Open for business: the Gibraltar International Bank is set to launch before the summer (Shutterstock)
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Lawrence Podesta: "setting up a bank from scratch is no easy task"

The soon-to-be-opened Gibraltar International Bank will fill a major gap in the local banking market. Lawrence Podesta, its CEO, shares the story behind the bank's development

What’s the story behind the Gibraltar International Bank – is it the first native retail bank in Gibraltar?

In 2012, one of the major international retail banks in Gibraltar announced that it was closing its retail operations. This bank had a substantial share of the market and, with only two other retail banks open for business, the government of Gibraltar took the decision to establish a local bank. The bank is set to open before the summer.

Historically, in Gibraltar there have been a number of retail banks from other countries. However, the Gibraltar International Bank is not the first locally established retail bank in Gibraltar. That honour goes to Galliano’s Bank, established in 1855 by a local family of Genovese ancestry.

Who is the bank for, and what services will it offer?

The bank will primarily cater for the needs of the local retail market, both for personal and corporate clients. It will provide a full range of products and services typically associated with a retail bank – such as current accounts, deposit accounts, personal and commercial mortgages, loans and overdrafts, debit and credit cards and online and mobile banking.

The bank is being set up as a traditional bank with a modern feel, meaning that we endeavour to provide the best face-to-face customer service, while at the same time promoting our online and mobile banking applications.

Is the new bank a public or a private one? 

The bank is wholly owned by the government of Gibraltar and has a board of directors which stands completely independent from government, comprised of top professionals from our community. The bank’s executive team and staff have all been recruited from the private sector and the bank will be run on a commercial basis.  

What impact did the banking crisis have on account holders in Gibraltar? Is there any connection between the banking crisis and Gibraltar setting up its own bank? 

There is no direct connection between the global banking crisis and the setting up of the Gibraltar International Bank. The new bank is the result of local needs expressed by the local community through various means over the past few years. The Gibraltar International Bank will, together with the other retail banks, add value to the marketplace.

What are some of the challenges you have faced setting up a bank from scratch? How have you surmounted these, and who are you turning to for advice? 

As you can well imagine, setting up a bank from scratch is no easy task. There are a number of fronts that need to be tackled at the same time – be it concerning regulation, operational or IT infrastructure, finance or risk.

Myself and my colleague (chief operating officer Derek Sene) embarked on this journey last May, and produced a business plan to take us forward. We have engaged with a number of external international parties in order to set up our operational infrastructure for services, such as having worldwide acceptance of our debit and credit cards.

They say that a company’s best assets are its employees. We made it a priority to employ the senior management of the bank in order to put the wheels in motion. We have been very cautious in setting our recruitment criteria, and are proud to say that the time and effort invested in this process has produced the desired results. 

Tell us about the premises that will house the bank – is it a historic building? Did it need much renovation?

The bank will be housed in possibly the only building constructed before the Great Siege of Gibraltar (1779-1783) to survive its original form. The building was constructed in typical Georgian style, and was used originally as a garrison armoury. No structural changes have been done to the building, and it will retain its charm and no doubt become an iconic building in Gibraltar.  

What are your long-term aspirations for the bank? What difference will it make for life and business in Gibraltar?

Gibraltar is an international finance centre, and whilst under its current remit the bank has been set up primarily to service the local community, we will entertain applications from prospective international clients who have personal or commercial links to Gibraltar and might require retail banking services.

Both Derek and I are convinced that the bank will have a huge impact in the community for personal and corporate customers. Gibraltar will be proud to have its own retail bank where decisions are taken locally by a team of professionals who fully understand the needs of our community.

The task force: CEO Lawrence Podesta (right) and COO Derek Sene (left)  

Photo: Getty
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Gibraltar and Europe: caught in the slipstream?

The British papers are full of who has the lead in the European in or out campaigns – Guy Clapperton considers the fallout for the smaller territories

Let’s start by acknowledging that there is no clear pattern emerging in the Europe debate, as long as we understand “Europe debate” to mean whether the UK should stay in or leave the European Union. This week alone we’ve seen Boris Johnson “warning Obama off” (as the BBC put it) getting involved in the debated, the same London Mayor and MP having a radio spat with Chuka Umunna involving telling each other to man up and various insults traded as either side accuses the other of scaremongering or making it up as they go along.

Divining who’s going to win is more difficult. The Daily Telegraph reports that “out” has it by a tiny margin but, crucially, the anti-Europe vote is likely to be more motivated so will actually show up on the day, expanding the margin by which it will win. Meanwhile the Times’ daily Red Box email points to Elections Etc. whose research suggests a 58% “remain” vote but with a plus or minus 14% error margin; so somewhere between 44% and 72% will go for staying in the EU. This, readers will note, tells us precisely nothing.

So the outcome, even if there weren’t 100 days in which Presidents and world leaders will offer counsel, claims and counterclaims will be made and the “leave” campaign will eventually decide who the official “leave” group actually is (there are two factions at the moment, doing the best impression of the Monty Python Judean People’s Front and the People’s Front of Judea that they can manage), we wouldn’t want to call a snap referendum even if it were to be called this afternoon.

What’s clear is that the outcome will ripple beyond the British mainland’s shores, and the ramifications of an “out” vote are already being felt on Gibraltar. Anyone doubting this should check today’s Times (subscription required), in which the Gibraltarian Chief Minister Fabian Picardo highlights recent Spanish statements about what would happen in the event of a Brexit.

Spain actually caused a few eyebrows to raise and some other people to panic just a little with its recent statements. Essentially the country’s foreign minister, José Manuel García-Margallo, suggested that there would be conversations on the sovereignty of Gibraltar the “day after” an announcement of a British exit, according to the Daily Mail and other reports. He also said (much, much further down the report) that he didn’t want Britain to leave: “God forbid” is the phrase he uses.

He raised the idea of joint sovereignty once again more recently, reports the Gibraltar Chronicle, this time suggesting that if Britain leaves Europe then Gib could do what it nearly did (he says) in 2002 and start transitioning towards Spain. This is an interesting definition of “nearly” when 98.48% of the electorate actually voted not to do so, but remaining British when this might exclude the Rock from Europe would inevitably raise different issues if not a different final outcome.

Outside Gibraltarian interests the effect could be more severe than that. SNP leader and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has made no secret of her wish to make a fresh case for Scottish independence. The once-in-a-generation referendum on this was lost in 2014 but should Britain exit Europe with a majority of Scots clearly demonstrating that they want to stay in, the case becomes stronger (although the collapse of the oil price would blow the original blueprint out of the water).

So we could end up with Scotland as well as Gibraltar wanting to remain in Europe while Britain made its exit. Whether this would be legally possible if both stayed tied to Britain is untested as yet – and with Spain eager to enter talks the day after an exit is agreed but the Gibraltarians implacably opposed to becoming Spanish, the way forward would not be clear.

Guy Clapperton is the freelance journalist who edits the New Statesman’s Gibraltar hub. You can also find him in the Guardian, Computer Business Review and Professional Outsourcing which he edits.