Caroline Van Marcke was appointed Izola Bank chairperson earlier this year, succeeding her mother Magdalena De Roeck. Since 2014 she has been the CEO and executive director of the Van Marcke Group. Here, she discusses Izola Bank’s growth, values and ambitions.
The Van Marcke Group is a family-owned operation. What qualities does this element translate into?
The Van Marcke Group, the parent of Izola Bank plc, was founded by my grandfather almost 100 years ago. His legacy continues today down the generations and I feel my role is to keep that sense of family connection and togetherness.
We also have a strong history with Malta. In 1976, my father won a concession in Jordan but then when civil unrest struck that country, he realised it was time to explore an alternative. He saw that Malta’s pace and culture matched that of the group and that it was a good fit. So, he set up operations in Malta in the late 1970s, focusing on the manufacture of office furniture.
In the early 1990s, the group was looking to establish a financial treasury centre. At the time Malta was moving from manufacturing to financial services – and so our needs also matched the country’s. Izola Bank was granted a banking licence in 1994 and initially acted as a banker to the group.
Then, after Malta joined the EU in 2004, we decided to expand our banking services beyond the group. At the time, I was responsible for the group’s IT operations and helped source the bank’s first internet banking software. Over the years, Izola Bank has grown its online activities through niche product lines to serve an increasing business and personal banking customer base across Malta, Belgium, France and Luxembourg.
Being a family-owned bank – and group – also gives us stability and a long-term vision. To operate in the banking sector, you need to have a high level of transparency and responsibility and be able to command trust. And for Izola Bank, that comes from strong family values, a culture of continuity, togetherness and passion for customer care, as well as the safety net of regulation.
The group has a diversified portfolio, ranging from energy-efficient solutions to real estate and banking – did this diversification give you an edge during the pandemic?
In recent times we have experienced other issues besides the pandemic; namely supply problems caused by the invasion of Ukraine, Malta’s greylisting and finding the right talent to continue to grow our operations. The group specialises in the wholesaling, retailing and distribution of energy-efficient heating, sanitaryware and plumbing supplies for both the B2B and B2C markets and is also active in manufacturing, real estate and of course banking. It is a very diversified portfolio – yet one which has a strong link to our roots.
I believe that our advantage has been remaining true to our mission as a family which is to enrich people’s quality of life, add value to a changing world and help businesses achieve sustainability through tailor-made solutions.
What growth has Izola Bank achieved in these past 28 years?
Izola Bank’s growth has been both steady and healthy. Years ago, when we opened our operations to new customers and began to develop our product lines, we invested heavily in our digital solutions. But we believe that it hasn’t just been the technology that helped our success. It’s that we see the value in developing and maintaining real relationships with our customers.
That human touch gives us an edge because we know it’s what our customers want; the ease of digital financial solutions coupled with a strong relationship with their banking partner. We’re small enough to remain agile. That’s why we often partner with fintechs to find and develop solutions that are not just relevant to today’s market but answer specific needs.
You are one of the few – if not the only – female chairperson of a financial institution in Malta. What does this say about the role of women in financial institutions?
We’ve always had a strong female presence within the group. Personally, I’m all for diversity and I believe that a mix of genders enriches a company’s perspective at all levels – but ultimately it is the competence of a person that matters most.
Izola Bank will soon move to new offices near Castille, Valletta. What will this move give you in terms of customer service, presence and branding?
We remain committed to being located in the capital. Our move to Castille Square from our present offices in East Street mirrors the growth of the bank and its ambition to have a stronger presence in the local banking sector.
We also aim to be as environmentally friendly as possible in our new offices. Our group is heavily committed to the environment – as attested by our new €75 million distribution centre in Belgium which is completely carbon-neutral, with 518 geothermal drillings and 14,000 solar panels on its roof.
What is your mid- to long-term vision for Izola Bank and for the Van Marcke Group?
To continue to offer digital solutions with a highly personal touch, through products and services that don’t just answer customer demands but really make it easier for them.
Unburdening a business’s operations to give it the room to grow. We are incredibly passionate about what we do. A strategy based on technological innovation and collaboration, always delivered with a human touch.