Martin Blessing joined Commerzbank as a member of the board in 2001 and took on the top job in 2008, a few months before the financial crisis was triggered by the collapse of the Lehmann Brothers bank. In 2009, he oversaw Commerzbank’s takeover of his former employer Dresdner Bank.
Commerzbank’s precarious financial position at the time, combined with the acquisition of Dresdner Bank, almost broke the institute and it had to be rescued by government bailouts totaling €18 billion ($20.2 billion). The bank is now moving back into the black, and is investing heavily in its digital strategy.
Digitalization is changing the banks. Why are you only now dealing with the issue of fintechs?
I have been involved in new distribution channels since the 1990s. In 1994, we at Commerzbank founded the direct bank Comdirect, and in 2000 we expanded private banking with mBank. Today, it is, with more than 4 million customers, the largest and most modern online bank in Central and Eastern Europe. That should mean that I dealt with questions early on that are now being posed with new urgency.
Are you impressed by the pioneering work done by some fintechs?
Of course, I think it is exciting that many things are being tried out. Many new companies are being founded, and there will be some that turn into major players in 20 or 30 years.
How many fintechs are you involved in?
We are now involved in five fintechs.