View from City Road: Bulls and boars in Germany

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The Independent Online
Efficiency drives have made British bank managers lose the art of probing their business customers on the golf course or over a pint in the bar. Not so in Germany, where the equivalent for some of the local savings banks - particularly in North Rhine Westphalia - seems to be to own deer- and boar-hunting territory. Bagging a few with the customers is claimed to set the seal on a business relationship where short-term profits do not always come first.

British banks have lost an important dimension to their activities. Rationalisation of branches, the creation of business centres remote from their customers, lending criteria dictated by head office, have all destroyed a type of local banking that may not have been particularly efficient but which nevertheless encouraged and helped managers to back their own informed judgements.

By contrast, the German savings banks, which have the same sort of clout as the British clearers in their small and medium-sized business market, are profitable and do not have bad debts out of line with the commercial banks. They are against privatisation on the ground that a drive for maximum profits would undermine their social objectives.

German industry and finance are going through a difficult transition, and many now argue that its financial system will end up much more like those in the Anglo- Saxon countries, because of market pressures. One guarantee that it will stay conservative, without any privatisation, according to an insider, is the number of politicians who enjoy boar hunting.