Interview with Jean-Claude Trichet, President of the ECB, conducted by Gerald Braunberger and Stefan Ruhkamp
Mr Trichet, do you believe in destiny?
I have used that term on a few occasions – including the tenth anniversary of the establishment of the ECB, when I quoted Konrad Adenauer. He once said that Europe is a community with a common destiny. He also said that “it’s up to us to shape that destiny”, and I believe he was right.
You have also talked about a common destiny in connection with the euro and the sovereign debt crisis. Is destiny not the opposite of a free political decision on whether or not to pursue a particular form of European integration?
That is certainly not the way that I interpret the word “destiny”, and it’s definitely not Konrad Adenauer’s understanding, either. It’s certainly not a question of predetermination. It relates, instead, to the fundamental importance of the close unity, interdependence and friendship by which the people of Europe choose to bind themselves in today’s world.
And in that respect, we share a “common destiny”. Many politicians have described our currency union as a matter of war and peace. Is that an exaggeration?
The process of integration has enabled Europe to enjoy more than half a century of peace, prosperity and stability. Were we to begin regressing, we would place this stability in jeopardy. From an economic perspective, the rationale for pursuing integration is far stronger today than it was in the immediate aftermath of the war. Back then, China, India and Latin America did not have the considerable economic importance that they have today. Demographic developments have also tended to increase the importance of European integration. We Europeans, if we act alone in our individual countries, will gradually look like dwarves relative to developments in the rest of the world.
What is wrong with remaining dwarves?
There are different ways of looking at this. But what was the original concept of Europe after the war? Our role model was the single US market. The view taken at the time was that, if we want to achieve prosperity and peace, we have to enjoy the same economies of scale and the same free market as the United States. That was the view of Europe’s founding fathers. If it was true then, it is even truer today.
Is the success of our currency union a precondition for the success of the European project?
Our currency union is the most advanced element in the process of European integration. It is the most appropriate means of realising our founding fathers’ vision of a single market in Europe. After all, you could hardly imagine a single market in the United States with different currencies in Massachusetts, Florida and California.
You like to point out that average inflation in the euro area has been lower than…
Average annual inflation has, at 2.0% over the first 13 years, been much lower than it was before the euro in a number of member countries, and also lower than it was under the Deutsche Mark over the previous 50 years. Our primary objective of price stability is the needle in our compass.
But inflation is not the only thing that the Germans fear. They are also scared that they will end up being responsible for the debts of other countries. Can you understand that?
First of all, I don’t like this talk of “the Germans”, “the Italians” or “the French”. We live in democracies. Our mandate is to ensure price stability. We have delivered price stability, and the markets clearly trust us to continue doing so for the next ten years. The question of debts and who should be responsible for them needs to be put to national governments. First, to the governments who behaved improperly in the past and accumulated excessive levels of debt. And second, to the governments who simply accepted that behaviour on the part of their neighbours. We, the Executive Board and Governing Council of the ECB, have spent years arguing publicly against infringements of the Stability and Growth Pact and warning of the dangers that this poses.
Do you think Germany has changed over the years?
I have, of course, had the opportunity to discover much of Germany for myself and have gained a lasting impression of this country. This is due, among other things, to the fact that I have many, many friends here – friends such as Jürgen Stark, Horst Köhler, Theo Waigel and Hans Tietmeyer and many more. So, I have close ties with Germany. I have observed changes in Germany which are highly significant from an economic perspective. A simple example is the fact that, when I moved to Frankfurt eight years ago, the shops were shut by late afternoon – and shut all afternoon on Saturdays! Now, some are still open at 10 p.m., which my wife particularly appreciates. This is a small thing, but it shows that the country is changing extremely quickly.
Do you have the impression that the Germans are too scared?
As regards inflation, I understand the deep-seated fears of many German citizens, given their experience of hyperinflation in the 1920s. In fact, a lot of people feel much the same way in France. The French experienced hyperinflation at the time of the revolution. This experience of the “assignats” – paper money introduced during the French revolution that lost all but a fraction of its value in just a few years – continued to have an impact right up to the Second World War. But what matters is the fact that today we have price stability in the medium term and inflation expectations are firmly anchored. The thing about Germany is that, given its export-oriented economy, it is widely acknowledged by employees and workers that international competition means that there is limited room for manoeuvre. In other countries, the weight of the public sector is much greater and the percentage of the private sector which is engaged in the production of tradable goods is smaller. As a result, there tends to be less recognition of the importance of competitiveness than there is here. In this respect, Germany is particularly well equipped to meet the demands of international competition.
