The world’s best bank transformation 2022: HCOB – radical change is possible, even in Germany
Hamburg Commercial Bank is almost unrecognizable from its former incarnation as one of Germany’s most troubled state-owned banks. Now in private hands, it is proving that even legacy banks in the most sheltered parts of European finance can become dynamic and profitable institutions.
Ten years ago, when Stefan Ermisch moved to Hamburg to become chief financial officer of HSH Nordbank, the banking champion of Germany’s largest port was in deep crisis. It looked like it could only get worse.
Previously the world’s biggest lender in ship finance, by 2012 HSH faced a renewed slump in shipping that was weighing heavily on efforts to restructure its bloated balance sheet. Meanwhile, its public-sector owners – represented by the then mayor of Hamburg and now federal chancellor Olaf Scholz – had just forced out their second chief executive in less than two years.
When Ermisch became CEO three years later, the European Union offered HSH a lifeline in the shape of a new state-aid agreement, but only in exchange for a commitment to privatization within two years.