It is always an us

Interview with Heike Kemmner

Ms. Kemmner, when you look back on 2020: Are you glad that the year is finally over?

Needless to say, this was not a year to wish for. AlleEveryone had to make sacrifices and muster an incredible amount of discipline
and strength to cope with the pandemic. On the other hand, Corona is not over with December 31. So the question remains, what do we take with us? When I look for answers to that, I have to say: it was a completely different year, it was a hard year, but it wasn’t only bad.

What do you take away in terms of positive insights?

To start with the surroundings: The cohesion was impressive. In general, there was a great solidarity in many areas of daily life. Professionally, I have felt a very high level of loyalty from our employees. Personally, I have learned to appreciate things again that until then I had taken completely for granted. I have learned how important communication with others and collaboration are for me. And I am very grateful that I have managed to weather the crisis well in all respects so far. However, I am aware that many others have had a much harder time. My very special respect belongs to these people. I would also like to mention that at this point.

IBB ended this challenging year with a positive outcome. How was that possible from your point of view?

To be honest, in June we significantly reduced our original planned result for 2020. The fact that we were on target in the end is due to two reasons: firstly, hard work and a great deal of commitment from all employees, and secondly, business relationships that are robust and crisis-resistant.

Let’s start with the first topic. How did you experience your employees in the past year?

I am still deeply impressed by how everyone accepted the situation. They went along every step of the way and we all pulled together consistently. This is all the more remarkable because companies like IBB thrive on dynamism. When I see the empty hallways, it makes me sad. The exchange among each other, the inspiring conversations – all of this was incredibly missing and is still missing. Nevertheless, together we have managed to maneuver this ship through the crisis and keep it on course.

What has IBB done differently than others?

It’s always an us. That’s the only way a small bank works. The world doesn’t need us, my former colleague Klaus Gallist used to say. But we find our place when we have ideas and realize them all together in a goal-oriented way. That, too, is one of the very positive findings of 2020.

How did you perceive the relationship with your customers during the pandemic?

One invaluable advantage was that we have long-standing business relationships with many customers. A lot can be done by telephone or video conference. People trust each other and know how reliable the other person is.

In your opinion, is there a secret to IBB’s success?

We derive from a family business and, in addition to an entrepreneurial spirit, we share a stable foundation of values that is unshakeable. Furthermore, there is a high degree of flexibility in order to be capable of reacting quickly to new circumstances. That was particularly helpful to us in 2020. We need to make sure that we don’t lose this dynamic by spending that much time in the home office.

At a certain point in time, the pandemic will be over. What is your economic forecast for the time that follows?

Everywhere we have been told that a large number of insolvencies are to be expected. I don’t want to be so negative about it. The pandemic has pointed out where deficits exist. But we’ve also seen what works well by being forced to do it and not having any excuses. We are all called upon – companies and banks – to approach the challenges with courage. I have a positive outlook on the future. We have mastered the last year well, we will continue to do so. Yes, it will be demanding, but it’s always demanding. Risk is our business and if we have a good understanding of that, we also have a good understanding of the companies. And yes, there will be one or two failures. You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs. We are not being naive about this. However, this should not prevent us from thinking ahead, reviewing what we have learned during the crisis, and applying these learnings.

What part will digitization play in this?

It should enable us to operate more efficiently. However, the aim is not to replace the human being. To paraphrase: We need to use the digital world to serve us. Nevertheless, we still find the best solution in a personal exchange with the customer. We have to further cultivate this individual approach by combining the best of both worlds.

For the 25th anniversary, you work with sailing motifs for communication purposes. What is the reasoning behind this?

Having Lake Constance in its name, we decided to underpin our messages with images of the maritime world. What we want to express: We have a stable hull and still have the ability to flexibly set the sails to perform the best maneuver depending on the weather. However, this does not mean that we turn our flag in the wind. If one direction doesn’t work, then one sometimes has to make a cross.

To remain in this metaphor: What is the stable hull made of?

Our fundamental pillars from day one are being close and staying grounded. In our day-to-day work, it also became clear very quickly that, by essence, we act like entrepreneurs alongside companies.

How do you determine this entrepreneurial spirit?

I believe that we speak to our mostly medium-sized customers at eye level and recognize precisely where they need our support. Being able to classify this and propose the best solution – that is our service. As IBB, we share the same mindset and approach as the companies we serve. We also know how difficult it is to achieve goals because we experience it firsthand every day. Therefore, we have great respect for the performance of our customers and I am convinced that this appreciation is reflected in the cooperation.