Camille Nicolas Fohl is the Chairman of the Board of Directors of Spuerkeess
Romain Wehles is the Chief Commercial Officer (COO) of Spuerkeess
AMCHAM: Please introduce yourself to the AmCham expat audience so they better know your life and professional story and the values which guide your leadership decision making process.
Camille Nicolas Fohl: I have had the honor of serving as Chairman of the Board of Directors of Spuerkeess since the end of 2017. Born and raised in Luxembourg, I have dedicated my professional life to the banking industry, with assignments – within an international European Banking Group in Luxembourg, Brussels and Paris, supervising retail & commercial banking activities in Central and Eastern Europe, as well as in China and Vietnam. Thus, with over 30 years of experience in varying market environments, mature markets and emerging markets, stable markets, and crises markets, I witnessed with passion the ever-changing landscape of the financial industry, which has shaped my attention span in the decision-making process.
Romain Wehles: I am the Chief Commercial Officer (COO) of Spuerkeess. I have been Member of the Executive Committee at Spuerkeess and, thus, in charge of the commercial activities of the Bank since 2017. At Spuerkeess, we are committed to transparency as we strive to build trust with our clients, employees, and various stakeholders. Being accountable helps create a culture of ownership and ensures that everyone understands their roles and responsibilities. Putting our customers and their needs at the center of our activities is crucial and needs to be a guiding principle.
Please explain the history of Spuerkeess.
Camille Nicolas Fohl: Spuerkeess has a history that dates back to 1856. It was established as State savings bank to support the economic development of the newly independent Grand-Duchy of Luxembourg, by ensuring the basic mission of a bank: levying deposits and, with these deposits, financing the investment needs of private persons, of corporate clients and of the public sector.
Still owned 100% by the Luxembourg state, Spuerkeess has grown, steadily but surely, over the years to become a strong financial institution in Luxembourg. Today, Spuerkeess is one of the market leaders, offering a broad range of banking services to individuals and local businesses, and developing customised solutions to the local, but also an international institutional clientele.
Given its size and impact on the Luxembourg economy, Spuerkeess is qualified by the European Central Bank regulator as a significant supervised entity, as are 112 other banks in the Eurozone. Therefore, Spuerkeess is supervised by the Banking Supervision/ECB, acting together with CSSF and BCL in its supervisory mission.
Please explain to our readers the present situation of Spuerkeess regarding number of employees, number of office locations, assets under custody, business philosophy and objectives.
Romain Wehles: Currently, Spuerkeess employs approximately 1.900 talented individuals from 16 different nationalities.
In retail banking, we operate a comprehensive branch network consisting of 52 branches spread across the country. The network is tailored to the demographic and socio-professional specificities of Luxembourg and is complemented by enhanced digital client relationship channels and digital service offerings for our clients.
With a balance sheet of € 53,8 billion (31-12-2022) and total assets under custody of €41,2 billion, supported by a strong solvency CET1 of 22%, we remain dedicated to the long-term mission entrusted to the Bank in 1856: addressing the needs of private, professional, and public clients, and thereby contributing to supporting the Luxembourg economy.
How has the COVID crisis impacted your business with your customers? How has the COVID crisis impacted your business relations and practices with your employees?
Romain Wehles: The COVID-19 crisis has undoubtedly impacted our business operations and the way we interact with our customers. During the pandemic, we were able to rapidly adapt to the new circumstances, ensuring the safety and well-being of our customers and employees. We introduced new digital solutions to facilitate remote banking and implemented financial services to support customers through these challenging times. Even after COVID, our customers continue to highly value our digital services combined with personalised expertise and advice offered in our branches for more sophisticated needs.
To what degree is Spuerkeess going through digital transformation, what successes have you had and what challenges are you currently facing?
Romain Wehles: Meeting the needs of our customers amidst changing customer requirements, evolving regulatory demands, and advancing technology necessitates continuous investment in both operational and commercial capabilities, as well as ongoing enhancement of our staff’s competencies. We have made significant strides in digitising our processes, introducing mobile banking applications, and expanding our online available services. Challenges such as cybersecurity and adapting to changing customer behaviors and needs remain a priority as we progress on our digital journey.
