Top Swiss law firm Bär & Karrer: A perfect blend of new technology and regulatory expertise

A hub of high-value financial transactions and innovation in banking, Switzerland requires its lawyers to be as au fait with the technology of tomorrow as with regulation old and new. Banking partner Frédéric Bétrisey and tax partner Christoph Suter demonstrate to us how their firm, Bär & Karrer, is very well positioned in this regard.

Posted Thursday, January 28th 2021
Top Swiss law firm Bär & Karrer: A perfect blend of new technology and regulatory expertise

Frédéric Bétrisey & Christoph Suter

"The Swiss market is known for its comparatively high spend on research and development"

LEADERS LEAGUE: How has the Swiss regulatory landscape evolved in light of new technology? Could you give some examples?

Frédéric Bétrisey: It is one of the clear objectives of the Swiss legislator and go-vernment to make sure that the Swiss legal environment is constantly adjusted to favor growth in fintech and blockchain technology. Last autumn, the Swiss parliament adopted the Federal Act on Distributed Electronic Registers (the “DLT Act”), which brings changes to different federal laws in the areas of financial regulation, securities registers and asset protection. Most notably, the DLT Act creates the legal basis for so-called “uncertificated register value rights” as an instrument for the digitisation or tokenisation of financial assets, as well as for the transfer of such assets. In other words, securities such as shares or bonds may be created, maintained and transferred on a blockchain. This is one of the first mass scale applications of blockchain technology in the financial world, and Swiss companies are already preparing securities issues on the basis of this legislation, which will come into force, for the most part, in February 2021.

Christoph Suter: The DLT Act also brings a new type of regulatory license: the “DLT Trading Facility”. So far, crypto traders have had to apply for traditional types of licenses which are not entirely suited to the multilateral trading of crypto assets. The new license type contains specific rules around client protection, which is an important issue for crypto traders. Another noteworthy innovation is the possibility of segregating crypto-based assets in bankruptcy law where such assets are held in collective storage. This law change provides additional protection to creditors and thereby increases the usability of crypto assets in real-life transactions.

 

How has Bär & Karrer implemented technological changes to assist with handling large transactions or large-scale litigation?

F. B. We use technology wherever it brings efficiency gains or quality improvements for our clients. For example, we use document automation technology for the preparation of standard legal documents. We also employ the latest data processing tools for analysing large volumes of often unstructured data, such as in due diligence processes or in internal investigations.

C. S. The market for lawtech is ever growing, and we dedicate significant resources to screening new technologies and testing their usefulness in the context of our clients’ needs. This being said, we do not use technology just for the sake of it: any technological innovation we introduce needs to bring a tangible improvement to our processes or our clients in terms of cost savings, delivery time or quality improvement.

‘‘We do not use technology for the sake of it – any innovation needs to bring a tangible improvement to our processes or clients’’

How is the Swiss market uniquely placed to support the development of new digital services and technologies?

C. S. The Swiss market – and here I include both the private and the public sector – is known for its comparatively high research and development spend, including in new technologies and digitization. The deployment and use of digital services have become a strategic topic in nearly allsectors. This year’s health crisis has only accelerated this trend.

F. B. The financial services sector has been a driving force behind this development. Traditional banks, asset managers and insurance companies have come under pressure from fintech companies, and have had to adopt their tools, strategies and ways of thinking in order to maintain their competitive advantage. In a highly regulated sector like financial services, the legal environment must evolve in line with the technological innovation, otherwise an adoption of new technologies may be hindered. The Swiss legislator has embraced this challenge, as shown by the recent adoption of the DLT Act. A well balanced legislative environment is an important foundation for further technological innovation in general, and is not limited to the financial services sector.

 

What do you foresee as the next significant growth industry in Switzerland? Are there any particular practice areas you see as thriving, where you intend to bolster your capabilities in coming years?

C. S. This is the multibillion-dollar question. I expect that companies in many sectors will continue to make better use of their client data or market experience in order to grow into nearby sectors, there by creating ecosystems within which they control more than just one service. As an example, car companies may use customer- and road-specific data to offer tailored insurance solutions to their clients. These insurance solutions are likely to have superior features in terms of pricing or risk coverage than standard offerings from traditional insurance companies. Traditional insurers therefore work hard to scale up their offerings to meet these new challenges, by also integrating such data into their product offering. As a result, the lines between sectors are becoming more blurred than they used to be in the past.

F. B. The large US technology companies are the frontrunners of this development. This is exactly what regulators do not like about them. Regulators believe that these companies exploit their vast client data to obtain an unfair competitive advantage in many fields. I expect that there will be more regulation in this area over the coming years, to prevent the big tech companies from creating monopolies to the detriment of consumers. However, on a smaller scale and where there is no risk of monopoly, the consumers are likely to benefit from this development. We at Bär & Karrer help our clients transition into new sectors and build up their position within the ecosystem in which they have chosen to be active.

‘‘The lines between sectors are becoming more blurred than they used to be’’

How does Bär & Karrer position itself to compete with the largest Swiss firms on the one hand, and competitive boutiques on the other?

F. B. At Bär & Karrer, we have an entrepreneurial spirit, which offers a challenging but rewarding environment for our partners and employees. With a high degree of dedication and self-motivation, our people work hard to be trustworthy and reliable partners to our clients, come rain or shine. This helps us maintain our position among the top law firms in the Swiss market.

C. S. When it comes to competitive boutiques, we try to partner with them rather than compete head-to-head against them. Although we are a full-fledged firm, there will always be areas of activity we do not cover and where our clients need the support of boutique firms. However, our relative size and market position in Switzerland enable us to introduce innovations and new technologies well before many such smaller firms.

 

What does Bär & Karrer do to support diversity and inclusion (D&I)?

C. S. Bär & Karrer’s hiring process is focusing on attracting and retaining the best talents regardless of gender, race, origin, language, sexual orientation or religious belief. By offering flexible working models, we support our associates in successfully combining their partner track and parenthood. Our proportion of female partners has increased in recent years and is currently around 20%, a number which will further increase over time.

F. B. In 2020, a female partner joined our management board, and we are committed to further increasing the diversity of our workforce, including in our top management. This year has shown that we can efficiently serve our clients even when most of our staff works from home; flexibility is not just a word! Bär & Karrer also has a presence in the French- and Italian-speaking parts of Switzerland, and employs staff speaking over 35 languages. We strive for diversity in terms of different experience and educational backgrounds, as this will create a fulfilling work environment beyond the legal profession, in which the views and ideas of employees at all levels are voiced and heard. This is a win-win situation, and we are convinced it will bring better results for our clients and people.