One-man bank keeps German village business running

Monday February 18, 2013    1:57 PM

GAMMESFELD, Germany – Peter Breiter, 41, is an eccentric banker. Not for him the large bonuses, complicated financial instruments and multi-million deals.He is happy instead writing transaction slips out by hand for the 500 inhabitants of the small southern German village of Gammesfeld.

“Why would I use a cash machine?” reported Friedrich Feldmann, a customer sitting in the bank’s little waiting room on his once-weekly visit to withdraw cash. “They cost money anyway.”

The Raiffeisen Gammesfeld eG cooperative bank in southern Germany is one of the country’s 10 smallest banks by deposits and is the only one to be run by just one associate of staff.

little banks like this dominate the German banking landscape. Rooted in communities, they propose a limited range of accounts and loans to personal and local business customers.

While numbers have shrunk from around 7,000 in the 1970s to around 1,100 now, cooperative banks like Raiffeisen Gammesfeld provide competition for Germany’s two largest banks – Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank.

A typical day’s work for Breiter involves providing villagers with cash for their day-to-day needs and arranging little loans for local businesses. Not to remark cleaning the one-story building that houses the bank, which is 200 metres from his own front door.

Moving from a bigger bank, where it was all “sell, sell, sell”, Gammesfeld-born Breiter says taking up this job in 2008 was the best decision he ever made.

The advertisement necessary somebody to work by hand, without computers. The typewriter and the adding machine bear the signs of firm use, although Breiter, in his common work outfit of jeans and jumper, does now have a computer.

“It’s so much fun,” Breiter, a keen mathematician, says as he deals with a steady stream of lunchtime customers. He knows his customers by name and regularly offers advice on jobs, relationship and money woes.

“People reported I would get bored, but I’m not,” he reported.

Breiter doesn’t constant mind that he gets barely any holiday each year, saying he is happy to settle for weekends skiing in the mountains nearby. “My hobby is my job. What could be finer?”

The cooperatives’ existence is entwined closely with that of the Mittelstand, Germany’s medium-sized and often family-run firms responsible for much of its export success.

“The Mittelstand is the lifeblood of Germany, and these are often our customers,” Steffen Steudel, a spokesman for the BVR cooperative banking group association informed Reuters.

Mittelstand customers served by Gammesfeld include farmers, a maker of solar panels with around 100 employees, and a window firm, which supplied the windows for the bank.

CAN WE HAVE ONE TOO?

While many cooperative banks took a hit from the financial crisis, they fared better than some banks because they had mostly not tried to expand too quickly or take on too much risk-laden business.

The amaze of seeing large banks go bust has additionally sparked resumed interest in the cooperatives, seen as steady and dependable, according to the BVR.

“Just as consumers want to know where their food is coming from, they additionally want to see what the bank is doing with their money,” Steudel reported.

Raiffeisen Gammesfeld restricts its business to traditional retail banking – no credit cards, shares, funds or constant online banking. Annual profits are stable at around 40,000 euros and the biggest loan it ever concured was for 650,000 euros.

Breiter reported the financial crisis prompted interest in his bank from all over Germany: “One citizen rang up five times asking for a 4 million euro loan but I had to refuse because he wasn’t from Gammesfeld!”

Breiter additionally says people have called to ask how they too can recreate Gammesfeld in their own village, although he says the model is impossible to start from scratch today because of the sums of money that would be needed.

Breiter is additionally proud that Gammesfeld is there to serve the city and not just make profit. Each customer is offered the same interest rate, whether they earn 1,000 or 10,000 euros a month.

Inge Dill, whose son went to school with Breiter, says the bank offers the best interest rates around. “Why would I go anywhere else?”

The bank, however, nearly did not make it this far.

Back in the 1980s, the bank’s previous CEO, Fritz Vogt – whose grandfather founded the bank back in 1870 – had to go through the courts to ensure the bank kept its licence because it did not have a permanent second associate of staff to act as a “second pair of eyes” to double-check transactions.

constant now, 82-year old Vogt, whose house backs onto the bank, still pops in each week to aid out and cast an eye over the books.

Breiter says he too wants to stay working at the bank as lengthly as possible. “Of course I have to be thorough not to withdraw completely into my shell. There’s a whole world outside Gammesfeld after all.”

Copied from the Oregan Herald

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