The corona virus plunges the country into an unprecedented crisis. Central to coping with them: the banks. That is why representatives of the money houses and the Aargau government council met at the end of last week for a crisis summit and put together an aid package worth CHF 300 million. Meanwhile, the government councilors present there, Urs Hofmann and Markus Dieth, fell ill with the corona virus.
Roland Herrmann, what are the consequences of these diagnoses for you as CEO of the New Aargauer Bank?
Immediately after becoming known, I went to the home office for 14 days and follow our internal rules. That is part of my role model. In times of crisis, employees take a closer look at what their superiors are doing.
Did you get tested?
No. For me, the same applies as for everyone else: only serious symptoms are tested. I am fine. There are people who are much more dependent on a test.
How are you leading the NAB from home through this crisis?
I am up to ten hours a day on the phone or at video conferences. We have to be incredibly flexible now. The situation is constantly changing. In general, I can say that the whole range of communication is more central these days than ever before.
What does that mean?
I regularly send emails or CEO videos to all employees. I also regularly exchange ideas with the management and executives via Skype. It is currently important for everyone to hear me regularly and to know the current situation assessment.
What does it look like?
I am calm, optimistic and consistent. I am convinced that we will all master this crisis thanks to united forces. The extraordinary situation, however difficult it is, releases an incredible amount of solidarity and positive energies.
How many of your people work like you in the home office?
To protect employees, two thirds work in the home office and around one third, or 200 people, are on site. Many in the twelve locations with counters or in central units such as our customer service center, which receives many requests from 8:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Our consultants are now much more at our customers’ side by phone.
Two thirds work from home at a time when banks are in high demand. How does this work?
It is a huge special comfort for everyone. Two months ago, home office was unimaginable. We now look after our customers practically from the room.
How important are the banks in the corona crisis?
You are responsible for pumping enough liquidity into the money cycle in the current situation. It is about nothing less than the maintenance of economic life.
How exactly does it work?
We started before Federal Councilor Ueli Maurer put together the Corona Aid Package. For example, we postpone loan amortization for up to six months. In this way, too, we can help alleviate the most pressing liquidity problems.
Since Thursday, SMEs have been able to apply for bridging loans from you and all other banks. How did it start?
Let me say one thing in advance: I find it sensational what authorities, regulators and banks have achieved within a few days. An aid package has been put together that goes beyond all previous dimensions. I have never experienced such special comfort – not even in the 2008/09 crisis.
How big was the credit demand at the NAB?
We received 500 applications by Thursday evening and 700 by Friday morning. The first 300 loans were paid out on Friday, around 150 did not yet meet all the formal requirements and had to be revised briefly by the companies. We are now working until 10 p.m. and then the weekend.
What was the average loan application?
I can’t say anything certain about that at the moment. But we estimate that the average will be around CHF 100,000.
Can you prevent such a recession?
That is very difficult to predict today. I think that Switzerland acts very consistently and at the same time very carefully. One tries to keep the health as well as the economic damage as small as possible. The near future will show whether it really works. But the most important thing now is that we can quickly support the Aargau economy and trade with emergency aid.
What does the corona virus mean for the current NAB fiscal year?
The year got off to a very good start and we were at the levels of 2018 and 2019 in January and February. It is difficult to say how strongly the corona crisis will affect our results, but we will certainly not be able to continue the previous years one on one .
What are the main reasons for this?
This has a lot to do with the course of business in the Aargau economy and the difficult stock market situation. Many business activities are very restricted or practically stand still. That will also leave its mark on us. But as an optimistic-thinking person, I know that after every thunderstorm, no matter how violent, the sun shines again.