From the 46th floor of the MAIN TOWER, Frankfurt looks like a tranquil miniature world of cityscape, river and people. At this clear noon in February the view is particularly expansive. The man who's enjoying it right now has one point on the horizon firmly in his focus: "If you look closely enough," says Dr. Michael Schneider, "then you can almost see NORMA straight ahead." Schneider is Chief Financial Officer of the MDAX Group, which has its headquarters in nearby Maintal. The market and technology leader for fastening technology employs around 6,700 people at locations in Europe as well as North, Central and South America and the Asia-Pacific region. Helaba has been supporting the NORMA Group as a financing partner since its IPO in 2011. Helaba is now one of NORMA's principal banks with which Schneider and his Group Treasurer Andreas Müller work closely together. On this day, both of them are in the MAIN TOWER meeting their Helaba relationship manager Michael Sager, Head of CRM MidCaps South West, Claudio Lagemann, one of the two Heads of Division in Corporate Finance, and Dr. Norbert Schraad, Member of Helaba's Board of Managing Directors. The team of entrepreneurs and bankers regularly exchanges ideas in different constellations.
Solutions can only be as good as the understanding that both partners have for each other. That is why Michael Sager and I stay in touch two to three times a week, depending on current transactions. And as often as every day during critical periods. He puts us in contact with product experts and other Helaba colleagues who regularly support us in our core daily business, whether it's foreign exchange or interest rate management. But we also call on their market know-how when it comes to current developments, for example, such as the current volatile environment in the United States. We also make use of the bank's expertise in issues relating to increasingly complex regulations, such as EMIR requirements.
My goal as an advisor is to recognise signals at an early stage and proactively approach the customer with ideas. To genuinely act as a source of ideas and then as a sparring partner within the framework of implementation. We define the guidelines, find the win-win situation for both parties and thereby leverage value added for each other.
For us, managing expectations means that our customers know very quickly where they stand, both in a positive and negative respect. Trust thrives on prompt answers, including a "no" at the right moment.
The duo of Michael Sager and Claudio Lagemann work every day on mastering the balancing act of presenting alternatives without presuming to intervene in the strategy of the respective customer. They also consider the medium to long-term strategic goals and associated challenges of the customer, in other words the day after tomorrow, which is particularly in the interest of growing companies with global operations.
This forward thinking only works if we understand the company very, very well. Not from the point of view of financial ratios, but by understanding the industry, its drivers, trends, strengths and weaknesses.
Dr. Michael Schneider:
And that is precisely what matters most to us. We pursue a clear growth strategy consisting of organic and inorganic growth. Of course, we also want to finance acquisitions in a similarly good way. We have an excellent financial basis, but we naturally still need strong, fast and above all trustworthy financing partners.
Dr. Norbert Schraad:
Our challenge is to translate customer signals into solutions. To recognise the problems that plague customers and to be so efficient that we not only offer answers, but also deliver them reliably. We don't promise more than we can afford. We achieve this through networking and open, well-prepared dialogue.
Dr. Michael Schneider:
It is precisely this transfer provided by Helaba's employees that is a crucial aspect for me. As a customer, we have an idea of where we want to go but we do not yet know the details of how to get there. We count on being able to openly discuss the current situation and the future direction of our company's development and on working in tandem with each other.
NORMA and Helaba also worked in tandem with each other in August 2016, when the NORMA Group placed a further Schuldschein loan with fixed and variable-interest tranches of EUR 150 million. Of the total of eight tranches, the Group issued four in US dollars. The maturities are five, seven and ten years. Proceeds from the issues were used, among other things, to finance the takeover of Parker Autoline. With this acquisition, NORMA expanded its connector product portfolio in the fourth quarter of 2016 and further boosted its market position. The NORMA Group has thus successfully completed its third Schuldschein transaction with Helaba.
I still have a good recollection of the kick-off meeting for our first Schuldschein. We didn't know what to expect. However, the Helaba team was able to credibly assure us that the process and management of the Schuldschein issue was in safe hands: in my opinion, removing the customer's initial uncertainty about a completely new financing process is what really defines the hallmark of a stable relationship with a bank. The result was that we decided to explore new avenues together with Helaba. This journey ended with a successful debut transaction on the corporate Schuldschein market.
Dr. Michael Schneider:
Trust is not a one-way street. We place it in our partners, but we also expect it to be placed in us. Our long-standing, extremely good partnership is based on this give and take. With Helaba, we not only have a strong financing partner on board, but also a valuable source of input.
Trust thrives on critical, differentiated dialogue - and profits from looking outside the box. For this reason, we set up a Round Table for our customers four years ago. In this, we created a platform that connects people from different companies and industries who share common interests. These companies regularly deal with the same issues and challenges. Among other things, these involve taking the plunge into foreign markets, payment transactions, cash pooling, interest rate hedging and acquisitions.
So why not benefit from the knowledge and experience of others? Our Round Table brings together the hidden champions that we support in a form that allows them to exchange and network effectively. Operational exchange - that is the value added that I, as an advisor, can deliver to the customer. What is my value added? I gain better access to the operational issues that concern my customers and can therefore tailor my advice and Helaba's products even more specifically to each and every one of them.
If you can exchange ideas with other customers of your bank who have a similar strategic focus, this makes things much easier. They may have been faced with similar decisions and challenges, they may have recently carried out certain projects and processes themselves, which they are now dealing with themselves. If these other customers then say: Don't worry, you'll manage it and the bank will give you the support you need, too, then it has a different quality than if you only hear this view from your account manager. The fact that Helaba is one of the few banks to offer and promote this opportunity to meet is a huge benefit for us. Networking among customers is a major advantage so that we can benefit from the experience others have gained.
We do not control this forum; on the contrary, our aim is to enable nuanced comments. This is the only way for customers to benefit from each other's knowledge. We therefore not only invite people who have positive things to say but we also deliberately welcome critical participants. At the end of the day, we meet each other on a regular basis and honesty is the best policy. At Helaba, we are not desperate to sell, but rather prepare our customers better for the risk/reward profile. That's the basis of trust.
"Trust is not a one-way street. We place it in our partners, but we also expect it to be placed in us."
Dr. Michael Schneider
Chief Financial Officer NORMA Group
So, none of the partners wants to forego straight talking between two people who represent a company and a bank - not even in the age of digitalisation. indeed, this is precisely a time when it is needed! Digital transformation represents as many opportunities as it does challenges, that's the consensus at noon on the 46th floor of Helaba.
Dr. Michael Schneider:
As a customer, we naturally always want to have state-of-the-art process optimisation. For us, one of the opportunities offered by digitalisation is the timely and efficient exchange of information. We can make large-scale processes more efficient. But the issues of IT security, the extent of cyber risks and the purely technical aspects of information security have to be considered. Digital ways of working must be very focused and selectively supplemented by a very goal-oriented, face-to-face exchange.
Dr. Norbert Schraad:
Exactly. Digitalisation allows us to depict transactions more efficiently. What are we dealing with? With trust, security and money! At the end of the day, money is nothing more than the sum of receivables and payables. This can be displayed and exchanged in a wonderful digital way. If this gives us, as a bank, more freedom and time to solve the problems and requirements of our customers, then all the better.
"The fact that Helaba is one of the few banks to offer and promote this opportunity to meet is a huge benefit for us."
NORMA Group Treasurer