Strong partners for international business

As the Divisional Board Member for Financial Institutions at Commerzbank, Christof Gabriel Maetze has been responsible for business relationships with banks, multilateral banks and central banks worldwide since 2007. In May 2014, his responsibilities were expanded to include the Cash Management & International Business division of the Mittelstandsbank segment. In addition, Maetze also represents Commerzbank on the boards of the German-African Business Association, the German Asia-Pacific Business Association and the East and Central Europe Association.

Mr Maetze, what exactly does the Financial Institutions division do – and how do small and medium-sized enterprises benefit?

Christof Gabriel Maetze: Within the Mittelstandsbank segment, the Financial Institutions division manages the collaboration with credit institutions in Germany and worldwide. In all, we are responsible for relationships with some 5,000 commercial banks, as well as with central banks and sovereign entities, such as states, supranational institutions and government agencies.

For companies focused on foreign trade or investing in foreign markets, our 45 representative offices and Financial Institutions Desks serve as the bridge to their foreign contracting parties. The core expertise of our personnel in the Financial Institutions division includes not only an in-depth knowledge of the countries they are dealing with, but also extensive expertise in foreign business and transaction management. This forms the foundation for working successfully with other credit institutions – and naturally it is also a valuable resource for companies looking to internationalise.

Does this value added only benefit those companies that are themselves present in these markets worldwide? After all, internationalisation generally starts with foreign trade.

Christof Gabriel Maetze: That is correct, but here too, it is necessary that you also be familiar with the cultural, economic and legal situations in each country. You have to be able to find out about the creditworthiness of your customers and suppliers, and to assess country risks. Financially, it is also necessary that you have the right instruments, such as letters of credit, with which to transact your business and hedge against risk. These are but some of the ways in which our network of approx. 5,000 correspondent banks and business relationships in over 200 countries are a great help. This is also one of the key reasons why no other bank processed more letters of credit in favour of German exporters outside Germany in 2013 than Commerzbank.

Your expanded responsibilities also include cash management, meaning that you are in charge of the current SEPA migration. How can companies benefit from the advantages offered by SEPA and from the experience you have gained through the migration process?

Christof Gabriel Maetze: In a snap survey which we conducted this spring in conjunction with a university of applied sciences, the Fachhochschule des Mittelstands in Bielefeld, more than 90 per cent of companies surveyed said that they were already SEPA-ready by 1 February 2014, the original migration date. That is an outstanding result, and it is worthy of respect. Things do not look as good throughout the other SEPA countries, but due to the fact that the international aspects of SEPA are a key part of the new regulations – one need only think of cross-border direct debit collection, which is now possible – the extension of the deadline until 1 August 2014 certainly won’t hurt.

Once companies have successfully completed their SEPA migration, they should concentrate on making sure that their newly won expertise on payment transaction processes does not disappear. For example, further optimisation of payment transaction processing in various country formats can also be pursued outside of SEPA. We have effective solutions in this area which can deliver yet another significant increase in the efficiency of corporate financial management. We have compiled our recommendations in this regard in “The 5-point programme that can optimise your cash management in Germany and around the world ”.

Thank you for your time, Mr Maetze.