Camille Fohl: In the fast-changing banking industry, it is critical to remain pro-actively adjusted to new environments and respond to emerging needs. At Spuerkeess, we embrace change with a positive outlook, aiming to closely monitor upcoming trends – not too late, yet not too early to identify trial and error issues. We aim to foster a culture that encourages continuous improvement in efficiency, operations, and enhancing the customer experience. Digital transformation plays a key role in helping us to achieve this goal.
Please tell our readers the interesting history of the Arcelor ancient Headquarters building which is not your central business location.
Camille Fohl: The building at 19 Liberté, located in the heart of Luxembourg city, was inaugurated in 1922 to serve as the headquarters for the Luxembourg steel group ARBED (founded in 1911). The establishment of this impressive building just a few years after World War 1, and in anticipation of a new cross-border economic union between Luxembourg and Belgium in 1922, following the country’s independence from German influence, was a courageous move. The iconic building symbolised the vision and ambitions of ARBED to position itself not only within Luxembourg, but also on the broader European and international stage.
The 19 Liberté building continued to serve as headquarters (HQ) to ARBED even after the merger of ARBED into Arcelor in 2002 and into ArcelorMittal in 2006, solidifying its position as the largest steel group in the world today.
Spuerkeess acquired the building in 2014, ArcelorMittal group having put it up for sale after determining that the building was no longer adequate in size and technological layout to serve as HQ to such an international group. As a long-time established neighbor with the Bank’s headquarters located nearby (1 place de Metz) and utilising several additional buildings in the area, coupled with the Bank’s deeply embedded history in the development of the Luxembourg economy, it was an excellent choice for Spuerkeess to succeed in taking over the landlord responsibilities for the historic building, representing Luxembourg Heritage as it does. Today, the building hosts the Bank’s commercial department and training facilities. It is a highly valued meeting and connecting point for its international clientele.
Please tell our readers about the tunnel between your other two HQ buildings just by the bridge; for what purpose was it built and how have you in recent used it for art exhibitions?
Camille Fohl: Between our HQ building at 1 place de Metz, and the other buildings within walking distance up to the administrative building at Rousegäertchen, a tunnel was installed for liaising an integrated access to these buildings. The tunnel also serves as unique exhibition space, hosting changing art exhibitions and cultural events, but also hosting a permanent exhibition of a collection of photographs, owned by Spuerkeess, of the internationally very famous Luxembourg-American photographer Edward Steichen.
Romain Wehles: At Spuerkeess, we aim to support local artists, and young promising artists. Currently, the public can see the work of Joël Rollinger, a young and talented Luxembourgish artist with works that evolved from graffiti to mural painting. I invite AMCHAM members to pay a visit to this interesting exhibition.
What has been the impact on Spuerkeess caused by the recent rise of interest rates both on corporate profitability and on your mortgage rate business with the consumer public?
Romain Wehles: The sudden rise in interest rates has significantly affected the Bank’s mortgage business, of which Spuerkeess holds a 40% market share in Luxembourg. The rising interest rates may pose challenges for some clients in terms of meeting appropriate repayment capabilities for contracting and serving mortgage loans. As a responsible bank, we have initiated an extensive outreach program to support our customers in navigating this changing interest rate environment.
What are your biggest concerns and challenges for seen for the next five years? How do you plan to face those challenges?
Camille Fohl: Our most significant challenge and opportunity in the the years ahead is to support sustainable financial solutions for the Luxembourg economy, private individuals, corporate clients, and the public sector, as they transition towards a more sustainable energy framework. Additionally, it involves facilitating societal adjustments aimed at reducing carbon emissions to address climate change. This task entails to navigating a rapidly evolving regulatory and risk management landscape to align with customer expectations in an increasingly digital world, integrating new technologies into our processes and distribution channels, all the while safeguarding the Bank and its customers against heightened cyber risks.
Romain Wehles: To address the challenges, we can depend on a highly motivated team. We are continually investing in enhancing our team’s skills, technologies, and digitalisation capabilities, allowing us to consistently meet our clients’ needs and expectations while upholding the core values of Spuerkeess.