“The political free will of European citizens depends on just one thing: digital sovereignty” – Frans Imbert-Vier
Discover the interview with Frans Imbert-Vier, CEO and co-founder of UBCOM, in which he presents the Luxembourg entity and its activities to help protect local companies and their sensitive and strategic data.
💬 Can you give us a brief overview of UBCOM’s activities?
Frans Imbert-Vier (FIV): UBCOM is a strategic cybersecurity consultancy. Historically, we are based in Switzerland for political reasons, as it is one of the few countries in the world where the possession of a secret is an inalienable right of its holder.
We help organizations identify strategic and tactical data and protect it accordingly. As we only operate in Europe and for European countries, we attach great importance to the sovereignty of our customers’ data, which sometimes gives us a slightly militant tone. Our customers range from lawyers defending victims of terrorism, to NGOs tracking down the perpetrators of crimes against humanity, to healthcare professionals protecting up to 90 million patient records in Europe to date.
- We assess human resilience for companies wishing to entrust sensitive missions to employees who have yet to prove themselves.
- We are building sovereign bastions of cybersecurity, protecting exchanges with hitherto unrivalled levels of resistance.
- Finally, we support our customers in implementing their security master plan. We help them orchestrate their service providers and technologies.
In cybersecurity, there’s one essential rule: never put all your eggs in one basket. This creates resistance, and therefore time. And this time increases our chances of discovering the attempted compromise and stopping it in time. Nothing is unattackable; on the other hand, nothing is undetectable. But that’s on condition that the social engineering is prepared, the technical debt is absent and the solutions are truly the best. And given the market, there’s no shortage of opportunists who will come up with a very attractive verbatim, but which in the end is nothing but hot air. You only have to look at the number of large and medium-sized companies under attack to realize that, in the final analysis, standard offerings may not be the best choice.
💬 Who were the founders? In what year was it founded and who are the shareholders?
FIV: UBCOM is a public limited company founded in 2014. I’m Frans Imbert-Vier and I’m the co-founder of UBCOM. Formerly CIO of Omnicom TBWA Group, I was in charge of secrecy for major international brands. I’ve been producing cyber for over 25 years. We have a psychiatrist, a philosopher, an autodidact, as well as highly qualified mathematicians and engineers. All the partners are natural persons, Swiss or French, and Luxembourgish for the Luxembourg SARL entity. UBCOM has not raised any funds or incurred any debt, which means we can keep a tight rein on our secrets and guarantee our independence from publishers and manufacturers. We choose the best and systematically challenge ourselves every year. This independence comes at a price, which slows our growth. On the other hand, we are the only company on the market able to guarantee the protection of our customers’ information up to €5 million for standard contracts. No other cybersecurity operator can offer this.
💬 How is business here in Luxembourg?
FIV: Business in Luxembourg remains very weak. We work with 2 major audit firms, an insurer and consulting firms.
Our aim is to position UBCOM as a key player in the protection of secrecy and communications, bringing our expertise to local ESNs and end customers alike. We do cybersecurity, and nothing else. This expertise is available to everyone, experts and customers alike. Our aim is to become a recognized player in the Grand Duchy for the protection of information, whether secret or regulated, such as health or financial data.
💬 Is your daily routine what you expected?
FIV: Honestly, no. Luxembourg is a nation with its own codes and business language. As with the Swiss market, setting up shop there has to be earned and requires great resilience to generate the trust needed to build relationships. We don’t sell a product off the shelf. We innovate for each customer and produce a tailor-made, even surgical, response. So it’s important to take the time to get to know each other, to build the trust necessary for our missions. And we don’t work for just anyone. Without pretension, it sometimes happens that we don’t know how to produce the right answer for our customer, or because ethically he doesn’t meet our criteria. For example, we don’t work for organizations that produce a lethal product for military use.
💬 What are the biggest challenges your company has faced (here in Luxembourg)?
FIV: Luxembourg’s high standards are quickly felt, and that’s just as well, because no matter how small we are, we can’t expect to deliver an average job. Only excellence is good enough, so it’s a daily challenge to consistently deliver an impeccable service. The challenge is to understand the question very well. And, as mentioned above, Luxembourg has its own codes, so you can’t go wrong. But our strength lies in listening. Through our experience, we know how to take the time to observe, evaluate and verify what is being asked of us. We then know how to produce a highly pragmatic response, geared to the customer’s sole interest, without ever denying our own requirements.
💬 How do you see your company in five years’ time?
FIV: Luxembourg is essential to our growth and image. In Luxembourg, we’re aiming for a staff equivalent to the one we have in Switzerland, i.e. at least 12-15 employees in flow expertise and Secret Protection. The most difficult thing is, on the one hand, to find the talent to support us, and on the other, to find Luxembourg talent, because our economic development must first and foremost benefit the country that welcomes us. It can take several months to train a new member of staff, and several years before he or she is entrusted with an assignment in the field of secrecy protection. Our consultants are a bit like a brigade of cooks in a top restaurant. The difference is that at UBCOM, they all work for a Michelin star!
💬 What would be your message to the country’s political decision-makers?
FIV: The political free will of European citizens depends on just one thing: digital sovereignty. Europe has missed out on its digital transition by depending solely on the United States. Now, in view of the changed geopolitical context, it must reconsider its doctrine and adopt the blueprint of reducing digital dependency. Political actors have a decisive role to play in this process, by favoring European digital companies wherever possible, and protecting investment in research against extra-continental divestment. Just as the Americans have just embarked on national favoritism to the detriment of OECD rules, which they never respect when it comes to digital issues, the political player must in turn embark on sovereign favoritism. It’s a double win for Luxembourg: spending stays within the Grand Duchy and Europe, and it generates high value-added local employment. Luxembourg has the same potential as Switzerland or Portugal to become one of the 3 leading nations in cybersecurity. Players such as Pascal Steichen are the perfect example of this, and the result is a high-level dynamic that needs to be defended and nurtured. If we don’t do this, Europe will lose all its capacity for autonomy and, beyond that, its influence on the global digital chessboard. The decision-makers will then be held to account.
💬 How many employees do you have?
FIV: Overall, we have more than 16 employees for the Group, including 2 in Luxembourg. It’s the Swiss teams that reinforce the technical action when necessary for the moment. Once revenue is sufficient, we’ll start recruiting, which we’ve already begun to do discreetly.
💬 What’s next for you?
FIV: For the second year running, I was invited to the very successful PwC Cybersecurity & Privacy day on June 7 and 8. I had the honor of giving a speech at the CEO Corner on digital sovereignty, presented by Koen Maris and in the company of François Thill, among others. UBCOM will also be at ICT Spring with Lux ICTS, on June 29 and 30. We look forward to seeing you there! We look forward to meeting you, discussing cyber issues, understanding your problems and providing you with concrete solutions! To find out more, you can follow all our news here.