Trusted Novus Bank - a look back at the challenges of 2020 and an optimistic outlook for 2021

14 December 2020

“It has been the most challenging year for me as leader and yet at the same time a very successful year for the bank” CEO Christian Bjørløw concludes.

There is no doubt when you look back at 2020, the overriding recollection will be COVID 19.  The same is of course true for Christian and Trusted Novus Bank. When asked to describe 2020 he says “COVID 19 has had a massive impact on how we have been able to do banking, how we have had to service our clients, as well as safeguarding our employees from a health perspective and ensuring they can work from home. So, I think the right word is complicated, but thankfully successful despite COVID 19. It was a relief that we were semi prepared for a situation like this, because we had a contingency plan meaning that employees could work from home on their laptops. At the same time of course we all had to adapt to a new way of working, having meetings with both employees and clients over the phone and via video conferencing.”

With regards to servicing clients during the first months of lock-down Christian says “We did our upmost to be in contact with our clients throughout the whole process. Just after the start of the pandemic when we had lockdown in Europe, it was paramount for us to be even more in touch with our clients. Financial markets virtually collapsed overnight, dropping 30 – 40 %, and some even more, making it crucial for us to call our clients to talk about the crisis and try to address their concerns.  We also took frequent contact with our local corporate clients, discussing ways in which we could assist them in regards to the difficulties some business sectors in Gibraltar experienced. Some clients were offered “payment holidays” on their mortgages or a temporary overdraft facility to assist with their potential cash flow situation. In general, we have been in frequent contact with each client to discuss how we could help them in these unprecedented times.”

Providing a consistent and out of the ordinary service to our clients throughout the pandemic has been and continues to be fundamental, as is also the focus on the Bank’s employees. Christian states “Personally, it has been one of the most difficult years for me as a leader and CEO, because I find it very challenging to maintain our values and our strategy of being the best workplace in Gibraltar, with employees working from home. It is not just being able to be together, have a party, or an overall discussion about our strategy and plans for the future. In general, we as leaders had to adapt to a new situation which has been challenging and I do not think we are quite there yet!” Christian continues “On the positive side we have welcomed 18 new colleagues in 2020, which is a fifth of our current workforce. However, even here COVID 19 had its impact, making it complicated to introduce our new colleagues to the organisation and our culture. How do you introduce a new employee to the Bank’s values or culture, when they start employment by working from home the first six months? Challenging times indeed!”

Besides COVID 19, the year 2020 has been challenging for the banking sector in general. “In the past we were able to generate profit from having the clients’ money in deposits in the bank, because we could place funds in the market at a reasonable interest rate. That possibility has ended. Instead of providing steady income from interest rates, the Bank must now pay interest to maintain a deposit. This will be visible in the financial statement from all banks in 2020 and certainly also for 2021.” Christian tells. He continues “As a bank we need to reconsider our whole business strategy to fit the new environment we are in.

Continuing the discussion about how Christian sees the bank in 2021, he says “Despite all the challenges, and the fact we still don’t know the full impact of COVID 19 on the financial market, I am very optimistic for the Bank’s performance next year. I see a huge potential in the mortgage market in Gibraltar. There are many new developments on the horizon and it is the main part of our strategy to strengthen our local presence in Gibraltar and be even more supportive of the local community, whilst at the same time continuing to provide our services to our international private banking clients living outside Gibraltar. The services offered to our international private banking clients are unique, differing from other private banks. Our entrance level for becoming a private banking client is considerably lower than at other banks. Likewise, we are the only retail bank in Gibraltar giving investment advice to clients with smaller balances, because other banks may not have the licence to do so or simply do not open accounts for smaller clients. These are some of the things on which we will focus our strategy.”

Christian continues “We still receive IT and system support from Jyske Bank in Denmark as was stated in the terms of our sale. However, in the process of becoming independent, Trusted Novus Bank must acquire a new banking platform and IT system. This will put a lot of pressure on the organisation, as it is a massive project implementing a new banking system. For the next year our clients will not experience any difference, but hopefully in early 2022 there will be significant change to our online banking system - Netbank. We may also see the introduction of other products and services made possible due to our investment in a new banking platform. We expect the new system to be of great benefit to our employees, and ultimately our clients, as the processes in our current system can be quite cumbersome. By automating some of the processes, our employees will have more time to be able to focus even more on direct contact with our clients. Our aim is to give our clients an enjoyable and out of the ordinary experience when dealing with us. In the future we will be able to offer much improved digital solutions for our clients, e.g. mobile banking, although unfortunately this will not be possible in 2021. We are also considering a new card payment solution in 2021 that will enable us to offer direct debit card as well as credit cards.”

Looking to 2021, another inevitable factor to consider is Brexit. When asked about Brexit, Christian says “Oh yes, Brexit, we still don’t know, and no one knows right now the impact it will have. It seems like it will be a hard Brexit, but at the same time there seems to be negotiations taking place between Gibraltar, Spain and the UK. Let us see the final outcome. We are currently considering how we can service our existing clients in Europe because there will/could be some restrictions after January 1st 2021 due to Brexit.” He continues “Brexit could also provide opportunities as there is a signed double-tax agreement between Gibraltar and the UK, from which we could benefit. This could potentially allow us to provide people in Gibraltar with mortgages to buy a property in the UK. Thankfully we are not that dependent upon our income from EU due to a change in the strategy some years ago. As a bank we are very resilient, I would say, and we will be able to cope with the worst-case scenario on Brexit. Some doors closes but for sure other doors open up.

When asked if he is optimistic for the future, Christian answers “Definitely! We have many challenges ahead, but equally many opportunities. Our strategy is to continue to have a strong presence in the local market, to be the first choice bank for specific products, and to explore further opportunities in the international private banking market. It is our intention to grow our business whilst still providing individual solutions and an out of the ordinary banking experience.”

 

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