Prof. Paolo Catalfamo has a long-term relationship with the island – one that far pre-dates his current role as Chairman and CEO of GlobalCapital. He first came here in 1994. Little did he know how significant that visit would be... although there was quite a journey in between.
“I am an economist by profession,” Paolo explains, adding that he read for his university degree in Milan before moving to the United States to work in the financial services sector. “In 1989 I moved to Palm Beach where I worked for an investment bank, and later side-stepped into investment management with Franklin Templeton, one of the largest investment companies in the world. I moved back to Europe a few years later to take over the role of CEO for their regional operations.” Paolo oversaw the opening of a number of Templeton offices on the continent after that, including Malta. In the years that followed he left Templeton to start his own asset management company and then returned to the US to teach economics at Vilanova University in Philadelphia.
Meanwhile, he took on high-profile roles as Chairman of the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce and then President of the American Chamber in Italy; he still sits on the Italian American Foundation today, which lobbies in favour of the interests of the 26 million Americans with Italian origins, and he chairs the Italian branch.
“A few years ago, I decided it was time to go back to work...to business,” Paolo smiles. “At around the same time, I was intrigued by the life insurance business and felt that, as a rule, the sector wasn’t anywhere near as developed as it could be in terms of technology and evolution – much like my traditional asset management business – so I decided to look for a small life insurance company in Europe that I could acquire and use as a base for expansion into other European destinations.”
After a few false starts with opportunities here and in other countries, Paolo found himself back in Malta. “I felt that Malta was the future. And that’s when my acquisition of GlobalCapital started to look feasible. After a long series of negotiations, we finally took over as majority shareholder in 2016 and I have been focused on the business ever since – so much so that I chose to move my family from Rome to Malta so we could be closer to operations here. I am very pleased that we did.”
Today, as the company’s majority shareholder, Paolo’s role is one of strategy development. “The company is actually a holding company that is listed on the Malta Stock Exchange, with three operating companies – GlobalCapital Life, GlobalCapital Financial Management, and GlobalCapital Health Insurance, which is the local agent for Bupa,” he explains. “Each of those three companies has its own Managing Director, so my personal approach is to avoid the day-to-day running of things as much as possible and to leave that to the experts within the structure of the organisation. I am there when I’m needed, of course, but am primarily concerned with strategy at Group level.”
Despite the fact that GlobalCapital has 120 employees, Paolo still refers to it as a ‘semi start-up’, primarily because it has been completely reinvented since it got into financial difficulties under its previous owners a few years ago. “Start-ups are my thing,” he smiles. “I have run a number of them throughout my career, which is exciting but also very tiring. While GlobalCapital wasn’t a start-up in the traditional sense of the word, we did have to turn it around after it went through a period of bad management, and I am pleased to say we have been successful in that.”
And with the future of the business in mind, Paolo says he believes there are huge opportunities on the cards. “As I mentioned earlier, the insurance business is still very underdeveloped; big revolutions will all be brought about by technology. I predict that the next two years will be very disruptive for the insurance and asset management sectors, especially as blockchain becomes an important factor. It will happen very quickly, but will be a definitive process. Companies that don’t adapt quickly enough will die.”
In light of that, Paolo stresses that GlobalCapital will be very much at the forefront of this technological revolution. “By the end of 2018 we will be completely paperless, which is a vital step forward from a strategy perspective,” he says.
“We also launched another project called Palladium in July. It is a complete blockchain project that will be very disruptive, but which will create new opportunities to connect traditional banking to the new blockchain world. It’s a very exciting project and will have a big impact on the financial services industries in the months to come. I am confident that we will see very positive results on this front in 2019.”
But Paolo doesn’t shy away from the fact that the shift won’t be easy on everyone. “A number of jobs will have to change,” he says. “I don’t envisage insurance agents will become redundant but they will have to raise their game to become advisors to our clients, and not sales people. Yes it will be different but I tell my team not to be afraid of change; these changes will make their job more interesting as they are given the opportunity to add value to the work they do.”
And it is on that belief that Paolo has focused his strategy for the future of GlobalCapital over the next five years. “I see us becoming a sophisticated technology company, at the forefront of innovation while still providing a very qualified human touch. As for me… who knows where I will be! But I am certainly not ready to retire so I will probably be doing more of what I love – this.”
MaltaChamber.org.mt is proud to be serialising MaltaCEOs 2019, a high-profile publication consisting of 50 in-depth interviews with leading CEOs in Malta. Celebrating the most influential business minds in the country, two different interviews will be featured on this business news portal week by week. MaltaCEOs was created by Content House Group in collaboration with the Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise & Industry.