Crypto Education Friendly Switzerland : Interview with Marcel Harmann from SEBA (All Interviews)

Marcel Harmann is the Head of the SEBAversity, a non-profit educational platform in the field of blockchain technology, digital assets, and cryptocurrencies through online and offline content, at SEBA Bank in Switzerland, an Entrepreneur and Ph.D. Researcher in Computer Science. He has ten years of experience in the business field. In this interview, we will explore how Switzerland has embraced and adopted the blockchain technology and cryptocurrency as another means of payment method and hence has gained the title as the Crypto Valley. The towns Zug and Lucerne were the first place to evolve blockchain and cryptocurrency education programs in universities, especially the Lucerne University of Applied Science and Art. Mr. Harmann is introducing the implementation of blockchain-related majors and studies at the Lucerne University of Applied Science and Arts, and how SEBAversity has become a partner that combines practice-oriented expert knowledge with academic research. The education of blockchain technology and cryptocurrency has become a focal point in many countries, and its scale is getting larger every day.

Marcel Harmann

Interview Date :13th May 2020


Marcel Harmann from SEBA (All Interviews)

The Lucerne University and SEBA Education Collab Project

I have a background in finance, and I worked with a major Swiss bank for some years before I decided to become an entrepreneur. I have been in nearly every position you can think of, from founder to an investor to board member, and through that experience, a passion for technology awoke within me.

I came into the blockchain field rather early, but back then, it was more like a side hobby. That was until the ICO boom came where startups started to settle their fundings with an ICO.

Marcel Harmann

That caught my attention, and I became interested in the technology itself, and so decided to focus now my whole career in that direction. I shifted towards cryptocurrency and blockchain technology and FinTech. Currently, I am pursuing a Ph.D. in computer science, blockchain, and FinTech.

At the same time, I am working at The Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts as a Course Manager, and at SEBA Bank as their Head of SEBAversity. At the university, we have further education for blockchain, and we are currently working on setting up another course called Direction of Cryptocurrencies. 

I am responsible for the course agendas, for example, what is being taught in those courses, updating the syllabus, and everything that comes with it together with Prof. Dr. Georges Grivas. I try to keep myself updated at what is going on in the world in the blockchain and crypto sphere.

Crypto Paradise – The Crypto Valley

When you are at train stations in the town Zug, you can buy train tickets as well as cryptocurrencies there. There are ATMs all around the town and across the crypto valley in Switzerland that are proper ATMs for cryptocurrency. 

The people who are working here in Switzerland do not only see the towns Zug and Lucerne as the crypto valley but also Zurich that is a 30 min drive from Zug. We still are a small country, so Lichtenstein also plays a significant role in pushing forward the blockchain and crypto technology and is only 1 hour of a drive away from Lucerne. We do not see each other as competitors, but rather we want to push this technology forward together.

Zug has gained recognition internationally due the government there having had a positive reaction to cryptocurrencies. The first bitcoin transaction for government service was conducted in Zug, and also voting on blockchain technology was implemented very early on. You can go to your government with a problem, and tell them what we as the people need from them, and the government will try to make it happen. It truly is a great service form a government to the people which is not seen in many places. I think there currently are around 700 blockchain companies employing 4 to 5 thousand people in the crypto valley in Switzerland. But the ecosystem is growing to the French parts Geneva and Lausanne.

Free Online Education for Everyone

As I work for SEBA Bank, my Ph.D. project is an applied study. This bank is one of the crypto two banks world-wide who received a banking license from the financial regulatory here in Switzerland. Normally, the banks are gatekeepers of knowledge, and they don’t share their knowledge of, for example, how to accumulate or multiply money. However, we see that differently. We want to expand our knowledge and share it.

We have now launched the SEBA University online platform that gives education material for free. We have a work-in course where regular people and people from the community can join. We give proper lectures to get the people to understand that we are moving into a new paradigm of digital finance. 

We also offer dedicated courses to corporations and banks, and also have partnerships where we can educate all workforces in big private banks. As the banks are noticing that the demand for digital assets is expanding, their workforce needs to be able to handle those products and understand the technicalities behind it. So, we have proper educational sessions that also give credits and points. That is a chance for them to get a grasp of how the future of finance looks like.

At the Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts, we do have a bachelor’s and master’s degree, and within those, you can shift your focus to blockchain technology. We have serious lectures on distributed ledgers and technology. Even though we might not have a whole bachelor’s degree dedicated only to the blockchain as the demand is not there fully yet, that might change soon. We already have had some discussions about it, but for now, it is in the IT or business IT courses.

Crypto Education Friendly Switzerland

In Switzerland, the government was always open-minded. In 2018, president Johann Schneider-Amman publicly stated that Switzerland should be a crypto nation. Governments are big bodies that take time for things to get done, but it moves here and that is a good thing.

When I joined, Prof. Dr. Georges Grivas was the one who initiated the first course within Switzerland. He has a great recognition of technologies that are becoming popular and relevant for the future. He decided to implement it rather early, and therefore was the first one. It was one of my major decision to join this university even though I had the opportunity to join many others. However,The Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts was the first to implement blockchain and Crypto courses and is the longest-running university with such programs.

