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Swiss Banks well prepared to handle Crisis

The Swiss financial market supervisory authority (FINMA) released a statement last month confirming the stability of Swiss banks (full release can be found here). In the statement FINMA notes that "the operations of financial institutions and the financial market infrastructure in Switzerland are continuing to function well. The institutions are also well equipped to deal with extreme stress scenarios."

They continue "the operations of the financial institutions and financial market infrastructure are continuing to work. The firms are rolling out effective business continuity management (BCM) plans, with their measures that allow the institutions to continue operating even in exceptional situations. Their services have remained available without interruption thanks to remote working methods. ... The stability of the banks and the build-up of solid capital and liquidity buffers were a key concern in recent years. The buffers have been increased very substantially since the financial crisis. They are there to be used, should it become necessary."

This press release inspired me to take a trip down memory lane and reflect upon how the financial industry has changed since the last crisis a decade ago. I vividly remember starting my banking career in the summer of 2009 right in the middle of a heated public debate about how the greed of the financial industry has led the way into a unprecedented and global financial crisis. Back then many banks were undercapitalized and ill-prepared for a crash. This was seen most notably in October 2008 when one of the largest Swiss banks had to be saved by the government.

A lot has happened since then. The financial industry went through tremendous change and significantly upped their capital and liquidity reserves, while at the same time preparing for a potential future crisis. And this is exactly what is paying out right now. While no one could have predicted that the next crisis is going to be started by a global pandemic, Swiss banks are very well prepared for difficult times.

But not only that, they have in my opinion also shown a surprising level of adaptability. While most of our contact persons at the various custodian banks we work with are working from home, we have not experienced any delays or difficulties in maintaining our daily work, opening up accounts or placing trades. Three months ago I could have never imagined Swiss bankers working fully remotely. But when it was required, they rose to the occasion. They have adapted and shown flexibility with a great level of care and enthusiasm.

Lastly, Swiss banks did a great job when it came to providing the CHF 40 billion ($ 40 billion) government backed emergency loans to support small businesses. As Swiss people, we are usually accustomed to efficiency and well working structures, but how smoothly the loans were distributed was even impressing us. Small businesses had to complete one page and after handing it in, they received the money from their local bank on the same day. How the banks and the government worked together was fantastic. Over 120 banks participated and they truly outperformed. For me it is a source of great joy and pride to see that this time the financial industry is not a part of the problem, but rather part of the solution.