Over the last few months you have – as result, among other things, of the ECB’s buying of government bonds – been heavily criticised by people in Germany, including your friends. Do you feel misunderstood?
This means that we have to tirelessly explain what we are doing. We have strictly separated (in accordance with the “separation principle”) our interest rates, which are designed to deliver price stability, and our “non-standard measures”, which are helping to improve the transmission of our interest rates in this period of market disruption. We cannot ignore the fact that we are experiencing the worst global financial crisis for 66 years!
What do you say to your critics?
What exactly is the criticism? Have we delivered price stability since the inception of the euro – both before and during the crisis? Are we credible in delivering price stability over the next ten years? The answer to these two questions is “yes”. We are conducting monetary policy for our 332 million fellow citizens in 17 countries. We design all our non standard measures – the full allotment of liquidity at fixed rates, the covered bond purchase programme and the Securities Markets Programme – to be commensurate to the market disruption, in order to improve the transmission of our monetary policy.
Some German central bankers say that the ECB’s actions have taken it to the limit of what is defensible, while others say that it has overstepped this limit.
We are entitled to use all of the instruments mentioned, since the transmission of monetary policy is at risk if interest rates for “risk-free” monetary and financial investment instruments in the individual euro area countries are hampering our monetary policy. At the same time, we have always made it clear that financial stability is the responsibility of governments. We had to intervene – for monetary reasons – only because for a long time governments did not take their responsibility for ensuring financial stability seriously. Have we perhaps gone too far as regards our monetary policy? To answer that, we should look at the policy rates of other currency areas, such as Japan or the United States, which are much lower than ours. Any comparison with other important advanced economies’ central banks shows that we are actually very prudent in our application of non-standard measures.
But is that also true of the non-standard measures?
Again, the comparison is simple. Look at the evolution of central banks’ balance sheets since the start of the crisis. Our balance sheet has increased by around 80%. On the other side of the Atlantic, the equivalent balance sheet has grown by 226%. None of us can ignore the crisis. Drawing on the ideas of the great German thinker Max Weber, I would say that we have to rely on both the ethic of conviction, which I associate with the interest rate measures, and the ethic of responsibility, which I associate with all the non-standard measures. And we have to do that in a highly responsible way. That being said, did you know that in my own country I was called the “ayatollah of the strong franc” and “Tietmeyer’s clone”?
You must admit that you find that flattering.
It was meant as very harsh and serious criticism by some in my home country. On the other hand, there are also those in Germany who are not critical. I was awarded the Karlspreis in Aachen and the Global Economy Prize in Kiel. This was a very great honour for me and both were very moving occasions.
In Germany there is a debate about whether the voting rights in the ECB’s Governing Council should be redistributed. Instead of the rule that each member has one vote, there would be a weighting according to capital share. Is that conceivable?
When Monetary Union was set up, the “one member, one vote” rule was an important requirement for Germany. A different approach would have been possible, but Germany was afraid that there would be a nationalisation of the behaviour of the Governing Council members. When the EU was enlarged, the voting rules of the Governing Council were reformed in the Treaty of Nice in order to safeguard the decision-making capacity of the Governing Council in the enlarged EU. The idea of taking into account the size of the respective countries has thus already been implemented.
Will European integration, as currently foreseen, be possible without excessive transfer payments?
We should make a distinction between assistance, transfers and loans. The Treaties do not prohibit loans between member countries. It would not be conceivable on any continent for countries not to help each other out with loans bearing interest, for instance to complement IMF loans. The Treaties do prohibit subsidies and transfers. In addition, it should be possible in future to impose decisions on countries that persist in not complying with the Stability and Growth Pact, thereby putting at risk the stability of Monetary Union. In my view, the Treaties would need to be amended to this end.
Why do you believe that the new Stability and Growth Pact will not fail just as the old one did?