The Lucerne University of Applied Sciences is also the founding member of the crypto valley association (CVA) for me, being part of that ecosystem was very important to me. Recently, we came to the conclusion to launch a new course that goes into the direction of Finance & Cryptocurrencies. We are in the final steps. We believe that blockchain technology can block and disrupt many industries from governments to voting, supply chains, medical areas, and financial instruments. 

We realize that now as we are here in Switzerland. We have a big banking industry, such as private banking, retail banks, global banks, etc. Blockchain technology is affecting finance a lot, and if not the most. That’s why we see steady growing demand in the banking industry getting educated in the blockchain sector.

Further education for people who are working and taking additional studies on the side of their careers is also available. There is a wide range of courses and these are 6-month programs. We call them Certificate of Advanced Studies. To join those courses you need to have a higher education like a bachelor, or a master’s degree plus working experience. The people in those courses usually are in management and middle management positions, and now they want to deep dive or shift their focus and career in another direction. It’s like a big ecosystem of education here in Switzerland. There we have created the most sought courses about blockchain and crypto technologies.

The Blockchain Course in Lucerne

In the bachelor’s degree within the IT department, we go deeply into the mechanics of how blockchain or consensus algorithms work, and everything else that comes with decentralization, distributed ledgers, and computation. This is not the only university teaching such material, other universities started implementing such courses as well a couple of years ago. They look at this subject more from a business perspective.

We have 4 modules. We start with blockchain technology at the beginning where we deep dive into the technology, so the participants understand the fundamentals. Then we go into blockchain platforms and practices, so we look at like Ethereum, hyper ledgers, Tezos and other such big platforms, and show how blockchain project should be best practiced. The third module is the blockchain business models. In the past, we had divided this section into industries, so it was more like we looked at business models in the medical industry, or government, finance, etc. However, since this course is very focused and the field has expanded, we have to change a lot constantly as the finance industry is very fast-paced, so we have to update it very quickly and teach what we believe is relevant and good for the ecosystem.

The last part of the module is legal & compliance. This to teach the participants about the regulatory systems in global hubs like Singapore, New York, Europe, and also Japan.

Crypto Influencers on the Internet

I like the books of Andreas Antonopoulos. He is very famous for internet money and mastering bitcoin. He is one of the people you should know about as it is almost essential for creating your knowledge base in this industry. Another book that I would recommend would be The Business Blockchain: Promise, Practice, and Application of the Next Internet Technology by William Mougayar. There are quite a few other books out there now that are interesting to read as well so one should always keep one’s eyes open.

I do listen to podcasts and Youtubers. I would advise everyone who would like to be on top of this dynamic industry, to listen to different types of podcasts and YouTubers. At the moment, I like listening to the YouTubers Ivan on Tech, and Carl The Moon. These are guys who do analyze the market and are interesting if you are interested in trading and investments. But there many more out there. Aside from Youtube, there are also different TED talks about blockchain and crypto that are worth watching. Furthermore, there is a podcast named “What Bitcoin Did” by Peter McCormack which I listen to now and then now and then while I am cooking or running errands around the house. Lastly, Twitter is a good place to find different people with a lot of information from different perspectives.

Don’t Want To Pay Millions of Dollars for a Pizza

I think that digital currencies would be a great payment method, but I am not sure if bitcoin would be this currency as I see it more as a store of value and less as a currency. I see the potential raise that bitcoin goes higher a lot so therefore you wouldn’t want to buy a Pizza for a million dollars. When it comes to major big payments, like if you would buy a house etc. then I would think it would be a good payment method, but not a good instrument to buy a pack of chewing gum. But I do see the blockchain technology in itself as a potential possibility to create a decentralized world where you give back the power to the people. Thus, no government would be able to just print money indefinitely creating a scenario where the normal you and I wouldn’t even benefit from it because we don’t dare to invest in anything as we know it to be an empty bubble. I would love to see the world going in a more decentralized direction for sure.

Cash is Still King

The most popular payment method is still cash. There are studies around it that have shown cash is still king. We still have the 1000 Swiss Franc note, whereas in Euro the biggest note is 500 Euro. But cash is most popular followed by payment systems using bank cards. It is probably a generation’s drive. Younger generations do hardly use any cash whereas the older generation only trusts cash.

2 Full-Fledged Digital Banking Licensees Awarded

The FINMA (Financial Authority) in Switzerland created regulation and released guidelines on how to treat different kinds of tokens very early on. The Finma was very advanced and open-minded which I think is very good from a state. This gives the ground for the industry, especially the banking industry, to officially start looking into the technology. As you know that there are guidelines and rules out there backed up by the governments, there is less fear. In Switzerland, 2 full-fledged digital banking licenses were awarded to 2 newly founded banks that focused solely on digital assets and cryptocurrency; Sygnum Bank AG and SEBA Bank AG. Those two banks are closely watched by every other bank. The big players that do not offer digital currency systems as of yet like UBS Group, Credit Suisse Group, EFG International, etc, are working on things and testing out new strategies behind closed doors. They understand now that they have to understand the technology. Other banks, like Julius Baer Bank with roughly 4000 employees, are a little bit more open to new ideas. Julius Baer Bank entered a partnership with SEBA and now offers digital assets like BTC and ETH to their clients through SEBA. So there are different kinds of effort that we see from different private banks and retail banks. I believe in the next 12 months to 2 years, we will see a shift where more and more banks are going forward with this technology.

Interviewer , Editor : Lina Kamada



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