60-second interview with Johanna Niegel

Johanna Niegel, 24/7/2018

Dr Johanna Niegel TEP is the Director of the East European Desk at Allgemeines Treuunternehmen (ATU). She is Vice Chair of Verein STEP as well as Chair of its Vaduz Centre.

How and why did you get involved with STEP?

When I relocated from an international law firm in Moscow to an international trust company in Vaduz, Liechtenstein, to head its East European Desk, I found my work had a completely different focus. By chance I saw the STEP Diploma in International Trust Management syllabus on a colleague’s desk, and realised that STEP education was tailor-made to the specialised training I needed in my new field.

After I completed the Diploma Programme, Stuart Clements invited me to join the STEP Swiss-German and Liechtenstein Branch Committee. With my studies fresh in my mind, and well aware of the difficulties of combining study with full-time work, I became student liaison officer for Zurich and Vaduz. In time I became Deputy Chair and then Chair of the first Vaduz Committee.

In 2016, the Swiss and Liechtenstein STEP Federation was created. Each branch retains its independence and sovereignty on a local level, but we are also united in a single platform, and so able to provide one point of contact. I’m very proud to have been involved in this development (see link to history, below).

What benefits has it brought you personally, or in your business?

STEP has provided a platform to meet and interact with peers, and many have become long-lasting business contacts, and indeed friends. From a personal perspective, I’ve also learned that it is always important to approach matters from various angles and viewpoints.

You were recently given a Founder’s Award. What does this mean to you?

It is a great honour to be nominated and recognised. I feel it's significant that work in a volunteer position is recognised and rewarded, especially as my own nomination crossed national boundaries.

What is the most important thing STEP does, in your opinion?

I am very impressed with STEP’s all-encompassing and diverse educational offering, which is constantly being expanded. I’d say this is STEP’s core achievement, together with providing and enhancing professional standards for the industry, and playing an active role in lobbying.

What would you say to other members who are thinking of getting more involved with STEP?

They should definitely go ahead. In my own case, I was lucky to have the full support of my employers, for which I’m grateful. Working with STEP is indeed a very enriching professional as well as personal experience.

It’s worth noting that there is a certain amount of work, initiative and commitment required, despite the fact that we all are volunteers. In the end, we all need to work for the benefit of our members. This is a huge responsibility that must not be forgotten.

What do you most like about your job?

I love working with people from different places and backgrounds. I’m able to put my languages to good use, and this diversity makes the work interesting and appealing. I also find business travel very enriching and enlightening, and always learn something new.

.. and what do you feel is most worthwhile?

To see that professional knowledge has been applied to my satisfaction, and that a sustainable solution has been found. I’d add that I find charitable trusts and foundations to be very important.

What would you say to a young person thinking of a career in this industry?

By all means do join the private wealth sector, if the work appeals to you, but be aware that we are working in a fast-changing, highly-regulated environment. What is valid today may no longer be valid in six months’ time, and the sector, and the financial industry in general, demands much more of people today than 20 years ago, both from a professional and a personal point of view. Not only are professional knowledge and languages important, but also a willingness to learn and develop, and to be flexible enough, when required, to adapt to changing circumstances.

Which sectors are likely to see the strongest future growth, do you think? What about jurisdictions?

In terms of sectors, certainly Asia, the eastern states of the European Union, for example the Czech Republic and Hungary, which have recently enacted their own trust and private foundation laws, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and to a certain extent also Latin America, show potential for growth.

Wealth preservation services are a growing sector, in particular when they go beyond mere asset protection.

With a view to services, an increasing regulatory environment has ensured there is not much to choose between many jurisdictions. That means the professionalism of the service providers, their education and their responsiveness to clients’ needs and requests, are the main distinguishing factor across sectors and jurisdictions.

What trends do you see in the global private wealth sector at the moment?

With fewer opportunities available, there is increasing consolidation in the private wealth sector, and clients are ever more cost-sensitive. Advising clients has become increasingly complex, which again calls for well-educated and specialised practitioners who follow, react to, and implement trends and requirements, as well as endorse and adhere to international professional standards.

What do you feel are the main challenges facing practitioners at the moment, and how will you deal with them?

Regulation in the financial industry is a current, almost suffocating trend, and one that’s no longer regional or national, but global. One of the biggest challenges in the financial industry of today is mastering the CRS / Automatic Exchange of Information in terms of human as well as technical resources, as compliance and extra costs cannot simply be billed to the client.

Cross-border activities have in the meantime already started to decrease, and it has become hard for clients to find reliable partners abroad. The only thing in my opinion to keep at pace with this trend is pushing professional standards, and yet again, specialised modern training, both high on STEP’s agenda.

Which social media channels do you use and why?

While social media has its advantages, there is a case that information should belong to the whole community. In the private wealth sector it is personal contact that helps to build the trust required to initiate and maintain long-standing client relationships, and that is why I definitely prefer personal meetings and encounters.

Dr Johanna Niegel TEP is the Director of the East European Desk at Allgemeines Treuunternehmen (ATU), Vaduz, Liechtenstein, the editor of Trusts & Trustees Private Foundations: A World Review (Oxford University Press), Vice Chair of Verein STEP as well as Chair of its Vaduz Centre.