For the past four years, Charles Mizzi has helmed Residency Malta Agency during a crucial time when its residency-by-investment programmes have seen a dramatic increase in demand. From optimising the agency’s ability to rise to the challenge to devising new projects and opportunities to keep it competitive, the road ahead promises to be exciting.
With an extensive background in marketing and communications, Charles Mizzi’s business ethos is a clear product of his wealth of experience. “You need to understand what motivates consumers to opt for one service over another,” he says. “Now more than ever, it’s vital to invest in building a good brand and then maintaining that brand’s integrity. Communication is key: you need to communicate well both inside the organisation and outside it.”
Charles took the reins at Residency Malta Agency, the Government entity responsible for managing and promoting Malta’s residency-by-investment programmes, in 2019. He had previously worked at Bank of Valletta for 12 years, before joining Banif Bank (now BNF) when it came to Malta. At the time, the sector was dominated by two big players, and Charles recalls his experience with establishing the brand as one of his career milestones, along with others such as leading the marketing team of the Maltese Presidency of the Council of the EU.
Also among his professional highlights is a more lighthearted memory: the launch of the very first President’s Solidarity Fun Run, coordinated by Banif Bank in collaboration with the Office of the President. “When we were making projections on participation, we thought we could mobilise around 2,000 people,” Charles remembers. “But, in the first year, we managed to get 5,000 people to participate. The event continued to grow, and it is still run every year.”
In his current position at Residency Malta Agency, Charles’ responsibilities span the management of the agency and its business development, but uniting people behind a common cause remains a central focus. “It’s about leading people towards reaching our objectives, which means empowering and motivating the team,” he explains. “At the end of the day, our employees drive the organisation. They are the ones who achieve our goals, and we’re blessed to have a great team of individuals. Understanding their different characters and how they work best can sometimes be challenging, but bringing them all together to achieve the success we’ve had has been one of the most satisfying parts of the role so far.”
Not one to lock himself away in an office, Charles describes his leadership style as very hands-on. “I believe you should always lead by example. You should be the first one to get your hands dirty,” he says. “In my past experiences, the people I admired most were always those who joined us on the battlefield – the ones on the front line ready to face challenges. So, I try to mirror their example.”
Since joining Residency Malta Agency, Charles has overseen the revision of the Malta Permanent Residence Programme (MPRP) into its current form, as well as the launch of two other initiatives: the Nomad Residence Permit and, most recently, the Startup Residence Programme. Under his watch, the agency has also moved to new premises, embarked on a digitalisation endeavour, and put in place plans for further growth in more diverse markets and with a wider product portfolio.
Key to the agency’s success has been the growth of the MPRP, which offers residency by investment to thirdcountry nationals. “We sometimes take certain things for granted,” Charles says of the programme’s appeal. “There are people in some countries who are facing several challenges and seeking alternative options for their families. They want their children to have a better education, enhanced healthcare options, more safety and more security. That’s why they decide to leave their country or give themselves a second option.”
The programme is a family-oriented one, allowing applicants to include their parents and grandparents or even their children’s future husbands and wives in their application. This makes it possible to move country as a whole family unit. The programme has also proven popular among people looking to expand their business opportunities, using Malta’s location in the Mediterranean as a base from which to reach other European countries and North Africa.
Charles says the programme has had a positive impact on local stakeholders too, from increased demand for property to the new residents’ needs for professional services, such as lawyers and notaries. “We’ve also noticed a consistent increase in licensed agents looking to work in the industry,” he adds. “The programme is generating more business locally and helping to strengthen our local economy.”
Demand for the MPRP has been steadily increasing, but the pandemic appears to have boosted its appeal even further. “I think COVID-19 opened a lot of people’s eyes and made them consider a second residency option,” Charles says. “With the way countries handled the pandemic, I think it actually raised their citizens’ interest in freedom of movement and living a better life, rather than being stifled in their own homes. The Nomad Residence Permit, which targets remote workers, has seen a similar spike in interest. People are moving around more, taking advantage of being able to work from anywhere. They have been able to open doors to new market opportunities.”
Against this encouraging backdrop, the agency recently launched the Startup Residence Programme, which aims to entice third-country nationals to set up their businesses in Malta. The programme is administered jointly with Malta Enterprise. “We are conducting due diligence, from both the business and residency permit perspectives, to ensure we attract only the best talent and projects out there,” Charles explains. “The programme is still in its infancy, but there already appears to be a lot of interest. We’ve had very positive feedback from the market, and we’re hoping to attract more interesting projects and talent to Malta through this initiative.”
However, this massive increase in demand has not been without its challenges. The agency has had to invest in its systems and personnel in order to remain efficient while processing the high volume of applications coming through. Charles believes the pandemic was actually a positive element in this regard as it gave the agency the space and time to analyse and improve its work patterns – from digitalisation efforts to remote working, which have been maintained even as the pandemic has eased. “COVID-19 helped to turn the agency around,” he says. “I think we are now a much better organisation, both in terms of our product offering and the efficiency of our operations.”
With the agency now equipped to handle the demand and plan further investment to remain one step ahead, Charles is focusing on the exciting challenges on the horizon. The agency is seeing interest in its programmes from new jurisdictions like South Africa, Turkey, the USA, and even, post-Brexit, the UK. Charles is consequently seeking new projects and programmes that will allow the agency to remain among the most active and efficient ones in the sector. An example is a potential project aimed at attracting new investment by targeting established businesses that could be enticed to relocate to Malta.
“The market is constantly evolving, so we need to keep monitoring it and remain on the alert for any opportunities that arise,” Charles says. “One of our missions is to remain competitive in the sector, which we intend on doing by offering added value and a level of service based on integrity. I think this is crucial: we must be transparent and accountable, so integrity needs to remain at the core of our work as we offer increasingly sustainable solutions to Malta’s new residents.”
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