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As Banque de Luxembourg celebrates its centenary, Pierre Ahlborn, Administrateur Délégué, looks back on the road travelled, challenges met and strategic decisions taken in this interview for Luxembourger Wort.
Interview with Mara Bilo and Pierre Leyers for Luxembourger Wort - 14 October 2020
Hello Mr Ahlborn. What does your Bank stand for today? Your website talks about ‘humanitarian, cultural and philanthropic commitment’. Is this an overstatement? Are satisfied clients and a profitable business not enough?
As a Bank, we belong to an ecosystem in which every stakeholder is significant and has a part to play. This applies to the society within which we grow - which is our bedrock - and to the shareholders who created us. And then there are our clients, without whom we could not exist. Everyone is important, but the most important people in our circle are our employees.
Not the client?
If we succeed in attracting good employees, who feel good at the Bank, who identify with our corporate goals and work productively - the rest will follow naturally. The client feels it too. If we have satisfied clients, that creates benefits which will in turn be passed on to our shareholder. Our shareholder even allows us to give back part of our profits, in the form of the commitments you mentioned earlier.
Describe the profile of your customers.
Many of our clients have been loyal to us for years - some of them for generations. We know them very well - our clients fit in with our corporate culture. Most of them are families who want to preserve and grow their wealth.
How does it feel to be at the head of a company with 100 years of history?
Above all, it’s a big responsibility. Circumstances change fast; there is a new crisis in every decade. A company is a living entity - it has to constantly adapt. For me, managing the Bank means finding the best solution in every situation - conducting an accurate analysis and then taking the right decision with my teams.
How would you describe Banque de Luxembourg’s corporate culture?
Our people are our most valuable asset. Our employees are cautious, responsible and enjoy living their commitment to the Bank every day. That’s our corporate culture today, and it was the same when I arrived at the Bank in 1988. From the beginning, I was deeply impressed by the prevailing spirit of mutual support and respect.
What qualities does a young candidate need, apart from a good degree?
The two main elements are expertise and character. Our employees are very loyal - they stay with us for a long time. This low staff turnover is important for our clients. They don’t want to re-tell their story every year, and they want to keep the same adviser for a long time.
A century is a long time, and it’s not always plain sailing. What can the head of a bank learn from a crisis?
Periods of crisis force us to take stock - this applies to both our personal and our professional lives. Often, a crisis will push us further than a period when everything is running smoothly. Banque de Luxembourg experienced a crisis 100 years ago with the Spanish Flu epidemic. And since then, other crises have left their mark on the Bank’s history - the Second World War, the bursting of the dot-com bubble, the financial crisis and, of course, the current COVID-19 pandemic. These are defining moments in a company’s history, requiring fast response and change. They can teach us important lessons for the future - in times like these, we learn what our strengths are.
What are you learning from the ongoing COVID crisis?
I think that many people have seen the fragility of our health and our planet. We only have one planet - there is no ‘plan B’. One day, the COVID pandemic will be in the past, but our climate problems will not disappear. The coronavirus is raising our awareness of the issues that are threatening the existence of humanity.
We only have one planet - there is no ‘plan B’. One day, the COVID pandemic will be in the past, but our climate problems will not disappear.Pierre Ahlborn, Administrateur Délégué, Banque de Luxembourg
And what about at Banque de Luxembourg?
The current crisis has shown us that we can easily transfer our work from the office to home at very short notice without any noticeable impact on our productivity. As a bank, we have a big responsibility to our clients. They entrust their wealth to us and they expect it to be managed and fully protected regardless of the crisis. We must take care to always remain a trustworthy partner and a stable bank.
As you have just mentioned, the COVID crisis has made environmental protection a higher priority for many people. What role does sustainable development play in your daily activities?
Sustainable, responsible development is a priority for Banque de Luxembourg. We recently launched a new five-year plan, which ensures that sustainable development criteria will be considered in all our activities. We are working on improving our internal sustainable development policies, with a focus on good governance. This also means informing our clients about possibilities for sustainable investment - green investments, for example, can be just as profitable as traditional investments, sometimes even more so.
Sustainable, responsible development is a priority for Banque de Luxembourg.Pierre Ahlborn, Administrateur Délégué, Banque de Luxembourg
Besides sustainable development, what are your priorities for the future?
We want to strengthen our focus on the domestic market and attract Luxembourg clients, especially family businesses. For years, these businesses have only represented a small portion of our business. Because we do not have branches throughout the country, our services have not been targeted to companies who need to deposit their takings every day. Nowadays, as most transactions are carried out online, we have become an ideal partner for Luxembourg family businesses.
Banque de Luxembourg has been in Belgium since 2010. What is the status there?
We are now one of the top ten banks operating in Belgium’s ‘Private Banking’ sector. We owe this to the fact that, for many years now, half of our clients have been native Belgians. We are well perceived by our neighbours.
Your parent group, Crédit Mutuel, is a cooperative bank with a commercial strategy that looks very different from Banque de Luxembourg’s.
That’s true, but for both banks, employees and clients come first. As well as this, both banks are very serious about their commitment to society. This level of commitment far surpasses the average for financial institutions.
In a digital world, will banks still be needed? Advances in technology mean that many young people can replace the services of a bank with an app on their phone. Will banks still exist in a few years?
They certainly will. And I’m also certain that Banque de Luxembourg will still be here. Our online banking services are highly innovative and we are often complimented on our app. It has proven particularly valuable as we manage the COVID crisis. Our digital tools have enabled us to stay in close contact with our clients. But it’s true that the banking sector is facing a technological revolution. It’s not the first, and it won’t be the last. As a bank, we must identify and analyse these new trends and take the appropriate measures to implement them in our business.
What does the Luxembourg financial centre need to do to stay relevant for the next ten years?
One thing is certain: the favourable conditions that enabled the Luxembourg financial centre to get ahead for years are now a thing of the past. What matters today is our expertise, our commitment. In this regard, it’s useful to pay particular attention to the pragmatic implementation of regulations. In Luxembourg, we must implement legislation fast to show that we can respond quickly and proactively. This is the best way to showcase all the benefits of working and investing in Luxembourg.
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