Small country, great cohesion

Small country, great cohesion

This is where the blog posts of Birthe Christiansen from the BCM Academy GmbH, our subsidiary, will be published.

In an interview, Christian Herber told me how Corona crisis management in Luxembourg works, that even a small country can be big in dealing with crises and what he learned from his work with the crisis team.




We conducted this interview using a telephone conference tool.

Birthe: "Christian, what exactly is your job? What are your tasks?"​

Christian: "I work in the IT department of the Luxembourg branch of a bank with headquarters in Germany. I have several tasks and hold 3 roles.

On the one hand, I lead the "IT Application Services" team, which is responsible for application and interface support for the Luxembourg entities of our bank. This task takes about 60 % of the time during normal operations. Furthermore, I am the Information Security Officer with 30 % of the time and finally I am also BC Manager and coordinator of the local crisis team. In normal operation, this task takes up 10 % of my working time.

Especially in the BCM environment, we have been working according to the BCM lifecycle based on the ISO 22301 standard for several years. Therefore, the tasks are now carried out routinely. In addition, there are also increasingly quiet phases in the year in which no direct activities are required.

Since the Corona crisis, the distribution of work has changed completely: I spend 10% on my tasks as team leader, 20% on information security, and everything to do with BCM - especially my role as coordinator and moderator in the crisis team - currently takes up 70% of my time.​"


Birthe: "How long have you been dealing with crisis management and BCM?​

Christian: "I have been working in the BCM field since 2005, when I was still at another financial institution and it was more of an ITSCM system. Since 2009, I have been BC Manager at our bank in Luxembourg, which means that I also have an eye on the processes of the specialist departments.

The topic of crisis management has been around in the bank for a long time - from 2015 onwards, we have formalized and professionalized our crisis management system. Previously, the focus was more on alerting and activating emergency plans in the event of an emergency or crisis. After my training with you at the BCM Academy, however, I learned that there were many other areas in which we still had room for improvement. For example, the complete organizational structure - also in connection with BCM and ITSCM, the definition of roles and the staffing of those roles, crisis communication and also supposedly "incidental" topics such as working materials and logging."


Birthe: "What are your findings from the "live operation" of the crisis team and the crisis organization?"​

Christian: "Basically, since the beginning of the crisis we have benefited enormously from the fact that we have dealt with crisis management more intensively in recent years and are glad that we have not only documented the processes, but also sufficiently practiced, "lived" and optimized them!

"Keeping a log isn't something you just do on the side..."

With regard to the roles, I knew what should be provided "by default" in the crisis team. But for some of them, I didn't think we needed them. On the one hand because of the size of our company at the Luxembourg site, on the other hand we have a manageable and dynamic crisis organization there. In the meantime, however, we have found that the "standard roles" make perfect sense - for example, the logbook keeper as a separate role or someone who focuses on communication. Anyone who has worked actively for several days in a crisis team will quickly realise that such tasks cannot be performed "on the side".​


Bildquelle: Lizenzfreies Bild, WIX​

The logbook is very valuable to us in general - we use it to check daily which measures ordered by the crisis management team are still open or what the status is regarding certain decisions. We also use it as a tool for our "lessons learned" and would also use it to provide the banking supervisory authorities or internal audit with evidence of our crisis management team's work, especially with regard to decisions taken. And then, at some point, there should be a "way back"; here we would like to use the logbook to orderly take back certain steps that were necessary for the changed working conditions.

"Formalizations are not always and everywhere met with enthusiasm, but offer added value in the crisis!"

2015 / 2016 after my training with you, we have been able to implement many things and also carried out many formal steps: I have written documents such as a crisis management manual, a crisis response plan, a crisis communication plan and checklists. This did not always meet with enthusiasm everywhere - but now in this situation, even such formalisations offer absolute added value!​"

Birthe: "How do you work together in the crisis organization in this situation?"​

Christian: "First of all, we work via a telephone/video-conferencing tool, via which we meet daily at the beginning and now 3 times a week. We are very satisfied with this. It helps enormously that you can see each other.

Another communication tool that is very helpful in our crisis management work is our messenger service. However, this should be used purposefully and sparingly. For example, we also call a telco or video conference at short notice and unscheduled.

"Fixed appointments and fixed agenda items are helpful - this creates routine!"

Otherwise, we use the logbook - as described - to track or correct the measures.

I find it very helpful that we have set fixed dates for meetings and also proceed according to a fixed agenda. In this way we avoid getting lost in topics or other important points perhaps being overlooked.

Communication is also very important to us - there is a weekly update for our staff on current issues, what the crisis management team is doing, how to proceed etc. External communication with the banking association or the supervisory authority was also important to us from the outset - here too, there are weekly updates on the status from our bank.

And last but not least, regular coordination with the crisis team at our head office is of course indispensable to keep local and Group-wide measures "in alignment"."


