As the youngest member on STM Malta’s board, the only female and the company’s Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer since 2014, Deborah Schembri is no stranger to thriving in fast-paced, high-pressure situations.
She has more than two decades of experience under her belt in the financial services, gaming, and hospitality industries. A certified public accountant, she held senior roles within companies in several industries.
Deborah stresses that “a CEO should determine and communicate the organisation’s strategic direction. Until that is settled, making decisions about anything else in the business is difficult. And without this, the company is merely a collection of people pursuing individual goals, guided by their own values.”
She deems it of paramount importance for a CEO to “be able to describe the company’s strategic vision in a clear, engaging, and exciting way for all stakeholders. All the players in the organisation should understand how the direction affects their job and daily responsibilities.”
“Everything a CEO does should support this vision. Too many CEOs have allowed their company’s strategic vision to be nothing more than slogans on a piece of paper, rather than guidance informing all key decisions.”
Deborah says her internal clock has her up early and ready to take on the day without the need for an alarm. She then plans her day over breakfast.
A typical day starts with a meeting with members of her management team to focus on their priorities for the day. “I then need time for myself to answer emails, review documents, take phone calls, draft ideas and finalise documents,” she continues. “Some days consist largely of networking and connecting with other peer CEOs and industry leaders. Others involve discussions with our Group executive team.”
Taking a hands-on approach, Deborah makes her rounds to various departments in the office throughout the day because it provides her with the opportunity to catch up with the team and introduce herself to new members. “It’s important for me as a coach and as a CEO to remain visible to them,” she stresses.
STM Malta primarily provides pension administration services to international clients and forms part of STM Group plc, an independent firm listed on the London Stock Exchange with offices in Gibraltar, Spain, Malta, Jersey, and the UK. STM Malta is registered as a Retirement Scheme Administrator with the Malta Financial Services Authority and is also authorised to act as trustee or co-trustee to provide fiduciary services in terms of the Trusts and Trustees Act.
Deborah points out that, over the past few years, STM Malta registered exceptional growth and performance, adding this was achieved in close adherence to the company’s mission statement and values.
“Our mission statement is to provide a reliable and outstanding service to meet our customers’ present and future needs,” she notes. The company, she adds, follows a set of values to guide its daily decisions: “integrity – ethical and clear communication with staff, customers, partners and community; dignity and respect – in all interactions; development – our staff members are our most important asset; and effectiveness – we adapt to the everchanging and varied environment so that appropriate relevance is consistently attained.”
Deborah believes that, since taking on the role of CEO, she has been successful in “guiding the company, enabling it to set and achieve targets while delivering an impeccable service to clients and registering remarkable company performance”.
STM Malta was one of the first companies in Malta to administer international pensions, with most clients being UK expats. Notwithstanding the competition, Deborah says the company is now the largest on the island, providing pension administration services, with clients numbering about 9,000.
She explains that pension funds are transferred, for instance, from the UK to Malta where they are then administered and invested according to the client’s wishes and in line with local pensions regulations.
STM Malta has been working to bring a workplace pension scheme to the market. Deborah points out that Malta pension schemes are registered with the MFSA and subject to the statutory external audits, which serves as an additional protection to members.
She concedes that increased regulation “obviously entails more work”, and adds that, within the financial services sector in general, both globally and locally, compliance regulations are taking up more efforts than strategy.
Workplace pension schemes, while not being the norm locally, have started to gain attention. Such schemes, which allow both the employer and the employee to contribute, require a sophisticated system to administer efficiently and correctly, Deborah explains.
The 2020 Budget provided further moderate fiscal incentives for employers and employees to start contributing towards a workplace pension scheme, also known as a third pillar pension scheme.
Deborah believes not many employers are aware of the details, pointing out there are also tax incentives for employees.
This is a serialisation of the publication MaltaCEOs 2020. All interviews took place prior to the COVID-19 outbreak.