It is much stricter, although not as strict as we would have liked it to be. In addition, the euro area countries have been made painfully aware of the dangers of constant violation. They have learned the hard way that benign neglect is not acceptable.
This crisis has also changed the role of the ECB. Is there not a risk of the central bank taking on too much responsibility and overdoing things? You sent the Italians a letter in which you set out what the country needs to do in order to get the debt crisis under control. That is not the type of letter that central banks usually send to governments, is it?
You know, much of what we have developed and put into practice in Europe has gradually gained acceptance throughout the world. That is true of the deficit limit of 3% of GDP, of the inflation target of just below 2%, and of the central bank’s press conference. And the same is also true of the tradition of the Bundesbank, the Banque de France and other European central banks to voice their opinion on fiscal policy. This has proved to be worthwhile. The reason that we are experiencing such great difficulties and that we have this government debt crisis is that for too long the governments of the advanced economies and of Europe in particular did not live up to their fiscal responsibilities.
What exactly caused the ECB to step in?
There was a decision to expand the rescue fund, the European Financial Stability Facility, and to broaden its mandate so that it can purchase government bonds. All 17 Heads of State or Government signed up to this decision. There were then delays, and so the ECB once again found itself in a situation where it had to intervene in the bond market in order to safeguard the transmission of monetary policy. We had to act decisively vis-à-vis savers and investors throughout the world. We had to send a message to governments about what, in our opinion, could be done in order to retain the confidence of the markets. But we never act as a substitute for the governments’ responsibility and decisions.
Will the ECB not stretch itself too far through the politicisation of its role?
We are not politicising our role. We are executing our monetary policy responsibly in accordance with the Treaty, fully in line with the European tradition as regards our call for sound fiscal policies, at a time of the worst crisis since the Second World War. The Europeans are making history. There has never before been an attempt to bring together 17 countries, including the world’s third, fourth, sixth and eighth largest industrialised economies. This is, of course, ambitious. And the crisis is acting in advanced economies as an X-ray picture: it is revealing the weaknesses of all. In our case, it is the weaknesses of the governance of Economic Union.
But why is the ECB constantly seen at the centre of the action and on the political stage?
The ECB is the most developed institution of integrated Europe, and the institution that is fully able to take action. Something that also plays a role is the fact that Europe’s capitals – unlike us – may not have at all times a complete and immediate picture of the crisis situation. From this institution, we have the complete picture, worldwide and in Europe. It is simply our duty to pass on this picture to the leaders of our democracies. Sometimes they follow us, sometimes they don’t. The responsibility lies with the governments. The most important thing for the ECB is to ensure medium and long-term stability, and that is why it cannot use monetary policy to put right the failings of government policies.
Will the euro still be around in ten years?
Not only will it be there in ten years’ time, the information that we obtain from investors and savers indicates that it will ensure price stability in line with our definition: less than 2%, but close to 2%. The average annual inflation rate six to ten years from now is expected to be 1.8%.
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Three questions the financial services industry must answer in 2021
Xformative, a Mastercard Start Path recipient, shares what these questions mean for fintech partners and their innovations
This year, fintechs and institutions alike pushed the limit on how fast, innovative, and digitally-savvy they could be. Buzzwords like cloud and faster payments made headlines, but 2021 will be about refining best practices and putting them into action. Xformative believes that more industries should benefit from digital payments and that it’s not just about faster payments, but the option to offer multiple methods.
- Which industries are lagging in the digital payments space and why? The pandemic forced financial institutions and their partners to move digital transformation into a new phase of maturity. But this doesn’t mean every industry has transformed, there are still laggards. According to a survey of more than 1,400 American freelancers and contractors, conducted by Bill.com, more than half said they were still receiving their money in the form of a physical check. Checks still exist in spaces like Property and Casualty, though we did see some reassuring industry changes this year. The year ahead will require businesses to offer more payments flexibility outside of physical checks to meet the payment needs of their gig workers, freelancers, and contractors. Businesses will rely on technology partners to bring them up to speed and simplify the payments process.
