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> Salvino Mifsud Bonnici's Speech  
  FirstUnited Official Inauguration – Friday 21 April 2006 - The Westin Dragonara Hotel
 
 

Good afternoon Mr. Prime Minister, honourable members, ladies and gentlemen, colleagues, friends. Thank you for being here to celebrate with us this important milestone in our company’s development.
 
It was around this time last year that I mentioned to Peter during one of our Association of Insurance Brokers council meetings that our companies couldn’t realistically look ahead with vision unless we found the way to consolidate our resources and combine our efforts. It wasn’t long before Peter suggested that I join him on a seminar trip to Barcelona. Well… in between a few monotonous presentations some exquisite Catalan meals and of course some good wine in the Rambla quarter, we discovered how much our ideas converged. That was the beginning of a friendship that eventually led Peter, Kevin and myself, together with our other shareholders, the Mizzi Organisation, to where we are today.

When we first started exchanging ideas we realised that there was an innate cultural match between our two companies and the people running them. I do not think that we would have progressed so effortlessly had this not been immediately evident to both of us. But of course, this alone was not enough. We had to persuade ourselves that we could jointly deliver shareholder value by giving life to our shared vision for the future of our companies. Indeed, it is fair to say that we have been focusing much more on "vision" than purely cost savings.
 
We do not underestimate the magnitude of the process we have set in motion nor do we underestimate the tasks we have set for ourselves. We are ever confident, however, that we are well placed to meet the challenges ahead without losing sight of our longer-term strategy and repositioning for the future. Indeed we look forward with enthusiasm to the challenges ahead. While we aim to continue to invest in our business, particularly in IT and staff training, we are also conscious of the fact that the basic disciplines, such as cost containment and quality, especially where our clients are concerned, cannot be overlooked and we are committed to keeping our clients at the forefront of our focus. Even though we face stiff challenges, we will get there through foresight, discipline, strong management – and perhaps some mistakes… But get there we will!
 
I invite other firms, in the financial services sector, to re-examine their strategies if they are serious about throwing down the gauntlet and meeting the challenges and opportunities that the EU and indeed Malta have to offer. While economies of scale dictate that larger, leaner companies promise greater profit margins we look to these savings not as an end in themselves but as a means to enable us to move into new sectors of business, such as Product Branding and Insurance Management. That will bring with it, better utilisation and flexibility of our staff while generating new and better revenue streams for the company.
 
I sincerely augur that our commitment will be equaled by a business environment that inspires confidence and encourages enterprise. In this respect we seek stability and a strong sense of direction. Over the years our country has missed the bus too many a time. Why should we go on debating the introduction or otherwise, of a second pillar for pensions, for instance, only to learn that liberalization with a greater role for private enterprise will be placed on a remote backburner? We know that many operators have invested tens of thousands of liri in anticipation of the challenges and opportunities that pension reform was set to bring along with it. Will this investment be allowed to bear its fruit?
 
In particular small and medium sized indigenous businesses in our sector deserve to be nurtured and encouraged. We need to ensure due recognition of the role played by SMEs in the Maltese economy and at the same time the unique features of the Maltese financial services sector. What would be the point of EU membership if our own local companies were to be pushed out of the scene? What is the use of advocating “fair trade” if monopolies and manifestly dominant players were to be allowed to dictate the rules of the game?
 
Why is the insurance industry still left on tenterhooks as to whether the two dominant banking institutions in Malta will be permitted to enter the fray in General Business Insurance? Surely, fair trade dictates that such outright dominance should not be permitted to extend to other areas of financial services business. In this regard prohibiting the banks from entering the fray in short-term business is simply not enough. There is no question that the insurance industry generally is very nervous about this life-threatening prospect. The industry craves for unequivocal reassurance from our political leaders as to its long term future. Business cannot thrive in uncertainty.
 
I trust that the political leaders in this country realize that that it pays to nurture and encourage home-grown businesses. These are the businesses which, rain or shine, are here for the long haul.
 
In conclusion, let me say that some may think that a merger finishes when the integration programme stops. Well… our merger will be complete only when the benefits in terms of synergies and shareholder returns are delivered - and that may be quite a few years from now! The hard work is therefore just beginning !

Honoured guests, allow me to take this opportunity to say a few well deserved thank-yous. The first big thank you must go to FirstUnited’s biggest asset, our staff, without whose loyalty and support we would not have achieved this exciting milestone.  Next, to the Mizzi Organisation, particularly Brain Mizzi for his unswerving belief in our vision, as well as Austin Walker and Hugh Mercieca for their unstinting backing and understanding. I also wish to thank Deloitte & Touche and PricewaterhouseCoopers for their invaluable technical guidance, as well as our legal eagle, Roderick Zammit Pace, for his proficiency and patience. Last but certainly not least, our Regulator, Marisa Attard, for responding to our occasional difficulties so willingly and promptly, despite her ever-demanding schedule.

 
Thank you all.
 
We are truly honoured today with the presence of our Prime Minister, Dr. Lawrence Gonzi. Mr. Prime Minister may I invite you to say a few words...
   
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