In rural Germany, ‘mobile banking’ means a bank on a truck

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A customer withdraws money from a cash machine at a mobile office bus of the savings bank Sparkasse in Tschirn, southern Germany, in this January 30, 2018 photo. (AFP)
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Juergen Schaller (L), employee of the savings bank Sparkasse, serves a customer in a mobile office bus in Tschirn, southern Germany, in this January 30, 2018 photo. (AFP)
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Juergen Schaller, employee of the savings bank Sparkasse, poses for a photo in a mobile office bus in Tschirn, southern Germany, in this January 30, 2018 photo. (AFP)
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A customer withdraws money from a cash machine at a mobile office bus of the savings bank Sparkasse in Tschirn, southern Germany, in this January 30, 2018 photo. (AFP)
Updated 21 February 2018
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In rural Germany, ‘mobile banking’ means a bank on a truck

TSCHIRN, Germany: Bank manager Juergen Schaller never expected to end up getting a trucker’s license and driving 20,000 kilometers (12,400 miles) per year.
But as brick-and-mortar branches vanish from the rolling Franconia region of northern Bavaria, the neatly dressed savings bank executive jumps behind the wheel four days a week to bring mobile services — including cash machine and consultation room — to tiny countryside villages.
The switch from desk to dashboard has enabled Schaller “to do something else while staying in touch with the customers,” he told AFP.
High-street banks are increasingly being forced to shutter branches, as more and more customers go online, rural populations shrink and low interest rates eat into profits.
As a result, banks such as the public-sector Sparkassen, where Schaller is a branch manager, are having to rethink their business models.
In Schaller’s Kronach-Kumbach district alone, tucked away in the southeast corner of Germany, six branches sporting the red “S” logo of the widely popular savings banks group closed their doors last year.
A similar trend is seen across the country as a whole: nationwide, the number of physical bank branches has plunged by a quarter over the past 15 years to 35 per 100,000 people, according to a study by public investment bank KfW.
The European average is 37 per 100,000, with Spaniards the most spoiled for choice with 67.
Steffen Haberzettl, the sales director for the Kronach-Kumbach Sparkasse, said it was primarily local businesses and older people who had not embraced online banking who were taking advantage of the mobile branch, which first set off on its rounds in 2015.

Haberzettl estimated that around 20 people visited the bank at each stop, equivalent to 12,000 customer contacts a year — a tiny number compared with some 8,800 online banking logins per day.
But “we invested in this service for our clients knowing that it wouldn’t make enough money to pay for itself,” he said.
Local politicians who sit on the Sparkasse board were reluctant to plunge their constituents into a bankless wilderness as the number of closures mount. So, they opted to hit the road instead in one of Germany’s 66 itinerant branches.
In the bank’s trailer, 70-something Maria Neubauer is happy to wait for an appointment with Schaller in his tiny office during his 90-minute stop opposite the church in the slate-tiled village of Tschirn.
“The Sparkasse bus is great for making transfers, or doing anything you need,” she said.
“We’re happy, especially those of us who don’t have a car” to visit a branch further away, another villager Maria Greiner said as she printed an account statement from a nearby machine.
Other customers were busy withdrawing cash on the chilly town square from the ATM embedded in the flank of the trailer.
Schaller makes his rounds to small villages such as this from Monday to Thursday, keeping Fridays free to do maintenance work on the red and white truck and trailer.
He has no access to the cash on board, and so far he’s had no run-ins with would-be bankrobbers.

Banking sector experts predict that the Europe-wide trend toward fewer bank branches will continue apace.
“The speed at which it will happen is hard to predict, and will depend above all on how the banks manage to keep branches relevant as a channel for their customers,” said Thomas Schnarr of consultancy Oliver Wyman.
Nevertheless, “human relationships remain fundamental. Especially complicated questions require personalized advice for retail clients and businesses,” his colleague Alexander Peitsch said.
For his part, Juergen Schaller said he is not qualified to provide such specialist counselling to his clients, many of whom know him by name.
Instead, he passes on individual requests for loans or investments to a colleague sitting in one of the Sparkasse’s brick-and-mortar branches.


Napoleon fever confirmed as hat sells for €350,000

Updated 7 min 37 sec ago
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Napoleon fever confirmed as hat sells for €350,000

  • The final price far exceeded the expected €30,000 to €40,000 for the distinctive “bicorne” hat, which Napoleon wore sideways — rather than with points at the front and back — so he could easily be spotted on the battlefield.
  • Auctioneer Etienne De Baecque: “There’s a sort of craze going on with historical souvenirs, in particular those from Napoleon.”

LYON: A two-cornered military dress hat thought to have belonged to Napoleon went for €350,000 ($406,000) at auction on Monday, the latest sale to highlight the boundless appetite for all things associated with the emperor.
The final price far exceeded the expected €30,000 to €40,000 for the distinctive “bicorne” hat, which Napoleon wore sideways — rather than with points at the front and back — so he could easily be spotted on the battlefield.
The identify of the buyer was not disclosed.
“There’s a sort of craze going on with historical souvenirs, in particular those from Napoleon,” Etienne De Baecque, the auctioneer leading the sale in the eastern city of Lyon, told AFP.
Yet despite details that suggest the hat is one of about 120 the “Little Corsican” went through during his 15 years in power, there is no conclusive proof it belonged to him.
Most of them were made by the French hatmakers Poupard in black felted beaver fur, though only a handful of confirmed examples still exist.
“There are some distinctive elements: Napoleon hated the internal band so he always had it removed,” as is the case with the model sold Monday, De Baecque said.
It has long been attributed to the emperor, with records confirming its ownership since a Dutch captain took it as a war trophy after the battle of Waterloo in 1815.
The auction house said the hat was sold with the box used for its display at the World Expo in Brussels in 1897.
It had passed down through the captain’s family until the end of the last century, when it was sold to a French collector.
Monday’s sale still fell short of the €1.9 million paid for a Napoleon bicorne four years ago — part of a prestigious collection auctioned off by Monaco’s royal family — to the owner of the South Korean food and agriculture giant Harim.
Demand for all things Napoleon has often sent prices spiralling well above estimates.
Last November a fragile gold laurel leaf from the crown made for Napoleon’s coronation in 1804, weighing just 10 grams, was sold for €625,000.