- How can fintechs overcome the challenges of building in the cloud? Most businesses want to architect using a select cloud provider, or at least offer cloud-based services, to remain competitive in today’s fast-paced, disruptive landscape. There are assumptions that cloud architecture will inherently be less expensive to operate than legacy mainframe systems, but for many, these assumptions have turned upside down when developers fail to understand cloud cost optimization principles. As fintechs look to build in the cloud, they should ensure their technology is highly optimized, only leveraging real-time capabilities and transactions when required. Responsible fintechs should focus on balancing customer experience and economics with a mix of batch and real-time capabilities, constantly asking themselves, “is real-time the best choice?” Just because real-time can be offered doesn’t mean it should, and 2021 will be about drawing the line between utilization and optimization.
- Why is offering more payment choices important? Emerging faster payments are working in parallel, not as a replacement for other methods. People want options to be able to pay however they like, whether it’s with Zelle, Venmo, Apple Pay, or traditional methods like cash or card, and financial institutions need to be prepared to meet this demand. The card that consumers once kept in their wallet was a key component of the bank’s and/or program manager’s brand value, as well as potentially communicating the cardholder’s lifestyle and socioeconomic status. 2021 will reinforce the value of financial institutions having partnerships with fintechs who can help them evolve their brand value to include the broad scope of emerging payments.
It’s time fintechs and institutions partner to digitize payments and offer choices. 2021 is about building smart and partnering for capabilities that can open the door to new opportunities at a financial institution.
2020: The paradoxical year that has reshaped the future of motor insurance and related sectors
By Alan Inskip, Tempcover CEO & Founder
There’s no doubt that 2020 will be remembered as the year that changed the world. Whether that overall change was for the better or for the worse is a matter of perspective. One thing is for certain, 2020 has been the year of immense innovation and adaptability in the face of seemingly insurmountable adversity caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. In this piece, I’ll touch on some of the greatest challenges that could have had a potentially crippling effect on the economy but instead were overcome and ultimately paved the way for increased resilience and innovation.
Public transport shunned in favour of private vehicles, but driving patterns dramatically shift
With ten months of varying national and regional lockdown restrictions, passenger numbers on public transport have plummeted as many people continue to work remotely, and with most opting for the safety of travelling by private vehicle when they do need to get out and about. But because of restrictive travel measures, motorists have been using their vehicles far less frequently.
This posed a major challenge for traditional motor insurers that were not able to swiftly adapt to this change, with many coming under fire for failing to adjust annual premiums in line with new driver trends. As motorists became increasingly frustrated having to pay the same premiums or sometimes even more despite their vehicle usage being substantially minimised, the relatively new and still largely unfamiliar InsurTech industry was able to rise to the occasion.
In short, InsurTech involves the utilisation of the latest technological innovations such as data analysis, cloud computing, artificial intelligence and machine learning to enable insurance products to become more agile and flexible in line with modern consumer demand – all while remaining price competitive.
Being fully-digital and technology-driven, InsurTechs demonstrated the flexibility and agility that enabled them to adapt to the huge shift in customer demand and step change in how insurance is purchased and consumed. They did this by offering an entirely digital user experience in near real-time, with temporary policies tailored to the time actually needed – anywhere from 1 hour to 28 days.
In a time of furlough and economic uncertainty, this meant that many motorists who were not using their vehicles regularly did not have to take drastic action like declaring their vehicle SORN to achieve short-term financial relief. Nor did they have to risk driving uninsured or committing to an annual policy that they could ill afford at the time.
The rise of the digital dealership offering temporary insurance as part of the purchase journey
In the automotive retail market, dealerships were forced to make drastic changes to their operating models to comply with social distancing guidelines. Showroom footfall and subsequent sales initially plummeted. But in the face of this immense adversity, we witnessed the rise of the digital dealership, a concept that would have been unfathomable even just a year ago.
Cazoo was the first fully-digital platform to enter the vehicle dealership market in late 2019, and there has also been significant investment this year in new entrants such as Cinch and Carwow. Traditional dealerships such as Arnold Clark, Cargiant and Motorpoint have extended the digital aspects of their purchase journeys with services including home delivery and Click and Collect as alternative options to the full show room experience.
InsurTech has been instrumental in ensuring that car insurance supports this shift to digital, as several national blue-chip dealerships, with both physical and digital showroom floors, now offer temporary driveaway insurance policies that cover the vehicle for a fixed-term, usually between five to seven days.
