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Adopting a growth mindset

An interview with Michael Spiegel, Global Head of Transaction Banking at Standard Chartered.

July 3, 2024

7 mins

Photo of Michel Spiegel
From the birth of transaction banking in the 1990s to the rise of GenAI, Michael Spiegel shares his views on the evolution of cash and trade, and the importance of adopting a growth mindset.

Tell me about your background and career history.

I’m from Reutlingen, which is southwest of Stuttgart in Germany. I actually grew up speaking Swabian which is a German dialect spoken mainly in south-west Germany – in a way, my first foreign language was High German.

I started off with an apprenticeship at Deutsche Bank, and at the end of it they offered me the chance to enter a development programme, rather than going to university full-time. The programme involved studying in the evening for two or three years, and I extended that with a management course for another three years to gain the equivalent to a university degree, and the opportunity to work abroad.

As I was more interested in the opportunity to explore the world than full-time university/academics, I joined that development programme. And so in December 1993, my international career started by moving to Vietnam. I wanted to experience the world, and Asia sounded interesting. As French author Andre Gide said, “Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.” I returned to Germany in August 2017, so almost 24 years later.

How have you seen the world of transaction banking evolve in that time?

When I started in banking, the payments department took care of domestic payments, and the foreign department took care of documentary and non-documentary cross-border payments. There was no such thing as a transaction banking department – it was only in the mid-90s when banks started talking about transaction banking as a wider discipline.

It’s interesting to see how much has changed, and also how some key values are still the same. When I look at transaction banking, particularly trade and cash, I look at facilitating commerce. We power the real economy, and deliver excellent services to our clients to help them focus on their core business. And these values have been the same since I started in this industry.

Where we’ve seen the most evolution in cash and trade is in how technology enablement has helped the industry, and also how fintechs have helped banks realise that we need to innovate. I welcome working with fintechs, and with large tech companies – they partner with us to deliver better solutions – and there’s clearly been a disruption in the market. The evolution has been much more dramatic in the area of cash than in the trade space. Think about the instant payment schemes, tokenisation of deposits, alternative communication channels, central bank digital currencies (CBDCs). It’s the payments space that’s currently attracting the most attention, because that’s where most of the innovation and disruption is happening.

You previously had a long career at Deutsche Bank. What prompted your move to Standard Chartered in 2021?

Any institution is defined by its core value and purpose, and by its people. In my mind, Deutsche Bank is more anchored in the developed world, with a strong footprint in emerging markets. I played in the Champions League of a strong developed world bank for a long time, and then I got an opportunity to play in the Champions League of a bank that is anchored in the developing markets, with a strong connection to the developed world.

Standard Chartered has people in more than 50 markets, so we have a pretty unique footprint. We are strong in Europe and the Americas and particularly strong in Asia, the Middle East and Africa. This was very attractive because I fell in love with the dynamism of the developing world. Even when I lived in New York, I travelled into Latin America quite a bit. Likewise, when I lived in London, I spent quite a bit of time in the Middle East and Central and Eastern Europe.

We’re present in some of the world’s most dynamic markets, and I’m also in the ‘coolest’ business in the world, because we facilitate commerce and power the real economy. What’s also important for us, for our kids, and definitely for our kids’ kids, is the sustainability angle. Standard Chartered has been active in this space with leadership in several sustainable finance areas. This allows us to support the increase in demand that we have seen over the past couple of years for such solutions.

What have you learned about doing business in Asia Pacific?

There’s no such thing as Asia Pacific as such! Geographically there is, of course, but when it comes to doing business there are lots of nuances across the different markets, with different cultures and values. Asia Pacific houses not just some of the largest economies, but most of the world’s largest populations and most dynamic markets.

These countries have started interacting more with each other. For example, ASEAN has become the largest trading partner to China – that wasn’t the case just a few years ago. You also see a lot more collaboration now. So I think it’s one of the most promising regions – highly competitive, and highly diverse in itself, which makes it fascinating to work in this region. It’s incredible how fast innovation has happened in the areas of e-commerce and related payments solutions in China, India and across ASEAN.

How can banks and corporates adapt to the uncertainties of the current environment?

There’s a lot of uncertainty right now in many places, particularly given the record number of elections taking place this year. The world is changing, but that isn’t new – it’s just that the more recent generations haven’t lived through periods like the Asian Credit Crisis, the Western World Financial Crisis, and the Cold War. Banking, and in particular Transaction Banking, is a long-term business, and I am of the fundamental opinion that you have to see through the cycle while being nimble.

To remain successful over time, it’s important to remain curious and have a growth mindset, which includes being willing to accept failure as an opportunity to learn and do better. It’s also vital to be able to adapt. There are concerns about generative AI and computing and what that means for people’s jobs. But skills and the labour market have already substantially changed a lot in the last 30 years: new opportunities arise, and new jobs are created. Many children today have no idea what sort of job they will have in the future. I would suggest to look at AI as the tool to further develop IA or Intelligence Augmentation. In simple terms, how we make use of technology to enhance human intelligence and cognitive abilities. In banking, there are and there will be massive opportunities.

What’s clear is that human skills and leadership capabilities will continue to become more important. We all have to stay agile, keep looking forward and be aware of what people’s needs are, because human interactions will only become more important. We are further developing as a skills based organisation to nurture and hone the skills and talent for tomorrow.

This article was first published on Treasury Today at