cesareo was the outgoing President Marisa Xuereb and The Malta Chamber CEO Dr Marthese Portelli.

President Vassallo Cesareo, reiterated that The Malta Chamber will be at the forefront to assist and collaborate with the Ombudsman’s office in promoting and supporting ethical businesses.

The meeting was attended by Mr Chris Vassallo Cesareo, President of The Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise and Industry; Ms Marisa Xuereb, Outgoing President; Dr Marthese Portelli, Chief Executive Officer; Ms Rachel Attard, Head of Media and Strategy and Mr Kevin Mizzi, Head of Policy. The Ombudsman Judge Emeritus Joseph Zammit McKeon was accompanied by Mr Jurgen Cassar, Head of Communications and Research.

The impact of digital transformation on SMEs

During the DiHubmt conference organised by the Malta Digital Innovation Authority, The Malta Chamber CEO, Dr Marthese Portelli, highlighted and spoke about some of the challenges SMEs encounter on their digitalisation journey:

• data security

• lack of in-house technology experts

• change resistance by employees

• organizational agility and transformation vision

She said, “If an organization is planning to embark on a digital transformation project, then there are four main areas that it should consider – Process Transformation, Business Model Transformation, Domain Transformation and Cultural/Organisational Digital Transformation.”

Malta Business Bureau congratulates new Malta Chamber President

The MBB looks forward to continue collaborating closely with Mr. Vassallo Cesareo and The Malta Chamber to create awareness among Maltese businesses and help them in the process of preparing for the introduction of EU legislation.

The MBB congratulates Mr Chris Vassallo Cesareo on being elected President of The Malta Chamber for the next two years.

Being President of this prestigious organization brings extensive responsibility particularly in the context of the current geo-political challenges and uncertain economic times internationally. But the MBB has no doubt that Mr. Vassallo Cesareo has the right skills and leadership qualities to build on the successes that The Malta Chamber achieved in previous years.

The MBB looks forward to continue collaborating closely with Mr Vassallo Cesareo and The Malta Chamber to create awareness among Maltese businesses and help them in the process of preparing for the introduction of EU legislation.

The MBB also thanks outgoing President M. Marisa Xuereb for steering The Malta Chamber to new heights in the last two years and for her leadership during the difficult period as we gradually moved out of the pandemic and in the face of the challenges created by the international impact of the war in Ukraine.

During these unprecedented times Ms Xuereb was prepared with instant and firm reactions, as well as foresight in representing The Malta Chamber and the interests of Maltese businesses and the Maltese economy at large.

The Malta Business Bureau is the EU advisory organization of The Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise and Industry, and the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association. It is also a partner of the Enterprise Europe Network.