The entirely online one-step user experience is the first of its kind in the traditionally outdated and inflexible driveaway insurance industry and it is dramatically simplifying the process of how insurance is purchased and consumed. Due to the flexibility and agility of the digital solution, each retailer has its own unique URL, where the customer can obtain a simple single-cost policy in just 90 seconds through an entirely digital process, which fits in line with the evolving consumer purchase trends.
This takes the stress out of searching for annual insurance on the spot and provides the driver with near instant cover so that they can immediately drive their new car while giving them the opportunity to thoroughly research the best annual policy to suit their needs. It’s also an ideal solution while the car is under its money-back warranty, as the driver does not have to commit to an annual policy on a car that might be returned. Another benefit is there’s no risk to any existing No Claims Discount, as it’s a separate and standalone policy.
Declining brand loyalty and a demand for a more personalised and convenient user experience
Insurance has an unenviable reputation for being inflexible and even unwilling to adapt to shifting consumer trends – making it confusing for most customers. Even pre-COVID, there was a clear trend that brand loyalty was in decline, as modern day consumers are no longer prepared to remain blindly loyal to any company for a long-term period. Instead, they will reward businesses that offer a simple and convenient user experience at best value. COVID accelerated this trend and many large insurers have struggled to adapt accordingly.
Conversely, this has enabled InsurTech to thrive, as the products and user journeys are developed with direct input from customers to ensure that they are receiving a straightforward and fit-for-purpose solution that best fits their needs and requirements. Just some examples of this are simplified terms and conditions, near-instant and paperless policy documentation via the web or dedicated app, and data-driven customer engagement initiatives that offer personalised discounts and communication via email and text messaging. The end result is a user experience that is easier, more convenient and better value for potential consumers in the market.
Cautiously optimistic (if somewhat uncertain) future
Even in the most stable periods, it’s a challenge to accurately predict future market trends. And with 2020 completely rewriting the rulebook on how business is conducted, it would be remiss of me to make outright predictions. One thing is for certain, the days of slow, inflexible and costly motor insurance are numbered. It is important to note that this doesn’t mean that InsurTech is gaining the upper hand at the expense of the traditional insurers in a bid to replace them.
Instead it is there to fill a gap and act as a complementary add-on to provide the best possible value to the consumer. Industry players that enter new collaborative partnerships will dramatically improve the consumer experience, leading to new business wins and return custom, which ultimately impacts positively on the bottom line. But those that fail to adapt will be left behind.
I believe that we can look forward to a futuristic economy in 2021, where ground breaking technology continues to advance at an unprecedented rate to adapt to rapidly evolving consumer lifestyles and subsequent purchasing habits. The real winner will be the consumer and that is in everyone’s best interest.
Leadership and management in a WFH world
By Carolyn Moore, SVP of People at Auth0
Although many of us will have settled into some kind of groove, having worked away from the office for the best part of a year, there are still numerous challenges that businesses and their workforces face in this new reality.
One particularly pertinent challenge is the one faced by people managers, especially those managing virtually for the first time. How can you ensure productivity from those in your charge when you don’t have direct oversight? How do you have those more difficult conversations over a video call? Some of your team may be handling remote working better than others, so how differently should you be handling them day-to-day?
For the majority of businesses these will be questions they’re still grappling with. When the pandemic hit, we happened to be in the fortunate position of being a remote-first business, where 60% of our nearly 700 employees were already working from home. As a result, the uptick to 100% was far less taxing for us. In seven years of working from home, we’ve learned a lot about managing teams remotely, a few of which may help leaders who are still navigating the transition.
Keeping communication channels open to build trust
Leading a remote team is wholly different to the usual, in-office set up. Strict hierarchy, and any notion of presenteeism do not translate well into the remote working environment. You have to accept that your employees’ domestic life will necessarily overlap with their professional one.
Leading a virtual team requires trust and a philosophy of work based on results, and managers need to learn to give them more freedom to do work on their own terms, as long as they produce the intended results.
Building trust is best managed with regular communication. Frequent written communications from leaders regarding strategy, objectives, and organisational learning is crucial. It’s natural when working remotely for team members to isolate themselves and get wrapped up in their own workload. Managers need to help their teams understand how their work impacts on the broader corporate objectives. At Auth0, we adopted and adapted a technique created by Google called ‘Objectives and Key Results’ (OKRs) to enable this.
