Amcham: Simone, can you tell our readers how long you have been in Luxembourg and how you came about working here?
Simône Van Schouwenburg: Like many people who have started to work in Luxembourg, we all end up staying. I like to say, “it is like sticking your finger in the honey pot, and you end up stuck.”
Incredible to say, but yes, I started to work in the Grand Duchy 22 years ago, as my husband at the time had been offered a position in Luxembourg. I still remember very clearly, given that we had arrived in the region during January after having lived in the South of France for quite a while. This came as a shock given the snow and the cold and miserable climate; it felt like we had moved to a place behind the iron curtain. At the time, we had decided to settle on the French side of the border, considering that my son, who had been in the French schooling system, had already moved five times at the age of ten. Looking back, I must admit that I feel a little regret that we did not move to Luxembourg at that time. But even then, the housing market was already quite expensive, a fact that, as we all know, has not changed today!
At Spuerkeess, you oversee business development and expat services; what does this entail?
When I arrived at Spuerkeess three years ago, I had been asked to set up the Expat Desk. Today the term Expat is not appropriate anymore, and I prefer to refer to it as the on-boarding of new arrivals to Luxembourg.
Besides classical banking services, we also offer preferential conditions on various banking services. Furthermore, we enable opening a bank account before the client’s arrival. This way, everything is ready upon their arrival. Moreover, we have created a platform with many services one needs when arriving in a new environment. We have created multiple partnerships such as insurance, telecommunication, home search, relocation services, private car lease, and many other services.
Our aim is to allow our clients to concentrate on their new job and familiarize themselves with their new surroundings while providing them with the peace of mind that everything is being arranged ahead of time.
When setting up a company in Luxembourg, is it relatively easy to open a bank account with Spuerkeess?
If you aim to start your own company, as the State Bank, we are happy to help you realize your project. Like any other bank, you will need to pass the compliance, AML/KYC, and other reglementary procedures. As bankers, we are here to provide entrepreneurs with multiple pieces of advice. We have a dedicated team of SME professionals.
With the rising prices to rent accommodation in Luxembourg and the costly house prices, is Luxembourg still an attractive place to start a company?
Yes, definitely; even though housing prices have been rising, Luxembourg is still a hub for international business, constantly looking for new talents. Although banking and finance have been the dominant economic drivers, Luxembourg has developed a thriving IT and Clean Tech sector. Luxembourg constantly reinvents itself, so we should not see this attractiveness diminishing anytime soon.
Can you describe a typical working day for you?
My primary day-to-day activity involves on-boarding new arrivals via our various Expat partners or our website. As the “chef d’orchestre,” I am responsible for informing and explaining to our future clients about our various products and services – and perhaps guiding them into a different banking system than they know in their country of origin.
Ensuring that the on-boarding process goes smoothly, resolving potential problems, and acting as the « transmission belt” between our partners, clients, branches, and the Bank’s back office.
Also, an essential part of my activity is to create events around the Expats, such as the recent 10×6 event organized in cooperation with the PaperJam-Delano Business Club. This allows me to generate additional visibility and shine a light on our value-added services.
At Amcham, where you are the Chair on the Tools4Lux committee, what are your goals for 2022/23?
We are delighted to say that, after the quiet Covid period, we have restarted our traditional welcome courses. Currently, these are only aimed at the large influx of Ukrainian refugees, but after summer, we plan to welcome all nationalities as new arrivals to Luxembourg. I am constantly looking to facilitate the ‘new recruit’ and starting to promote our courses directly with the HR departments from our various AmCham company members.
We are also creating synergies between our multiple committees by organising events for our target public on topics such as “your tax declaration,” “pension planning,” “complementary insurances,” etc.
Regarding the situation in Ukraine and the number of displaced Ukrainians currently in Luxembourg, can you clarify what is involved for any person with a temporary protection status in opening a bank account? What about those who have started a business?
Given the extraordinary circumstances we have been confronted with since the beginning of the Ukrainian crisis, banks have demonstrated some flexibility in opening bank accounts. The flexibility is not in the requirements, which are the traditional AML/KYC processes but in prioritizing these individuals in the onboarding process. Moreover, given their temporary protection status, several additional requirements must be filled out in the onboarding process. A similar approach is required if the person would like to open a business account. Special attention will be given due to their unfortunate circumstances, but all in all, the requirements do remain the same.
One of the projects that the AmCham Tools4Lux Committee is busy with are the Newcomers Orientation Courses held for the displaced Ukrainians. How successful have the past three courses been, and do you foresee more demand for future courses? Will the committee also host courses at some point for newcomers in languages other than Russian?
The course has been very successful, and we even see recent “course alumni” contacting us to help with additional courses we are planning. Given that the inflow is not likely to subside, we can expect that the Russian/Ukrainian courses may still need to be undertaken.
Do you have any pastimes?
I enjoy outdoor sports as well as gardening. I enjoy playing golf, VTT, and taking long walks when time allows. Living in the countryside allows me to enjoy the outdoors as it inspires me, gives me inner peace of mind, and enables me to recharge my batteries.
Amcham would like to take this opportunity in thanking Simône for this interview