Birthe: "What guidelines or recommendations did the Luxembourg banking supervisory authority make for you?​"

Christian: "We have various sources for guidelines and recommendations - there are, of course, the government recommendations and decisions, but also those of the banking supervisory authorities and the Association des Banques et Banquiers (ABBL = Association des Banques et Banquiers, Luxembourg).

The latter approached the banks early on with guidelines. The first recommendations were that each bank should conduct a review of the BC plans in order to be prepared.

Recommendations were also made on preventive measures, such as hand, cough and sneeze hygiene. We also combined flyers and handouts from the Luxembourg health authorities and the Robert Koch Institute at a very early stage, and informed our employees at an early stage via various information channels (mail, intranet, notices).​

"Cloud and remote solutions before Corona? Almost unthinkable!"​

It was also recommended early on that disinfectants be kept ready, that remote working be expanded and that working hours be made more flexible.

Image source: License-free image, WIX

Before Corona, banks in Luxembourg were heavily regulated in terms of cloud and remote solutions. The Luxembourg banking supervisory authority (CSSF = Commision de Surveillance du Secteur Financier) was very restrictive in this respect - only through explicit approval and under the strictest controls and specifications could such solutions be implemented at all. So it came as a surprise to us that already at the beginning of March there was a relaxation of these requirements - in other words: temporary abolition of the licensing requirement for the duration of the Corona crisis. Furthermore, there were recommendations to move employees to the home office if possible.

Since mid-March, weekly reports on failures (personnel, operational or service provider), financial losses or other problems must be reported to the supervisory authority. We are very happy to do this because we are really proud to be doing so well!​


Birthe: "How well were you able to implement the recommendations and guidelines?"

Christian: "We have already thought about many points ourselves in good time. For example, I contacted our board in Luxembourg as early as February and made the recommendation to set up a working group. I invited the board members to a preliminary discussion with suggestions for measures etc. Since mid-February, we have held weekly meetings, and later daily meetings.

Fortunately, we had no problems with disinfectants, the head office had already taken precautions here and could also "supply" us. Our facility management then very quickly provided a dispenser at each floor entrance.

After the initially loose recommendations, we started to prepare for more home office after the loosening up to remote and cloud solutions. Fortunately, our board of directors very quickly followed our recommendation to procure notebooks for all employees so that they could still be delivered on time: Because on March 22, the supervisory authority also made the urgent recommendation to adapt the organization so that as many employees as possible work from their home office - by then we were already "done" with the implementation.​

Birthe: "Were there any ad hoc tasks that you had to do and that you didn't expect to do?

Christian: "When setting up the home office workstations - with a few exceptions in IT, this was never an issue for us for the reasons mentioned above. So we did indeed have tasks that we had not expected: Ad-hoc procurement of hardware, adapting the infrastructure, setting up notebooks.​

"The board also helped deliver the notebooks!"

On the weekend of week 12 we wanted to have all notebooks ready. On Sunday evening, after successfully setting up all devices, performing security checks and creating short documentations and password letters, we started. We brought the employees their home office equipment home. Our board of directors also helped here and delivered notebooks! So we were already in the home office with 92% of the employees on Monday, 23.03. - exactly one day after the supervisory authority had urgently recommended to implement this. Here we were definitely "before the situation"!

Also special was a so-called "Ad-Hoc BIA-Update", which we were to carry out at the beginning of March. Our last BIA was not that long ago, the report was from November 2019, and I was to check whether everything still fitted and, above all, ask who was critical, by name and in terms of time. This information was to be used to work out a split office concept and to prioritize employees when equipping them with home office equipment.

Furthermore, we had to work out a pandemic action plan with different concepts on how to physically separate employees: Via floor distribution, home office, flexibilisation of working hours, sending employees to emergency workplaces etc.​

"When activating the emergency workplaces, there was a surprise..."

Oh - when the emergency workplaces were activated, there was also a surprise: We have concluded service contracts here - but unfortunately only in the event that the building is no longer available. So the service provider has put himself in the way here - our building was in fact not down. We didn't have to reckon with goodwill - there were so many other inquiries that no space was available. In addition, we "only" had a gold contract and were therefore "not prioritized". After the end of the crisis there is a certain need for discussion with the service provider - to put it diplomatically. As it turned out in the exchange with other Luxembourg banks, we were not alone with this experience.

Before the home office solution, there was the news that the border between Germany and Luxembourg would be closed - and that relatively quickly. Most of us commute every day - so we had to make sure that these employees were provided with passes quite quickly.

"Family leave from state without permission and until further notice!"

Another solution of the state has also led to one or the other problem - a "family leave" was spontaneously introduced. Any Luxembourg employee affected by the closure of schools and day-care centres can take this leave. This leave does not have to be approved by the employer and is redeemable "until further notice". Fortunately, the authorised colleagues here are really loyal and flexible and have signalled that they will be available when needed.

