Former Swiss President Schneider-Ammann on his Blockchain Fascination
Mr. Schneider-Ammann, the Swiss FinTech Awards crowned you ‘FinTech Influencer of the Year’. Did you expect that?
At my age, you’re more likely to get lifetime awards. Fintech and blockchain have only been on the political and social agenda for a few years. Our efforts seem to have had such an effect, that I have been awarded this prize. It’s an honor and a pleasure to see what we achieved together with the Federal Council.
“We were able to create jobs, we will make it easier for startups to gain a foothold in Switzerland, we can strengthen our innovation position, and with blockchain, we can probably establish a completely new industry and a strong global hub.”
What does fascinate you about the new technologies?
About two years ago I visited the Crypto Valley for the first time and realized that something important was emerging in Switzerland: a globally unique ecosystem with young entrepreneurs, programmers, lawyers and investors. The focus has always been on cryptocurrencies and bank disruption, which is not enough. Because behind blockchain is a revolutionary technology that will produce completely new business models. The Federal Council has recognized the signs of the times and the potential of blockchain and fintech, has held roundtables with relevant companies and has adapted the laws so that we can keep these companies here. The most important thing, however, is that the number of startups has grown steadily and strongly over the last year, despite swan songs from the media.
How do you assess the blockchain situation today?
Everything speaks of crypto winter. Since the prices of Bitcoin, Ether and Co. are down, the times of fast money is over. From a Swiss perspective, this development is pleasing. The focus has shifted from crypto currencies to blockchain technology, and the ecosystem is not only doing well, it is doing excellently. The forerunners of crypto spring are unmistakable: In the short period from the end of September 2018 to the end of December, the number of companies working with blockchain technology in Switzerland and Liechtenstein has grown by more than 120. When I talk to exponents from the Crypto Valley, I hear that the crypto winter has not harmed the industry but has brought a salutary focus on quality. The prospect of fast money has also attracted dubious people and companies, some of them even criminals. It’s a good thing that the hype is over.
Can you imagine continuing to be committed to the cause?
Yes, I can well imagine that. I’m fascinated both by the technology, as an ETH graduate anyway, and by the great economic potential. As Federal Councilor, I tried to make a contribution in order that the Crypto Valley could establish itself in Switzerland. The Crypto Valley, if you take the creation of 3500 jobs and the valuation into consideration, is now the size of a company like Lonza, after all №13 of the Swiss Market Index (SMI) … and this only in a few years’ time! I see startups with applications in all sectors. I see large companies like Nestlé using the blockchain for their processes. I see SIX, which will launch a blockchain-based exchange, or Post and Swisscom, which will jointly build a blockchain infrastructure for companies. I am now observing more with my entrepreneurial background again.
Blockchain is a young industry, crypto assets ride a roller coaster. Do you have no concerns?
As an entrepreneur, you should not let concerns guide you. When I read that the market valuation of the 50 largest blockchain companies in the Crypto Valley fell from 44 to 20 billion US dollars within three months and that the number of companies rose from 629 to 750 over the same period, then I interpret this development positively: the prices of Bitcoin, Ether and Co. are down, and it is over with the quick money for young entrepreneurs, but also for impostors who have mingled with them. Now the air is out of the bubble, but the essential substance remains or grows. It’s a good time to get involved again.