"I think tackling climate change is the most important issue"
Head of Asset Management division, FINMA, Bern
Thomas Hirschi is a member of the Executive Board of the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority FINMA. He has been in charge of the Asset Management division since 2020.
Thomas Hirschi, what does success mean to you?
I define success as setting ambitious but realistic goals and then achieving them through perseverance, staying power, and team spirit.
What was the best decision you have taken in your career?
For me, it was accepting an offer from Abu Dhabi to set up the supervisory authority for Abu Dhabi Global Market, an international financial center. Following this call of the desert wasn’t without its risks in terms of my career, but I’ve never regretted it. On the contrary, in fact, since it was a highly educational and rewarding experience both personally and professionally. Working overseas broadens your horizons and gives you a different perspective on your homeland. Mixing with colleagues from every country under the sun in particular left a lasting impression. Depending on the kind of culture you’re from, there are subtle but significant differences with regard to hierarchy and leadership, conflict management, and problem-solving. An experience like that helps you to grow as a person and makes you better at your job.
What is it that motivates you?
A certain ambition to do whatever I put my hand to well. Ultimately, I’d like to rise to the challenges I face as effectively as I expect others to. The esteem of my colleagues and superiors means a lot to me. When it comes down to it, though, I’m also a curious person. I enjoy getting stuck into new topics and challenges.
What was the biggest challenge you faced at the start of your career?
As a young banking regulator, I experienced the financial crisis at first hand. I was involved in supervising Switzerland’s large banks back then, and I faced some tough tests in the early stages of the crisis. The pressure and expectations were high, and there was some uncertainty over how things would turn out. It was a stressful time, but I also learned a lot. The state intervention to bail out UBS was the culmination of it all and definitely a key moment in my career to date. That crisis taught me what makes a good financial market regulator: the ability to make decisions quickly and calmly, even when you don’t have all the facts. If you sit and wait instead of taking action, events can quickly overwhelm you – crisis or no crisis.
What drove you to do what you do today?
A lot of things in life happen quite by chance. I never set out to pursue a career in financial market supervision. That said, I was always interested in making things happen and doing a job that’s genuinely relevant to society, and working at FINMA fits the bill.
Which problems should politicians and authorities urgently address?
There are of course a whole series of urgent issues, but I think tackling climate change is the most important one. It’s a typical example of what political scientists call a “common action” problem. One person adopting an environmentally friendly lifestyle doesn’t have much of a direct and immediate impact if others aren’t doing the same. People prefer to point the finger at others rather than taking action themselves. It’s a huge problem for society as a whole, though, and we all need to do a lot more to solve it. Politicians need to find a decisive response. Leaving it to the market won’t be enough. State intervention and incentives will probably be needed to persuade individuals to change their behavior.
How do you achieve that crucial work/life balance?
I play tennis and football, and I love hiking, meeting up with friends, and spending lots of time with my family. I also read a lot and occasionally play chess.
Who would you like to have lunch or dinner with?
Roger Federer. I’d like to thank him for the many wonderful hours I’ve enjoyed watching him play over the years – usually on TV, but also live a few times. The sensational victories, the painful defeats, the emotions...unforgettable.
What is your favorite travel destination?
Mexico. My wife’s from there, so we naturally have a very close relationship with the country and its people. Whenever we go there, I’m impressed by its diverse population, history, and culture, not to mention the wide variety of great food. It’s just a shame that Mexico can’t shake off the troubles stemming from its brutal drug wars.
What is more important or less important to you as you get older?
What I like about getting older is that, while you don’t necessarily have a better idea of what you want, you do have a very clear idea of what you don’t want. These days, I’m less concerned about always being in the thick of it and traveling all the time. I’ve learned to value downtime and even consciously plan for it.
What book are you reading at the moment?
“Nothing” by Janne Teller. My daughter recommended it after she read it at school. It’s about young people and their views on what’s important in life. It’s something we ask ourselves quite often, and the answer changes depending on what stage we’re at in life. I find the young person’s perspective interesting. Who knows, maybe it’ll help me to understand my two teenagers better.
What was your favorite subject at school?
History. Knowing about the past helps us to understand the present. It teaches us to set aside the short-termism that’s all too common these days and take a long-term view. That’s more important now than ever. The digital revolution, shifts within society, climate change, and geopolitical tensions are an explosive mixture. History doesn’t give us any answers as to what we should do today, but it can help those with influence to be mindful of how important their actions are and be far-sighted in their decision-making.