Now more than ever, make it a priority to regularly check in with your employees and always be up to date and aware of what their needs are. One of the first initiatives we kicked off in an effort to do so was our Slack ‘Coronabot’. This is a tool we integrated with our main form of communication that allows employees to self-identify if their work capacity was impacted by the pandemic. Another way that we tried to better understand the concerns and needs of our employees was holding listening sessions. From these listening sessions, we’ve rolled out a couple of initiatives to combat burnout, including Slack-free weekends and no internal meeting Fridays.
Make flexibility a priority
As the worlds of home life and work life collide, the traditional ‘9 to 5’ workday needs to evolve. Leaders need to encourage their team to devise their own schedules and complete work at those times when they’re most productive.
If in doubt, ask your employees how best you can help and trust that their answers will be honest. In our own experience we saw a need for a different approach when it came to supporting our employees who are caregivers. With childcare much less accessible, caregivers are doing double duty. We rolled out a survey to these individuals to hear directly how best we could support them and used the feedback to plan future programmes and supports.
We have encouraged these employees to take advantage of flexible working hours, should they need to adjust due to the pandemic, and are using tools like Clockwise or Slack that allow our employees to set their working hours and snooze notifications when they’re offline. This alleviates the pressure to respond, and we’ve found employees are actually happier and more productive this way, especially if you have a team spread across several time zones.
Put your culture front and centre
When you work remotely interactions between management and staff become increasingly transactional. Leaders need to avoid making decrees without explaining the reasoning behind them, and the thought process that led to them. Failure to do so can create a secondary culture within the workforce composed of rumours and hearsay, which can lead to mistrust.
Leaders therefore need to firstly be clear in the reasoning for their decisions, but also explicit about the culture they want to create. Your corporate culture must be written down and communicated frequently so employees can use them to guide their everyday work.
This is particularly beneficial for multinational companies spread across geographies and timezones and encompassing multiple cultures. Whether your teams are based in Singapore or San Francisco, they all have a code of conduct to adhere to This is crucial for dealing with conflict in a productive way and creating teams that collaborate and respect each other.
Create virtual spaces to socialise
Leaders mustn’t forget the more pastoral benefits of the workspace. Spontaneous water-cooler chats may seem trite, but they’re an essential means of colleagues building rapport and learning about one another’s lives outside of work.
Socialising should not disappear when you transition to remote work. That would be bad for business, productivity, and employee wellbeing. Instead, I would encourage you to get creative and use different functionalities of the collaboration tools you’re probably using daily. We use Donut within our Slack channels, that randomly pairs three employees together and schedules them for a meeting. The intention is to bring employees together that otherwise may never interact and have them connect on topics beyond the workplace, such as life, family, etc. Donut has been a fantastic aid in keeping our distributed workforce feeling connected. We’ve also utilised the results of both our semi-annual engagement survey and more frequent pulse surveys to give us insight into how effective these engagement programmes have been and where we could tweak them to make them even better.
Don’t neglect security
Security should always be a top priority, especially especially as people are logging into more services remotely. Your business’ IT and Security teams should have set up multi-factor authentication as the minimum standard. As new apps are connected to better enable any of the measures described above, your IT teams and managers should also be educating their teams about the access third-party providers have to their data.
Managers have a crucial role to play as evangelists of security best practice. They should be monitoring whether their teams are completing their security awareness training and, if new apps or technology are being introduced, ensuring that the appropriate channels are open for them to ask questions. The pandemic has been a lucrative time for cybercriminals, who have taken advantage of some lapses in security best practice. Ensuring security is everyone’s business, but it starts from the top.
Building for the future
For many businesses the move to remote working will have been, and is continuing to be, a difficult transition. Admittedly, remote work is not a perfect substitute for personal communication. When circumstances allow, we would recommend managers meet with their teams in-person at least once a year. managers meet with their teams at least once a year.
However, even whilst the pandemic still hampers our ability to travel and meet face to face, it is still possible to have a distributed team that is productive, collaborative, and happy. If leaders take the time and make the effort to foster a culture built on trust, it will open up opportunities for you in the long-term, no matter what that future may be.
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