SEBA's Guido Buehler shares his vision for a crypto bank
Switzerland’s banking system has been reluctant to accept crypto companies - now a group of former UBS, Vontobel, Credit Suisse bankers is out to set up a FINMA-liscenced “crypto bank” with SEBA.
We had the chance to ask CEO Guido Buehler some direct questions about his vision and SEBA’s place in the Crypto Valley ecosystem.
Tell us briefly how the idea for SEBA came about…
Just like almost everything else in our world, money is going digital. When I pulled the SEBA team together in early February, I had in mind a new type of bank. A bank that bridges the gap between the old and the new economies and one that promotes the core values of Safety, Transparency and Performance. We are undergoing an economic transformation of epic proportions. Blockchain technology, the Internet of Things melding with the Internet of Money, the convergence of Cryptography, Computer Science and Economics – all of these technologies are enablers of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which I and many believe is upon us.
Blockchain, also referred to as Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT), is about more than crypto currency or digital money. DLT is fundamental to securely storing physical assets in a digital format. By creating global, tamper-proof ledgers that authenticate ownership, assets such as securities, property deeds, artwork, jewelry and diamonds, personal identity documents and educational and other certificates of authenticity can be instantly validated, reducing the potential for theft and fraud. The proliferation of DLT is leading to the formation of new markets and innovative ways of creating value. This convergence of the digital and tangible worlds creates a significant need for a new type of banking paradigm. That’s why at SEBA, we are committed to redefining finance for the new economy.
If you could condense into one sentence - what is the mission of SEBA?
To be one of the world’s first universal, fully licensed and supervised crypto banks that will bridge the divide between traditional fiat and the new world of crypto.
You are aiming to obtain the highest level of banking license and yet many (most) refer to SEBA as a “crypto bank” - how do you reconcile these two aspects?
It is important to understand that FINMA doesn’t have a type of license that is specific to crypto banks. We are in contact with FINMA to apply for a Banking and Securities Dealer license. What this means is that we will be able to offer crypto AND fiat – transaction banking and all other services - all from one financial services partner.
Our ambition is to help our clients achieve exceptional performance in terms of wealth management and growth, within a supervised and regulated framework. In today’s newly forming economy, we must be able to offer these services across both crypto and fiat, because crypto is rapidly emerging as a desirable asset class. We would not be able to deliver on our promise without the highest level of banking license attainable.
Does Switzerland and the blockchain world really need a “crypto bank?”
We believe the world does need a crypto bank because today, there is no gateway for major financial investors that facilitates movement of assets between the crypto and traditional financial markets. The crypto market’s global and unregulated nature means that significant groups within the traditional markets, such as institutional investors, asset and wealth managers, and family offices exclude themselves because the crypto markets are perceived to be too risky and speculative. The existing KYC, AML and other applicable laws and regulations may flexibly be adopted to crypto markets, but the majority of large institutional investors, who have a moderate risk tolerance, exclude themselves because of the lack of regulated and supervised market participants.
It is our vision that SEBA’s supervised and regulated services will encourage wider participation and form a bridge between crypto and traditional financial markets.
A majority of your team (yourself included) come from UBS - is this a value add or a downside for your development and eventual work with the core crypto community?
It’s good for a headline but it doesn’t accurately reflect the diverse nature of our team. While some on our team have worked at UBS, Citi, Credit Suisse, Vontobel, etc, we also have security and technology experts from outside the banking world. And of course, we have deep expertise in the emerging crypto economy. We wouldn’t be able to deliver on our promise if we weren’t diversified outside the banking sphere.
The salient point to note is that everyone on the team has a track record for innovation and an entrepreneurial spirit, no matter what their background. We believe it is this combination of skill that is required to redefine finance for the new economy.
Much has been made of the trouble startups have in getting bank accounts in Switzerland. Is part of your mission to fix this? What does SEBA aim to offer blockchain/crypto startups?
Recent SBA indications are that blockchain businesses should be treated the same as other businesses. It is our ambition that to offer custody storage, transaction banking, trading and liquidity management, and crypto corporate finance services to crypto/blockchain companies funded in crypto currency.
Let’s imagine for a moment that SEBA fails to obtain a banking license - will the project have been in vain? Is the value of attempting this as big as actually achieving it?
The world is changing, and I believe that all financial institutions know that crypto assets will eventually become part of investment portfolios, and a new manner of storing and creating wealth. We intend to obtain one of the first truly universal crypto banking licenses so we can deliver an incredibly important infrastructural piece of the crypto economy. Our efforts will not be in vain!
Can you tell us where the name “SEBA” came from?
We chose the name SEBA because it transcends geography and languages, it is feminine and masculine, to us it represents the ying and the yang. It speaks clearly to our ethos to kill the duality between crypto and fiat.
From your current position, what advice would you give to incumbent banks (i.e. UBS, Credit Suisse etc)?
I’ve no need to advise any banks, they have their own intentions and plans with regard to the digital economy. Our ambition is to serve the wider banking economy, serving crypto companies, institutional investors, professional investors and even banks if they decide they need a gateway into the crypto world.
What are your impressions of the Crypto Valley ecosystem? Where do you think it is headed in the next 9-12 months?
SEBA is honoured to be part of the Crypto Valley ecosystem. We may be perceived as old bankers, but this is the true meaning of the merging of the traditional and the new economies. Old meets New! We are financiers, bankers, traders and security experts with a team of blockchain experts and world-class technology partners who are building a bridge between the traditional and new financial economies. The Crypto Valley ecosystem can only benefit from such a bridge.