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Oec. Magazin

Ackermann was always more than an investment banker. Briefly an academic, and for years a senior volunteer officer in the Swiss army, he has re- tained the broadest perspective, mixing easily between finance, industry and politics. And unlike many banking counterparts, he speaks out – most controversially when he pre- dicted a Greek default was inevitable. That can- dour, alongside wide international experience as chairman of the Institute of International Finan- ce – a sort of top bankers club – makes him a voice of rare authority about what is needed to re-establish trust between finance and society. Is the breakdown of trust particularly acute in Switzerland because of its comparatively big financial sector? The share of the financial sector in the Swiss economy isn’t that much bigger than in some other countries. What’s undeniable is that finan- ce has historically played a special role in the Swiss psyche. We were always very proud a small country like ours had a financial sector on par with the US, the UK or Germany. That gave banking a special status. Moreover, politics and government were not just very close to, but also retained a certain respect for finance – more than in other countries I know. So the disappointment here was all the greater when the crisis came. So the Swiss did react differently? There have been two traumatic events in recent years: the grounding of Swissair; and the near grounding of our biggest bank, UBS. But I’d argue the estrangement of banking and society began earlier. Globalisation in the financial sector played a part. I always thought banks made a Can bankers ever regain the former trust? Few bankers are as well placed to discuss the lessons of the financial crisis than Josef Ackermann. A top manager at Credit Suisse, then chief executive of Deutsche Bank, he steered his group through the meltdown and was instrumental in its emergence as a relatively solid survivor. Haig Simonian mistake by over-emphasizing their global role and down-playing their home market. That auto- matically leads to more distance and, in the end, even distrust on the part of society. The shift of pay-levels and structures towards Anglo-Saxon models worked in the same direction. So when the crisis hit, and tax-payers had to bail-out banks, people reacted even more negatively than elsewhere. Can bankers ever regain the former trust? It will be tough and take a lot of time. We’re still at the beginning. Most bankers are busy rebuilding their companies’ performance and are leaving rebuilding trust till later. I think that’s a mistake. Both have to go hand in hand. Of course, banks have to improve their perfor- mance. But they must also review their products and services and uncompromisingly shed those that don’t benefit customers and society. They also must show more restraint on pay and try harder to explain the fundamental role they play in financing the real economy and creating jobs, as well as their value for society in general. This dialogue must be intensified. Whose job is that, primarily? It’s up to the banks themselves. But they can’t do it alone. They need support from politics and industry. If they are constantly bashed in the po- litical arena and don’t get some solidarity from industry, they can’t make it – and we’ll all lose out in the end. Finance is an essential part of our economy, after all. I, for my part, am involved in a small group that’s trying to refocus attention on the value of the financial centre. Constant bashing just helps our international competitors. «Most bankers are busy rebuilding their companies’ perfor- mance and are leaving rebuilding trust till later. I think that’s a mistake. Both have to go hand in hand.» Dr. Josef Ackermann 20 Oec. Juni 2014 FOKUS