Denmark often rates as one of the happiest countries in the world and Christian Bjørløw, CEO of Jyske Bank Gibraltar, is a great example of his birth land, displaying the same cheerful spirit in both his home and professional life.
Born in Copenhagen in 1966, Christian went straight from High School into the military. “At that time it was compulsory,” he says “after which I applied for jobs with different banks and was accepted by Jyske Bank, completing my banking degree whilst working.”
Following in the footsteps of his grandfather, who was Chief accountant for the National Bank in Denmark, Christian worked his way up from the bottom. “I worked in eight different branches in every area before heading our Investment Centre in Copenhagen for four years and then I came to Gibraltar as Head of Private Banking in 2002, taking over as CEO in 2007.”
The premises at 76 Main Street are very different to how they looked when Jyske Bank acquired Galliano Bank, Gibraltar’s oldest family-owned bank, in 1987. Having undergone a major refurbishment and modernisation project that was completed in 2014, the contemporary design and Scandinavian décor is definitely not representative of a typical bank and challenges established conventions. “That was the purpose from day one,” Christian says. “All of the branches in Denmark look the same and the idea is to be friendly and welcoming and to instil in people the feeling that they are not just a client but part of the bank.” Inspirational quotes and statements are dotted about throughout, defining the bank’s winning corporate culture through words, with other design features portraying the indigenous environment. “This wall is a symbol of The Rock,” Christian clarifies “and the chandelier hanging down into the Reception Area is a symbol of the levanter.”
Christian explains that he considers Jyske to be a local bank with an international touch. “Five years ago we took a strategic judgement to move more into the retail and corporate market,” he states. “We appointed a team, took over a few people from other banks, and then three months later Barclays unfortunately announced that they were closing down, so for us it turned out to be a timely decision.”
The banking industry in general has gone through some difficult times lately. “Over the last few years we have a negative interest rate in a lot of currencies – especially in the Danish Krone since 2012 and in the Euro since 2014,” Christian states. “Due to these unusual market conditions we have reluctantly taken the decision that we will be introducing negative interest rates for corporate clients as from 1st February 2017, although this will not apply to Pounds.”
With the recent announcement that Nat West are making redundancies and will outsource some of their business, Christian confirms that Jyske have done the contrary and are increasing to in-source. “Looking to the future we are definitely going to continue to focus more on the local market but with a twist,” he says. “We are the biggest bank in Gibraltar now and it is part of the bank’s social responsibility to become involved with the local community.” In that respect the bank supports and sponsors clubs and charities, but their latest challenge is somewhat different.
“We are going to build Tower Bridge,” Christian laughs as he says this, before going on to explain that it will be constructed out of Lego. “We want to build a bridge between Gibraltar and Calpe House in London,” he explains “and as Lego is Danish and we are a Danish bank, we think that is the perfect link.” Every 50p buys one brick and with 4,500 bricks involved the bank hopes to collect around £2,000.
Jyske Bank is also part of the close knit business community within Gibraltar and Christian is obviously concerned about the implications of Brexit and the vote to leave the EU following the Referendum. “I am a very optimistic person and always have been,” he says “and here at the bank we have actually taken on staff since the Referendum.”
Christian goes on to say that although no-one knows what will happen if Article 50 is invoked in March 2017, his concern is not about the economy in Gibraltar. “Even with a hard Brexit the problem for some banks, and also to some extent for us, – is that if we lose our passporting rights into Spain there are certain parts of our business that will be affected, but not the local business.”
“Jyske Bank will stay as a local bank, but if there is a hard Brexit there may be challenges if there is no trade agreement between the UK and Spain,” he states. “If there is a trade agreement between the UK and Spain, we will keep the passporting right, but no one knows.”
Although he remains positive about the possibility of Brexit, Christian is concerned about issues at the frontier and what will happen if restrictions are put on the 12,000 people who come across to work in Gibraltar. “We employ 102 people here, 78% of our staff are actually local, with 85% living in Gibraltar,” he says, “so my concern is not so much for Jyske Bank but more for the jurisdiction.”
As far as Christian is concerned, the bank’s most important asset is the staff. “If you take good care of your employees, they will take good care of the clients and in that respect we are a very forward looking bank.” Bankers’ bonuses have often been a subject for heated debate but Jyske Bank leads by example and does not operate a bonus system. “I don’t receive a bonus if we are doing well; in the same way that our caretaker doesn’t get a bonus or any other employee here, so we are all on a level playing field and that is motivational.”
“Personally I never use my title as CEO, I just say that I am with Jyske Bank Gibraltar, whether I am a cashier or something else it doesn’t matter to me,” he says. “It is not the title that makes you; it is the person that makes you.”