Mr. Grüntker, the well-known sociologist Richard Sennet believes that bankers are craftsmen at heart. What characterises good financial craftsmanship in your view?
Trust in the essence of your own knowledge and skills. For me this has a lot to do with keeping both feet firmly on the ground, but also with a healthy dose of reality-awareness. And the ability to gauge your own possibilities and limitations honestly and respectfully is also important. Good craftsmen know how to solve problems, but also how to design things. They have a strong interest in developing further, in not standing still. For me, a culture of arts and crafts also has to do with customised work and an eye for detail. And when I transfer that to our daily business, it means we have to measure ourselves as a bank according to whether we succeed in finding the optimum products for our customers and partners – and thus solutions that meet the challenges they are facing. Beyond that, I place a high value on the seemingly old-fashioned but actually very relevant idea that you should only make promises you can keep.
What experiences in your life are still delivering benefits? What has defined your craftsmanship?
I definitely benefit from the experiences I gathered in my early years, when it was important to internalise the fundamentals of the banking business and learn what knowledge and skills are decisive in this business. Those are important roots for me. Aside from that, the most important thing my professional experience has taught me is to regard myself as a trustee: My fellow board members and I have been entrusted with assets that we will hand over one day to our successors. It grounds and honours us to be entrusted with assets with the clear task of passing them to coming generations without losses and, as far as possible, with increases in capital. There’s a lot riding on this task, and it has consequences that far exceed our own productive lives.
How does this attitude shape your actions and your assessment of the challenges confronting the banking industry?
It’s not the worst possible thing to think and act like a trustee at a time when it’s important to develop our business strategy further and adapt it again and again to the new realities of the banking business. The era of zero and negative interest rates and customers’ changing expectations of their banks are keeping us busy, and that’s a good thing. Two things have top priority for me. First, value should be preserved and increased. Second, we need to let go of financial positions and products when they don’t fit us any more or achieve the necessary profitability. We observe and analyse our customers’ portfolios very thoroughly and with a clear view for what’s right and what’s essential. And that’s the same basis we use for our own portfolio review. In the process, we rely on a good mix of risks, and the risks we assume are well calculated. The persistent phase of zero and negative interest rates has been difficult for all of us, but we’re making the best of it in the interests of our customers and partners – and naturally in our own interests. We do this partly by focusing on the big picture and networking well.
What is the power of good networking?
To me, networking means, above all, ongoing dialogue. We can only offer solutions that are successful when we not only truly understand our customers and partners and their challenges and objectives, but also classify them in the context of their industries and relevant trends and drivers in the individual markets.
Digitalisation is a topic at the top of Helaba’s agenda. At the same time, sustainability also plays an important role – in the sense of sustainable relationships, projects, cooperation, values, and the assumption of responsibility for people and the environment. Are the digital and the sustainable mutually dependent?
Digitalisation is frequently associated with disruption. The ideas of yesterday and outmoded business models disappear and are replaced by things that are radically new. At first glance, this kind of change seems to contradict the idea of sustainability. But at second glance, new things come into being that will define and be a part of our work and our lives for many years – that is, successful new business models that work sustainably. And process digitalisation, in turn, promotes greater efficiency, so that fewer resources are needed and consumed.
If you take a moment today to look back at your first entire year as Chairman of Helaba's Board of Managing Directors, what characterises it most?
That I still really enjoy the work. I’ve had the opportunity to get to know a lot of people who leave their mark on Helaba and help move it forward. We’ve introduced changes such as digitalisation, and financially it was also a satisfying year.
"We can only offer solutions that are successful when we not only truly understand our customers and partners and their challenges and objectives, but also classify them in the context of their industries and relevant trends and drivers in the individual markets."
Herbert Hans Grüntker
Chairman of Helaba's Board of Managing Directors