Furthermore, from mid-March onwards, our always reliable telephone conference tool at a well-known provider seemed to be stretching all fours due to overload ... Dial-ups were only possible after several attempts, the connections were extremely bad. We then switched to another telephone conference tool without further ado - now it runs smoothly.

Incidentally, the informal exchange with BCM working groups and with you was very helpful in determining a tool that was still functional.​"

"Honestly ... who could prepare for such a scenario?!"

Birthe: "How well were you prepared for such a crisis?"​

Christian: "Honestly - I wonder who could have been prepared for such a scenario... There was no concrete pandemic plan. 6-step plans, as recommended by the WHO since the SARS pandemic, are basically only a theoretical game of thought.

But as the saying goes, whatever BCM or ITSCM does not cover must be creatively and reactively mapped by crisis management. And here we were really well prepared. All the preparatory work and the exercises are now paying off - the management board and the rest of the crisis organization are grateful for the solid preparatory work. Getting to know, working out and using the methods in quiet times now plays into our hands."


Birthe: "How do you personally experience the handling of the Corona crisis by the country of Luxembourg?

Christian: "I am a so-called "border crosser" with German residence and therefore not a citizen of Luxembourg. Nevertheless, I naturally experience first-hand how the government in Luxembourg deals with the issues.​

Image source: License-free image, WIX

For example, we have had a mask requirement for public transport for some time now and everywhere where the minimum distance of 2 metres (in Luxembourg it is actually half a metre more) cannot be observed. However, not only a "duty" is declared, but also - little by little - 5 masks are made available to every citizen free of charge.

For example, on the penultimate Friday to Sunday there was a distribution campaign for construction and trade companies, who were able to collect their masks for their employees in an airport car park for three days, sorted alphabetically. I really appreciate this pragmatism!

"The State of Luxembourg has taken the issue very seriously from the outset and has shown that. No conflicting information - everyone pulls together!"

What I also like is that the State of Luxembourg has taken the issue very seriously from the outset and has shown that it has. In addition to the approximately 600,000 inhabitants in Luxembourg, almost 200,000 people are added to this on a normal working day - simply by cross-border commuters from Belgium, France and Germany. With this special situation, it was recognised early on that targeted measures had to be taken to provide good protection for the inhabitants, cross-border commuters and the economy.

There is regular and good communication, the government meets regularly and has launched a good and clear website (www.covid19.lu). Here ALL will find their relevant and important information: Employers, employees, citizens, cross-border commuters, parents, etc. - always up-to-date and in four languages, simply exemplary!

There are no contradictory information and different approaches - everyone pulls together here!​

"One does well to deal with critical processes and crisis management in advance."​

Birthe: "What is your conclusion? What will change - post-Corona - for all of us? Was there anything good that came out of the crisis?"​

Christian: "After Corona, or rather after the return to "normal operation", there will indeed be a lot of changes - and a lot of positive things: When Jens Spahn already says publicly that emergency plans need to be tested more, that says a lot! I am sure that many more people will now have a connection with the term "Business Continuity Management", it will finally get a different meaning! Many people will now understand that BCM is not just crisis management and that it is a good idea to know your critical processes and resources in advance (keyword BIA) and to develop strategies and plans on how to continue your business operations in case of a failure.

A lot will also change in terms of communication media and home office - for many people, video conferences or home office were not an issue before Corona, there was no reason for it. The Corona crisis was an important trigger here, now it has almost become everyday life for many. I think that many recognise the advantages and I am sure that some of the employees will be able to work more or more often from home to a certain extent in the future. When you suddenly realize that it is possible to get to work without having to travel for hours and sometimes nerve-racking hours every day, and that work in the home office can be just as efficient - and sometimes even more efficient - than in the Bank's shared open-plan office, then such thoughts come to mind. The expansion of home office work using modern means of communication such as videoconferencing, messenger, online collaboration / screen sharing is now gaining momentum.​

"I appreciate the regular exchange with the BCM working groups! We can also learn from the small mistakes of others during the crisis and share positive experiences."

This, in turn, will also have a positive effect on the environment if there are significantly fewer vehicles on the road in rush-hour traffic and also on the "work-life balance" so often cited. Instead of burdening the environment with commuting, people now have more time for jogging in the morning and spend more time with their families. This is a win-win situation for the company and its employees.

My BCM network has also been strengthened - I appreciate the now very regular exchange in the German and Luxembourg BCM working groups and find it very valuable! We exchange tips and experiences - so even during a crisis you can learn from other people's small mistakes or share positive experiences with others."


Birthe: "Christian, thank you very much for taking the time. Can you be reached for an exchange or further questions?"

Christian: "Gladly! The best way is by mail at christian@herber.com"

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