Oliver, whose clients include a number of central banks and finance policymakers that rely on him for advice to address large-scale transformations and high-impact crises, began his career in finance at a leading global investment bank. However, after this traditional start, his career path took an unconventional turn. “I went back to academia to do a PhD in Economics focusing on financial crime policy. When the “Great Financial Crisis” hit in 2007, I joined the Swiss administration where I worked on bank rescue operations and revamping international financial policy for the post-crisis world,” Oliver says.
He went on to Washington D.C. to join a multilateral financial institution, where he led rescue efforts for European countries severely impacted by the sovereign debt crisis. “Many aspects of my work related to once-in-a-lifetime situations, spanning several countries and cultures and involving complex negotiations with many stakeholders, including national leaders engaged in high-stakes power politics.”
Although there are still many things I continue to learn and explore, my first-hand experience in many large-scale crisis situations learned me the importance of seeing the big strategic picture, while still being able to dive deep down into technical issues when it’s required.
This baptism by fire has proven beneficial to clients, both from the private and public sector. “Clients seek us out on policy issues with a financial angle where stakes are high, time is limited, and the margin for error non-existent,” he says. “They benefit from the fact that I’ve faced similar situations before as a decision-maker and that I can provide judgment and reduce risks.”
Not long ago he found himself in the middle of one such high-stakes situation, involving whether bank clients of a country would be able to withdraw money from their accounts the next day. It was a decision that was reached under great pressure and uncertainty in the early morning hours. “I remember people looking to me for a decision – because we all understood what the implications would be of getting it wrong,” Oliver says. “In the end, we got it right, but the feeling of being directly responsible for a decision that has far-reaching complications is something that shapes you. You can’t hide.”
Looking ahead, he believes that in an increasingly complex world, political and public policy considerations will become a more important driver for the private sector. “The banking industry may have been a forerunner with detailed regulations on how capital is deployed, how risks are measured, and how client relationships are conducted. In the future, we might even see things like ‘managed mobility,’ where politics intervene in encouraging or discouraging when and how people move about,” Oliver says. And public financing plays an ever-greater role in private undertakings. How should governments obtain funding and target their activities? What if governments overburden themselves and their economies? How should private companies navigate such an environment?
He points out that even with well-intentioned aims such as environmental protection and sustainability, it is extremely difficult to achieve a societal consensus on how this should be done, much less how to build investible business cases. “It is important for policymakers to really understand the objectives and implications of such policies, and for the private sector to provide expertise and to adapt,” Oliver says.