Apr 9, 2020

Interview with Simon Anko: Teamwork Fosters Learning at Work and in Training

For our next interviewee within “Voices of partners” where we feature reflections of our partners on ways we cooperate and where we jointly add value, we were honored to talk to Mr. Simon Anko, Director of the Payment and Settlement Systems (PSS) Department at Banka Slovenije. Mr. Anko has been involved in a delivery of several learning initiatives delivered as part of the CEF Central Banking learning program which is supported by Banka Slovenije.

If you had to choose 3 words, which would, in your view, best describe co-operation between the Banka Slovenije and the CEF, and why?

“Together we can.” In order to provide a framework for improving the competence of employees of different public authorities, especially central banks, “a node”, a coordinator is needed. In this case, the CEF is playing its role perfectly! And who would be more suitable to share their knowledge with central banks than another central bank?

What is the most meaningful CEF activity that you personally have participated in and what was your experience of it?

I have participated in quite a few events organized by the CEF. It is difficult to point out one, but I would say group work at seminars/workshops. Participants can learn from one another and come out with unique ideas and proposals, building on sometimes very different (national) backgrounds.

Based on your experience, what are currently the main challenges for central banks in PSS in SEE?

Not necessarily all central banks are entrusted with the same tasks. However, in cases where the central bank is also the supervisory authority, it is definitely a big challenge to cope with the expanding regulation and to ensure its implementation at the supervised entities in a proportionate manner (not to kill innovations), yet maintaining a level playing-field. Others would be playing a catalyst role in the payments market, not only bringing together the supply and demand side but also playing an important role in the harmonization initiatives on the supply side. Innovations necessarily bring also fragmentation. But this time we want to avoid a new “SEPA project” and an ex-post harmonization.

Can some of these challenges be addressed through the CEF learning program, supported by the Banka Slovenije?

Definitely! Supervision of compliance with the harmonized EU legislation requires aligned approaches of different supervisors to avoid regulatory arbitrage. This is why I believe sharing experience among supervisors is of utmost importance. The same holds for the catalyst role, since we want to achieve harmonization at the EU level, in no case only domestically. Banka Slovenije has a long track record in its catalyst role. Chairing the Slovenian National Payments Council since 2013 has been an interesting journey, managing and succeeding to achieve its recognized place in the payments market, and having its members believe that they can coordinate their view with the other stakeholders represented there.

There are always novelties in the world of PSS, as the environment is always changing. How do employees in your department stay on top of them and what kind of initiatives are you involved in?

Indeed, the daily agenda in the world of PSS is never the same. There is no school teaching what we are doing. In my opinion, the most important thing is participation of the staff in the ESCB and EBA working bodies, where the policy is developed. The knowledge gained there does not, however, bring practical experience. That is why we learn so much from solving the daily challenges. And last but not least, we do not want to invent something that somebody else has already invented. That is why sharing experience also outside the above-mentioned fora is so important. 

How do employees of Banka Slovenije share their expertise and exchange knowledge among themselves? Are there any good examples of effective knowledge management practices applied in the Bank that you could share with us?

Also, in a small central bank like the Banka Slovenije, it is important to have staff members specialized in certain topics. This is the only way to cope with more and more complex challenges. However, it is impossible (and also not desirable) to build a Chinese wall between the different roles of the central bank (one is needed and required between operations and oversight of payment systems). Our positive experience, proven by the fact that our experts are highly appreciated also by the ECB, relies on matrix approach and team work. For every specific (and complex) challenge, we make sure to bring together the relevant experts. For this to work, also trust among the experts involved is important, and all this is supported by our efforts to maintain excellent working atmosphere. In the Payment and Settlement Systems Department, we also have a practice of weekly meetings of all key experts (about one half of the department staff), where knowledge is shared on the basis of horizontal communication, which gives experts a broader perspective of their own (often narrow) expertise.

It is not what you know but what you can DO with what you KNOW. Does this statement resonate also with the Bank’s efforts of supporting knowledge sharing culture in Banka Slovenije? 

Yes, completely. However, it is often emphasized that our focus is on excellency which we are naturally also expected to DELIVER. Productivity in such a specific area is almost impossible to measure (except for some routine tasks, which are usually completely automated). My experience is that it is all (or mostly all) about the team work, sharing  and building on each others’ experiences. 

You are organizing outreach events where you bring together different stakeholders to discuss actual challenges. In March, you had a round table event on open banking. How important is it for Banka Slovenije to bring the issues of such developments closer to the public?

I believe we are here for our clients. And our clients are not only banks having accounts with us but also all the supervised entities. Our clients are, basically, all the stakeholders in the payments market. Especially in our catalyst function, we first need to listen to them and this round table event served the same purpose. Of course, there are often some legal requirements behind, but we want the market to function in line with the coordinated expectations of different stakeholders, be them consumers, business entities or payment service providers. We have a systemic role; we have a neutral position in the market. This makes us special. But we are here for the general public, for the market participants, to make their “payment lives” easier and more convenient.

Where do you see the biggest advantage and benefit of our joint efforts in supporting learning and professional development of central bank officials across the SEE region?

I believe that the EU/SEPA payments market is and will remain one of the most developed payment markets globally, so others can learn from us. And it is always a pleasure to share knowledge and experience, including a few stupid mistakes that we wish we had not made. On the other hand, we may not always be familiar with all the challenges of central bank officials across the SEE region. That is why it is so important to “come together”, so that we can talk. I see the CEF as an ideal platform to make it possible.

Why do you think it is important for your department and Banka Slovenije to be part of knowledge sharing in an international environment? What are the benefits?

As said before, it is always a pleasure to share knowledge and experience, which we surely have. In my opinion, it is one of our missions. On the other hand, whenever giving lectures, I have always learned something new. This is a winning combination.

How do you see your partnership with the CEF will continue in the future?

On behalf of the Payment and Settlement Systems Department of the Banka Slovenije, I can say that we will always be there to support the activities of the CEF. On the other hand, what I have not mentioned before, many of my colleagues have attended CEF seminars and workshops as participants. I intend to make it possible for all our newcomers to attend CEF events, since they offer very good value in relation to the time invested.