“You cannot be a risk taker if you try to insure away the risk. Feeling too comfortable is itself a risk.”
Compared with other parts of the world, how well placed is Switzerland to steal a lead in the global fintech and digitisation revolution? Swiss film maker Manuel Stagars is in a decent position to offer an opinion, having interviewed business leaders and politicians in different continents for his previous movies on fintechexternal link and blockchainexternal link – and his current project Digital Transformationexternal link.
For his current film, released next Spring, Stagars travelled to Switzerland, the United States, China, Hong Kong, Britain and Japan to see how different societies are adapting to the disruptive forces of artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics. The results of his interviews are varied, with Switzerland living up to its conservative image of safety first.
For Stagars, this has worrying implications for entrepreneurship just as the fourth industrial revolution is gathering a head of steam. “People in Switzerland are afraid to give up their day jobs to start up their own companies,” he told swissinfo.ch in an interview from Hong Kong. “They seem to need funding guarantees, which is not very competitive.”
Perhaps the environment in Switzerland – where everything works and runs on time - is too cosy and unconducive to driving radical change, Stagars wonders. He recommends that, like himself, more Swiss get out into the world to experience life on the other side of the tracks.
New breed of start-up
By comparison, the US is “bipolar”, according to the Stagars interviews. “People are either all in, saying that we need robots and AI or they are saying that the sky is about to fall on their heads and there will be no jobs.”
Asia is perhaps the most pragmatic region towards new technologies. The Chinese see digitisation as a means of improving their infrastructure, bringing reliable power and transportation systems, and getting access to the world economy. “Nobody is afraid of anything – they embrace change and want to shape a better future.”
Stagars has a sense of déjà vu. Two years ago, he shot the movie Fintech – Made in Switzerlandexternal link. He found the established financial players to be remarkably blasé about the new fintech start-ups that are threatening to disrupt their world.
Given that start-ups can now generate millions in seed capital through initial coin offerings - and need little infrastructure to get their ideas off the ground - Stagars thinks that Swiss banks are playing a dangerous game.
“Innovation has become very democratic.” He said. “The Amazons and Facebooks of this world were the last companies who could build monopolies in a centralized away. There is a new breed of company and a new way of doing business coming our way.”
Here’s a sample interview from Stagars’ new film: Digital Transformation: Visions of Nations, Companies and People.