8 October 2018

Pragmatism in the blockchain hype6 min read

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His priority used to be guest hospitality, but today Michael Dolzer is at the forefront of technological development at Bank Frick. He believes that soon everyone in Liechtenstein will be paying with cryptocurrency.

“I’m Head of Business Technologies and Innovation Management,” says Michael Dolzer, introducing himself. Upon seeing the clueless look on my face he adds, “Before, it was just called IT.” He goes on to explain that this field has become so much more complex these days, which is why they have renamed the department. This statement speaks measures about how Michael Dolzer views his job at Bank Frick. He approaches it from a pragmatic angle despite all the blockchain hype and the changes in the financial sector. This could be due to the fact that he did not start out in this sector. “I ended up in IT by chance,” explains Dolzer. He graduated in hotel management originally. “I had actually envisaged a career in that field.” He worked in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, Italy and the UK, learning the languages and honing his trade. “One day a trust company asked me whether I had an interest in IT – no, wait, back then it was actually still referred to as EDP.”

According to him, EDP was manageable when he joined that company 30 years ago. “Back then a PC still cost CHF 16,000.00.” After that he went on to pursue a “typical career”, as Dolzer calls it. From a system administrator he went on to train as a programmer before moving on to project development and business process management. “I continued to diversify my skills, and, in the end, I wound up here. I’ve never regretted the switch of career.”

The work never stops

Dolzer’s career also reflects how things have changed behind the scenes in the world of banking. It’s not just the names of departments that have changed, but the work they do too. “In the earlier days we maintained one central banking system and several sub-systems; we were responsible for system technology too,” explains the expert. He goes on to say that more and more has been added to this, and now his department is split into five sections. Everything is getting faster and more transient. The dynamic nature of the market is putting companies under pressure to ensure a flexible and quick response to customer needs, continues Dolzer.

Today the job of an IT expert is more of a mix of system developer and customer advisor. “The focus is generally on process digitalisation.” Customers come to him when they need help solving a problem or making existing processes more efficient. These assignments are handled by the business analysts in Dolzer’s team, who go on to develop papers with recommended solutions. These are then implemented by the Business Engineering division before being passed on to Customer Service. There’s a lot to do – and it’s not slowing down any time soon.

A relaxed attitude

Bank Frick incorporated blockchain banking alongside classic banking early on, establishing yet another mainstay. This is a move that has already started to pay off. Today, the Bank is regarded as the first port of call for the many start-ups in this field. This may also be related to the difficulty that traditional banks have even opening accounts for these start-ups. There is too much scepticism towards this new technology. Most people would rather bide their time and observe from a safe distance.

Does it take a certain amount of courage to get involved in a so-called greenfield project? Dolzer plays it down, “We have always been an innovative bank. For example, we were developing payment solutions in the field of acquisitions a number of years ago.” He explains that even back then there was pressure to develop completely new products. That’s why he has a fairly relaxed attitude to the current hype around blockchain and Bank Frick. “Well …,” he sighs in response to the question as to how much overtime he is having to do given the current hype. He ponders for a while before responding, “Anywhere between two to four hours’ a day.” It doesn’t sound like an imposition, he says it as if it were the most normal thing on earth.

It’s challenges like blockchain that Dolzer seeks out. Now the Bank runs an entire department dedicated to blockchain. Dolzer is fascinated by the development in the field. “It’s a real community that generates new ideas on a daily basis. It’s hard to keep up with the sheer number and variety of ideas.” Dolzer’s job is to identify interesting ideas for the Bank together with the company management and his department.

20 cents for one bitcoin

Dolzer firmly believes that cryptocurrency and its supporting technology, blockchain, will change the market. He heard about the concept years ago, back when it was still a nerd phenomenon. With cryptocurrency in particular, people took one look at it, understood the idea behind it and decided they did not need it. “It goes without saying that I could kick myself for not jumping on the bandwagon,” he adds, smiling. He could have bought bitcoin for 20 cents. Now it’s worth thousands.

Attitudes have reversed now. “Cryptocurrency is going to catch on in a major way,” Dolzer is convinced of it. He draws a parallel between the development of cryptocurrency and that of the credit card. Years ago, people could only use them occasionally to pay bills for amounts above a certain threshold, then they became more and more prevalent and now people use them for very small amounts. “We’ll see the same thing happen with cryptocurrency.”

He holds the same belief when it comes to the technology behind cryptocurrency, blockchain. Just like “his” Bank, he believes in the disruptive potential of the technology. Hence why he wants to continue to uphold the knowledge lead they have built up in this field over the past few years. “We are already seeing processes pick up speed on an almost daily basis.”

Professions are changing

Dolzer talks about a growing trend towards clients integrating digitalised banking processes directly in their day-to-day business. While this will require digitalised and automated processes at the bank, he goes on to add that he does not think this will eliminate the need for bank employees in the future. “Of course, certain job descriptions will change,” but he doesn’t think much of pessimism. “To give an example: These days many clients make payments themselves using online banking. That too led to changes in the back office a few years ago, but still there are more people working in the financial sector than ever before.” Dolzer believes in change, not cut-backs. And who are we to believe, if not the hospitality specialist at the forefront of technological development at Bank Frick?

The portrait was originally published in the weekly newspaper Wirtschaftregional on September 22nd.


Michael Dolzer

Michael Dolzer has been Head of Business Technologies and Innovation Management at Bank Frick since 2012. After moving from hotel management to information technology, he is now responsible for process automation, among other things, and is driving the development towards open banking at Bank Frick.


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