An interview of Deutsche Bank’s chief executive in glossy and gossipy magazine “Super-Illu” shows not only that the banking industry needs to overhaul its image – but also how divided Germany is, 25 years after the fall of the Berlin wall.
Most people who pick up a copy of the gossip magazine “Super-Illu” on Thursdays usually read about bands that were big in former East Germany, in their ‘Ostalgie’ pages that focus on reminiscing about popular culture in the communist country. But this week, readers of the magazine are also invited to read the thoughts of Jürgen Fitschen, the powerful co-head of Deutsche Bank, Germany’s biggest bank.
In the latest edition he talks to the magazine, in his role of President of the Association of German Banks BdB, about overdraft interest rates, the stress tests of banks and him possibly awaiting prosecution in Munich because of alleged obstruction of justice. He appears in a regular slot, called “The Boss Interview.”
Mr. Fitschen’s decision to speak to a more mass market publication is part of a strategy to get his thoughts out to a wider audience. “Super Illu” is an easy-to-read, general interest magazine that was founded in Berlin and tends to focus on life in former East Germany. An interview in its pages will reach a readership that would not necessarily look at the business pages of a newspaper.
“Fitschen also wants to reach people in the general public, not just the politicians and supervisors,” an insider said.
No publisher has yet been successful to establish a common newspaper or magazine for readers in both the East and West.
“Super-Illu”, is an institution in the East of the country and its regional success demonstrates how divided Germany, 25 years after the fall of the Berlin-Wall, still is. News magazines like “Spiegel”, “Focus”, “Stern” and “Bunte” are predominantly read in the west of the country, the former Federal Republic, while “Super-Illu” sells its more than 318,000 copies almost exclusively in the East
Since the financial crisis began, the general media in the former East Germany have been more keen to tackle economic issues. “Super-Illu” for example runs weekly interviews with chief executives of large corporations and has in previous issues interviewed heavyweights such as Martin Winterkorn, the boss of VW, Harald Schweiger of BASF and Deutsche Post chief Frank Appel.
The readers in West Germany are, as a rule, living under different economic conditions to those in the East. For example, the average hourly wage in the West is around 20 Euros, about one-third higher than in the East, where on average a worker earns a bit more than 15 euros per hour.
The division of Germany caused a cultural rift in Germany that still lingers. Many in East Germany are still interested in the stars and heroes from their past, who are largely unknown in the West. No publisher has yet been successful to establish a common newspaper or magazine for readers in both the East and West.
Commercial banks, as opposed to regional banks or co-operative banks, dominate the financial sector of what was once East Germany, and Deutsche Bank is the largest of the commercial banks. The sector has lent €30 billion ($38 billion) to companies in the region and is market leader with a market share of 50 percent according to the East German Banking Association. In addition, 32 percent of loans to self-employed people come from commercial banks – and households have borrowed €24.8 billion from these banks. This represents a market share of 44 percent.
But Mr. Fitschen’s goal is not just to reach East German customers: while the region is important, it is not core to Deutsche Bank’s business. The commercial banking sector as a whole has awarded less than a tenth of their loans in former East Germany.
His Deutsche Bank colleague and co-head, Anshu Jain, has recently pointed out that it is extremely important for a global financial institution like Deutsche Bank to win popular support. They eventually select the politicians who ultimately chose the regulators.
In speaking to the popular press, Mr. Fitchen is simply following in the footsteps of his predecessor Josef Ackermann, who also had close contact with the mass market press. Once, he felt dizzy after eating a sausage and sauerkraut. “Bild” – the leading German tabloid paper was first with the story of his discomfort, and his eventual recovery.
Laura de la Motte writes about the German banking sector in Frankfurt, the country’s finance capital. Previously, she has written about finance and businesses out of Berlin, London and Düsseldorf. Peter Köhler leads Handelsblatt’s team of banking reporters in Frankfurt. Contact: delaMotte@handelsblatt.com and firstname.lastname@example.org