10 on The Weekend – Jonathan Cardona: “New Regulations, New Image”July 24, 2020
Ten On The Weekend is a weekly feature on IMI, the concept of which is simple: Each weekend, we ask the same ten questions to a different industry figure, letting readers get to know the interviewee on a more personal and informal level than they might in an ordinary business setting.
This weekend’s guest is Jonathan Cardona, CEO of the Malta Individual Investor Programme Agency.
How do you spend your weekends?
What weekends? I don’t have any particular long-lasting routine. So when I am in Malta, I am generally at the service of my kids and act as their personal concierge. The last couple of weekends it was working on the review and final touches of our new legal framework. This weekend I was with our Prime Minister in Brussels, next weekend, the plan is to be at the beach. But that’s still just a hazy plan.
What are your top three business goals this year?
Definitely the number one goal is to finalise the new legislation for reformed investment migration regulations. We have had several attempts during the past years, all of which needed to change due to significant transformations in the landscape in which we operate.
We have been working on these regulations for the past three months and it has been a very fine balancing act all along to keep Malta competitive and attractive and maintain a world-leading due diligence process that takes into account the concerns of institutions. On its own, this will count for the three goals altogether.
With the new regulations comes the creation of a new image, a new narrative, and the birth of a new story we will have to write together. A substantial amount of planning goes along with it, ensuring that the setup of a new agency takes place in a swift yet smooth manner. We also have to ensure that, whilst there is this transition, the distinction we are creating through these fresh regulations are well understood and communicated.
We will also be closing the IIP, and seeing it be completed after seven exciting and colourful years is a great satisfaction. It has been a learning experience throughout.
What’s your biggest business concern right now?
Unsurprisingly, the biggest concern is the effect of COVID-19 and the possibility of a second wave that can bring travel to a halt again. Our industry depends on travel and mobility and the lack of it would drive many into the unknown. On a positive note, this episode will push everyone into exploring new ideas, innovations, and solutions.
Which book is on your night-stand right now?
I have a couple of books in different places so, when I have the time, wherever I am, I have something to grab on to and “teleport” myself into another world. I follow Bill Gates’ recommended books, and the current two are A Gentleman in Moscow and An Army of None. I must say, I would recommend them too.
How and when did you first get into the investment migration industry?
I was about to transition from working for government and move again into the private sector. My contract was about to expire and I was seeking new opportunities. The Maltese government was about to launch this new citizenship by investment programme and was seeking to engage someone to head a small unit within an agency to administer and promote it. It was only by coincidence that I ended up where I am today. The rest is history, with all the ups and downs and myriad challenges.
What was your proudest moment as a service provider?
There are several moments that bring satisfaction. I would say one of them is when we as a team, together with Monica Farrugia, Charles Mizzi, and Yakof Agius, held the first due diligence conference for the citizenship and residence by investment industry. It was a milestone to bring together key people from the due diligence, banking, and anti-money laundering fields and share knowledge and experience with stakeholders involved in the investment migration sector.
Which investment migration market development has surprised you the most in the last year?
I wouldn’t say that any particular market surprised us. Maybe that is relative as we have had so many surprises in our sphere. Our sector is highly dependant on geopolitics. The more trouble there is in certain regions, the more it occurs to individuals they need to consider moving elsewhere.
So, rather than a market, what surprises me is the particular individuals who decide to enroll themselves in the programme. We have applicants who have incredible stories of success, who built empires through hard work and perseverance and who decided to make Malta, of all places, their home.
If you could go ten years back in time, what business decision would you change?
Communication. There is never enough of it. The industry has many dispersed voices, some of which do more harm than good. Had I to restart this experience from scratch, I would have created a strong communication function within our entity to better explain what we are all about, ensure a higher degree of transparency, and let our audiences know what are the real benefits of investment migration. I myself was a skeptic, but I’ve learned that, with the right mitigation infrastructure in place, there is so much good that can come out of this.
What investment migration industry personality do you most admire?
There is a handful who have influenced me and mentored me in the right direction. Hakan Cortelek, Mark Stannard, and Peter Vincent, to name a few, were very important players during my initial months in the industry. They guided me into understanding better what is right and wrong and how to avoid the many pitfalls. There is also a handful of others who come from the security, intelligence, and due diligence fields who have been of tremendous influence in helping me understand and mitigate the risks of the industry.
If all goes according to plan, what will you be doing five years from now?
That is the one thing I try not to think about. First of all, nothing goes according to plan! Life is like a box of chocolates, full of surprises. Opportunities never cease and, five years from now, there will be interesting openings we don’t even know about today. I never thought of being in this industry before I actually landed the job. And it was the same story for the job before that. My mantra is to keep an open mind, keep on learning, and do what you enjoy, with people you care about. As long as the bills get paid, exploring new ideas and ventures is what I hope to be doing.
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