On Monday 18 July 2022, Nasir Zubairi, CEO of the Luxembourg House of Financial Technology (LHoFT), was awarded the Officier de l'Ordre Mérite du Grand Duché de Luxembourg (Order of Merit) for his services to the Luxembourg economy.
Originally from London, Nasir has lived and worked in Luxembourg since 2016. Prior to this, he worked for 25 years in financial services, including within capital markets. Throughout his professional career, he has lived and worked in eight countries, including his native Britain, the United States, Japan and Singapore.
Speaking to Chronicle.lu, Nasir explained that whilst he had enjoyed his work during the first quarter of his career, "it was even then quite obvious to me that what spurred me to wake up every morning was to be at the forefront of innovation and making change happen and understanding how customers' needs are moving forward and adapting and how the world is changing". Around the beginning of the financial crisis of 2008, he "decided that [he] wasn't really feeling much change happening anymore". Nasir thus decided to resign from his job at Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) at the time and enrol in business school, ultimately settling on London Business School (LBS), where he particularly enjoyed learning about subjects in which he had less professional experience, namely private equity, entrepreneurship and marketing.
At the end of his studies, Nasir was unsure about his next steps. "Financial services was in turmoil" amid the financial crisis, he noted, adding that he later accepted an opportunity to invest in property in Bali, Indonesia. After four months, he returned to London, where he became a consultant at HSBC. "It was through that work that I began to see a variety of opportunities, where financial services was not necessarily meeting the demands of the customer". Less than a year later, Nasir decided to set up his first company in 2011, which is when his focus began shifting to what would come to be known as FinTech (financial technology). "Since then, I have essentially been working in or building businesses or supporting the building of businesses within what’s called 'FinTech'", he explained, adding that this chapter of his career initially took him from London to Berlin, where he set up a company called Finleap, a FinTech company builder. Personal circumstances, however, led him to ultimately leave his job in the German capital.
After being invited to speak at ICT Spring, an international tech conference held annually in Luxembourg, in 2015, he was "pleasantly surprised" by his experience in the Grand Duchy, particularly by "how down to earth people were here and how energised they were about wanting to do things". He and his family made the move in 2016, with Nasir initially planning to set up a digital custody bank in Luxembourg. However, he was quickly asked to help Luxembourg For Finance (LFF) to "come up with a strategy for FinTech or digitalisation for Luxembourg" – from this, the LHoFT, a public-private sector initiative aimed at driving FinTech innovation in Luxembourg, was born in 2017. Nasir later assumed the role of CEO.
Commenting on his now six-year residency and career in Luxembourg (the longest he has lived anywhere in 25 years), Nasir said: "This is the most welcoming place for foreigners I've ever lived in". He also described the Grand Duchy as "a country of opportunity".
Officier de l'Ordre Mérite du Grand Duché de Luxembourg
On the subject of his recent Order of Merit award, Nasir commented: "I was very humbled and honoured, quite honestly, and surprised". As a British national, he described it as the equivalent of having received an Officer of the British Empire (OBE) order of chivalry. "To get that as a foreigner as well is really a testimony to how welcoming and open this county is... and to get it after such a short period of time… I’m genuinely very humbled", he said. Nevertheless, Nasir emphasised that the LHoFT's contribution to the economy has been and continues to be a team effort. "It’s really a team award; it's for the work that the LHoFT has done", he stated. "We've tried our best. It's very difficult [...] to pass judgement on how successful we've been or how successful our work has been; it's really for others to judge. But I guess this is the ultimate honour, that we have done something useful and a recognition of that".
Speaking on behalf of the LHoFT, which is currently a team of ten people, Nasir added: "We're very honoured and humbled by it. It's fantastic to be recognised in that way. We do work tirelessly to make a difference because we believe in this country. Everyone on my team, myself, we believe that we can do great things for Luxembourg. The medal is recognition of this".
The LHoFT recently celebrated its fifth anniversary. Looking back, Nasir noted that he and his team had focused their strategy over the past five years on three core pillars, which have "largely remained the same" in terms of the LHoFT’s strategic activities. However, the "emphasis within those three core pillars" has changed over the years, explained Nasir. "The world is constantly changing and you need to learn constantly and adapt as you go along".
Looking forward, the team will focus on three key areas which add "real impact and critical value": talent and education; sustainability and environmental, social and governance (ESG); mutualisation. Concerning talent and education, Nasir explained how the LHoFT had adapted its education programmes and webinars in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic to be "more engaging and specifically tailored". The LHoFT has delivered about 300 webinars to date, which have attracted over 11,000 attendees from around the world. However, Nasir lamented that trying to get the traditional banking sector involved in this area had proven "very difficult", recognising that part of the issue was a fear of digitalisation and its potential impact on jobs. In this context, he highlighted the need for the LHoFT to work together with the sector, "breaking down some of these barriers" and showing those in the sector that "digital is an enabler for their jobs".
In terms of attracting talent, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the LHoFT has been working together with more than 40 universities (including the University of Luxembourg) "to get [students] excited about Luxembourg FinTech" and plans to organise another recruitment day this year (following a COVID-19-related break) "to nurture talent". The LHoFT also works on programmes with the Luxembourg Tech School (LTS), for example, to get the next generation "excited about FinTech".
Regarding sustainability and ESG, Nasir said that the LHoFT focused on areas in which they could add value, such as financial inclusion. He highlighted the CATAPULT: Inclusion Africa programme in this context, a programme which the LHoFT will continue and is currently discussing the possibility of expanding it further. In the area of gender diversity, the LHoFT launched a year-long campaign earlier this year centred around discussion and learning about problems related to gender diversity in the broader finance and FinTech sphere. Later this year, the LHoFT will produce a white paper based upon the findings of this campaign to draw up a set of actions to follow through with in their strategy next year. Also within this focus area is the broad sector of sustainable finance and how FinTechs can enable the transition to sustainable finance. According to Nasir, one of the main problem areas is related to the data aspect of sustainability.
Nasir described the third focus area, that of mutualisation, as "the opportunity to develop some set of utilities for the Luxembourg financial services sector where there are common and shared problems where a utility could potentially add significant value in terms of reducing costs but also a competitive advantage for Luxembourg in terms of attracting new businesses". He explained that there were many things that could be done to "add value on a holistic basis" in this area, adding that the LHoFT was working on developing "a core initiative around this mutualisation element, where we can, almost to some degree like a factory, address some of these large-scale problems and churn out solutions that can benefit Luxembourg".