Launched a voucher platform to help retailers and businesses

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Karl-Peter SCHACKMANN-FALLIS
German Savings Bank and Giro Association 

Germany has 377 savings banks (Sparkassen), which have branches in every city, town and rural district. Most of these banks' 12 500 branches were open even during the difficult initial weeks of the coronavirus pandemic, with customer advisers either personally present or available on the telephone or by email.

Social engagement was one of the founding principles of the savings banks. Very soon after the introduction of social distancing in Germany they therefore set up an online voucher platform to be a lifeline for local businesses. Many people wanted to provide support − to help out their hairdresser, their favourite corner shop, or local pub during the period when businesses had to stay closed or were only allowed to open subject to restrictions. Vouchers are a good way of enabling businesses to maintain turnover, with goods or services delivered at a later date. Over 4 000 small businesses promptly registered at helfen.gemeinsamdadurch.de, and have been using Facebook, Instagram or WhatsApp to let their customers know about the voucher scheme. A small hair salon had soon sold more than EUR 1000 in vouchers.

The WirWunder platform was launched in April for donations to clubs and social projects, enabling people to give money to organisations in their region. The platform will now be further expanded to give the savings banks a new tool for providing support locally by the end of the year. The money donated is channelled exclusively into the chosen project. The Sparkassen are running the scheme in cooperation with betterplace.org, a non-profit initiative which was set up in 2007.

The banks are using the hashtag #GemeinsamDaDurch to flag up their activities during the coronavirus crisis. These range from social engagement to business operations. A key role is played by the banks' staff, who are there for customers, advising them and helping to cushion the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic with tailor-made services. By the end of April, 1.4 million business customers had received advice. Just under a third of these conversations led to changes in loan arrangements, suspension of interest or principal payments, or applications for subsidised loans. It was possible to meet 85-90% of customers' needs through these measures, and their interest and principal payments were suspended in 351 000 cases.