28 Sep Offering tailor-made solutions unlike any other global bank
Thomas Gottstein, Group CEO, Credit Suisse, highly values the importance of innovation towards the bounce-back of the worldwide economy
How has the bank resisted the global pandemic and the subsequent shock so far? How would you assess Credit Suisse’s strength and resilience, and how has the prior 2008 global financial crisis helped?
The pandemic is unlike anything we have seen in our lifetimes, given its sudden global shock to public health systems and economic activities. Our 48,500 employees around the world rose to the occasion by successfully addressing the unprecedented demand for analysis and advice. Their safety, and that of our clients, remains our top priority. One big difference between this crisis and 2008 is that, this time, banks are part of the solution and not the root of the problem. Credit Suisse entered 2020 well capitalized and with a lower risk profile, having learned lessons from the excessive risks banks took in the run-up to the financial crisis 12 years ago and responding through a restructuring program, which drew to a close at the end of 2018.
This allowed us to deliver on our core function, even in the midst of a severe social and economic shock: providing advice and investment solutions to our clients, while also supporting the health of capital markets and innovating for corporates in need of financing. Our work gives businesses and entrepreneurs the greatest chance to return to growth and hiring. Credit Suisse enables investors, globally, by providing them with quality analysis and advice on allocation of capital. Our own financial results also confirm our strategy to be a leading wealth manager with strong investment banking capabilities. Our first quarter net profit was the highest quarterly result in five years. In the midst of the pandemic in May, our credit rating was affirmed by a major ratings agency, citing our resilience and prudent risk management.
How has Credit Suisse contributed to mitigate the socio-economic impact of the crisis? What are some key facts and figures to illustrate the extent of the support and contribution brought to the real economy? Which other initiatives has Credit Suisse taken to cushion the pandemic’s economic consequences?
We have a responsibility to deliver for our clients, employees, shareholders and the societies in which we operate. Credit Suisse took a leading role in helping establish Switzerland’s loan-guarantee program to small and medium-sized companies, working effectively with regulators and the finance ministry. It was up and running within days of the national emergency being declared in March 2020.
Switzerland led the way globally in getting loan payments and other stimulus in the hands of the private sector because banks here know our clients’ businesses so well. Loan applications were as short as one page, and companies could draw funds in as little as 30 minutes with minimal errors and waste.
In the first 10 weeks, Credit Suisse extended CHF 2.9 billion in loans out of the 20-billion-franc program, a significant sum given that Switzerland has a smaller market relative to our European neighbours. The program targeted Main Street-type businesses like hairdressers, restaurants and dry cleaners. In keeping with our community focus, any net profit from these loans will be donated to projects supporting Swiss companies in financial or operational difficulty. We have also stepped up our individual philanthropic efforts. Our Executive Board donated 20 percent of their six months’ base salary to charities, with Urs Rohner, our Chairman, donating to a similar extent. Our employees responded with significant charitable contributions, which were then matched by the bank through a donations matching program. We recently confirmed we raised CHF 25 million through this, the most on record for a charity fundraising program at Credit Suisse.
How will the crisis accelerate transformation in the banking sector? What are the main threats and opportunities for the Swiss banking industry and the key long-lasting trends that you see shaping as a result of the COVID-19 crisis?
The crisis turbocharged the existing transformation taking hold of the banking sector, especially in relation to technological innovation that allows us to deliver better services to clients, remotely and at a lower cost.
People are using online banking more and are making greater use of contactless payments. Therefore, the trend toward fewer bank branches will probably continue. Meanwhile, the ultra-low – and even negative- interest rate environment will likely persist for many more years given the severity of the global recession, which is a challenge for banks. Swiss banks have lived with this reality for years and have already made adjustments. For banks in other countries, lower-for-longer interest rates may pose fresh challenges.
As head of a global bank, I do worry that public support for globalization seems to be declining in some parts of the world. We must not compound the damage from the current crisis with barriers to trade or infringements on the movement of capital and people. However, even as these opportunities and challenges present themselves, our fundamental mission remains the same: providing wealth management services to our clients and encouraging entrepreneurs and corporates to innovate and strive for sustainable economic growth through financing and capital markets.
What is the pace and progress of digitalisation at Credit Suisse? What are the most noticeable changes that have taken place in the bank in the last year? What are some of the strategic choices being made at the bank now to reinvent its solutions and customer services?
In the old days, banks offered a range of products and services, and clients would pick from them. Digitalization turns this ‘à la carte’ process around, where banks must respond to how clients want to interact with us. One result of the crisis is that we increasingly engage with clients through digital channels, virtual meetings and webinars. I expect this to continue even after we are able to travel and resume in-person meetings. Last year, we opened our User Experience Lab to better align digital solutions with the needs of our clients. It has reduced both development times and costs. We also launched a ‘digital branch’ pilot program last year that bypasses traditional counters in favor of interactive tools for advice.
Where do you see the most disruptions and what is your vision for the finance industry of the future? How is Credit Suisse working with the local Fintech ecosystem to pioneer new fields and adapt its model?
Innovation is in our DNA. Credit Suisse was founded in 1856, before the American Civil War, and got its start financing Switzerland’s railway system. Our founder spearheaded construction of the famous Gotthard Tunnel that connected central and southern Europe through Switzerland in the late 19th century. At the time, these were technological marvels with lasting economic and societal benefits. Advances in big data, Blockchain and cloud computing are an evolution of this process. They allow us to deliver better services to clients, more securely, and create greater efficiencies in our back-office operations. One especially promising area is in compliance, where we use big data and analytics to spot irregularities and meet our reporting requirements more efficiently. In Switzerland, we benefit from a thriving fintech ecosystem in and around our home city of Zurich where many start-ups and top universities are based. We have strong partnerships with FinTechs and more established technology firms globally.
How is Credit Suisse promoting impact investment, sustainable and responsible finance products? How is the bank encouraging ESG investment principles? How do you view Switzerland’s global role and traction as sustainable finance hub?
Sustainability is a mission for us both as a global corporation and as a bank whose clients are hungry for investment opportunities