COVID-19 and the Swiss banks - A workshop report
Remo Kübler: Our last call to date, and possibly for the foreseeable future, was held on 22 April. That’s a while back now. Markus, how do you feel when you look back at that time?
Markus Staub: As you know, we held about a dozen conference calls in March and April 2020, each with about 45 participants. I was really impressed by the way the various stakeholders – the banks, the heads of the associations of the various banking groups , representatives of the authorities and colleagues from our offices – worked together in a good, constructive and goal-oriented manner. Every step was an internal team effort too, so in addition to all of these people, I would also like to thank the SBA’s Oliver Buschan and Nina Fraefel. Those weeks filled with daily calls were sometimes very intense and turbulent, but I’ll always remember them in a positive light. You and the whole team answered and processed countless questions between the calls – what stands out most in your mind from that time?
Remo Kübler: I experienced it as an exciting time during which I learned a lot. It’s also important to bear in mind that the “meetings” didn’t take place face-to-face but by telephone, and that practically all the participants were working from home. Despite the unusual circumstances, we succeeded in working together in an extremely pragmatic, unbureaucratic manner, allowing swift decision-making. Because all the participants were acting in concert, we were able to come up with good solutions quickly. What, in your opinion, were the pivotal success factors?
Markus Staub: Good question. The “Retail Banking” and “Capital Markets” steering committees definitely deserve a lot of praise for their high level of availability and commitment. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the heads of the associations of the various banking groups again for their valuable role as “multipliers” within their respective associations. In addition, I think it was helpful that we held calls in a very structured and solutions-oriented way that always followed the same basic structure. The joint overview of the situation, which we updated at the beginning of each call, therefore formed an essential basis for the decisions that had to be taken and for the interpretations given. I am convinced that it was especially helpful that most participants already knew each other on a personal level prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, which clearly helped building mutual trust!
Remo Kübler: Yes, exactly. And the participants’ various areas of expertise – from the business itself and legal through to public/regulatory affairs – was also very helpful in my view. This mix made it possible to constructively address both operational issues and specific parts in the emergency ordinance that required interpretation, and to then resolve these aspects, also in coordination with the authorities – especially SIF, SECO, the SNB and FINMA. These contacts were and remain valuable. The proverb “where there’s a will there’s a way” once again proved true as people stuck together in times of crisis. Which of these elements do you think will remain?
Markus Staub: The calls did indeed work very well. The broad, voluntary participation and involvement that we saw is an expression of the fact that we have been able to create substantial added value for our members. My personal hope is that this open, friendly and effective collaboration will continue in the future, also when it comes to completely different projects.
Remo Kübler: Can you think of anything further?
Markus Staub: To put it somewhat immodestly, one could say that this type of collaboration could serve as a model and that the associations have proven to be an essential and reliable partner in Switzerland’s crisis management. But to get back to your question: among other things, what will of course remain are our “guidelines”, which will hopefully continue to provide useful interpretation in the coming months and that we will be able to continuously further develop if necessary. Speaking of guidelines: which questions were most frequently asked and what were the biggest concerns in your view?
Remo Kübler: That’s not something I can answer with a blanket statement; it depends on the phase in question. First it was about getting the “process” going. During that period, the focus was primarily on organisational and procedural matters. But once the programme had been launched, it quickly became clear that there is no such thing as a perfect emergency ordinance, which is why a growing number of questions occurred about its interpretation, for example regarding the eligibility of SMEs.
Markus Staub: How do you explain this strong interest?
Remo Kübler: The multitude of questions can be interpreted as an honest effort to use taxpayer money carefully, since the COVID-19 loans are largely guaranteed by the federal government.
Markus Staub: And some questions remain to be answered: certain aspects still need further clarification. That’s why we will continue to ensure appropriate coordination between our members. And before we wrap this up, I would like to mention our contacts and the trust-based dialogue with other associations in the real economy: several top-level “ad hoc” discussions made it possible to get a clear and differentiated picture of the needs of SMEs in the various sectors. But tell me the truth Remo, was the work not tedious at times?
Remo Kübler: Of course, but if you have a good team, you can laugh that off. As I mentioned, the collaboration was really inspiring. I hope our partners see it that way too!
Markus Staub: I, for one, would like to take this opportunity to thank you and the whole team! The calls didn’t cause me any sleepless nights – I enjoyed them. We’ll do a debriefing to discuss the critical points separately… but jokes aside: even in hectic times I could always rely on you and the whole team 100%, thank you very much and “Viva”!
Markus Staub is Head of Regulation at the Swiss Bankers Association and Remo Kübler is the association’s Head of Real Estate Regulation and Projects.