Euro am Sonntag interview: Multimillionr Harald Christ: “We have to make sure that not every good idea goes bankrupt” | message
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by Bernhard Bomke, Euro am Sonntag
F.Freedom is one of the words that are particularly important to Harald Christ. The native of Worms has been free of financial worries since he brought the issuing house HCI Capital to the stock exchange in 2005, which brought him many millions of euros. At the end of 2017 he took his liberty and finished his last job as a group manager, and at the end of 2019 he left the SPD – after 31 years.
In his chic office in a typical Charlottenburg old building (from 1897) on Kurfrstendamm in Berlin, uro spoke to him on Sunday about his move to the FDP, money, tax increases, nuclear power and his membership in the Verdi service union.
uro on Sunday: Mr. Christ, do you get bored easily?
Harald Christ: If I only focused on one thing, I would probably do it very quickly. Why do you ask?
You are only 48 years old, held various management positions in banks and insurance companies for 25 years – and nowhere longer than five years at the issuing house HCI Capital.
I calculate differently. If you summarize my various activities at BHW, Postbank and Deutsche Bank, I was employed for more than 13 years in what is now the Deutsche Bank Group.
At the end of 2017 you stepped out as CEO of the sales company of the insurance group Ergo. Since then you have been concentrating on your own consulting firm Christ & Company. Have you had enough of corporations selling financial products or insurance?
No, I simply decided to choose the freedom and no longer take responsibility as a board member for large companies. With such tasks you always give up degrees of freedom. Now as an entrepreneur I can do a lot of things that interest me and give me pleasure.
Who do you advise and who do you explicitly not advise?
We only offer our communication and strategy consulting to customers whom we want to advise. We reject where we have concerns. As a matter of principle, we do not advise any countries that are against the interests of the Federal Republic of Germany. At the moment we would not advise Russia, for example, nor any companies in which the Russian state has a stake.
You obviously see things differently with China. You hold the majority in Rudolf Scharping’s RSBK company, which focuses on consulting business with China.
At RSBK I am neither in management nor on the supervisory board. Rudolf Scharping has been advising German companies in China and vice versa for many years. Of course, one has to criticize China strongly when we think of Hong Kong, for example. On the other hand, as one of the largest exporting nations, we have a great economic interest in China.
A stable factor in your life was the SPD, to which you belonged for 31 years. You left her at the end of 2019. Why?
I joined the SPD at the age of 16 out of conviction. At that time, the party had a strong economic and political core, I was a fan of Helmut Schmidt, who as Federal Chancellor enjoyed a great reputation with foresight in economic policy. This economic side of the SPD has recently become more and more marginalized. If you notice that you can no longer get through with your content, then all that remains is a passive role in a party or resignation. I have decided to leave.
You speak of a longer process of alienation. Then why did you leave at the end of last year?
This also has to do with the current party leaders Saskia Esken and Norbert Walter-Borjans. From a human point of view, I have nothing against the two of them, but I don’t see them as being technically or politically suitable for party leadership. The majority of the SPD, which with Esken and Walter-Borjans manifested a shift to the left by the party, apparently sees it differently. That was the second confirmation for me to leave the party
You joined the FDP at the beginning of March, which in surveys is five to six percent. Is that a good basis for being able to achieve your own goals?
When you make politics, it’s not about what percentage the party has, but whether you share the beliefs that the party represents. I came out of conviction.
The label “socially liberal” is attached to them. What does “socially liberal” mean to you?
I don’t really think of these classifications. I am an advocate of pragmatic politics. I am solution oriented. I look at the challenges we face and try to define solutions that I believe are right. That can lead to the fact that sometimes there are more market-based assessments of me or more socially liberal ones. Yes, the word “socially liberal” is actually pretty good.
Your party leader Christian Lindner called you a “full flavor liberal” at the party conference in September. What is a full flavor liberal?
It was there that I heard the word from him for the first time. But I found the term very appropriate. He probably wanted to say that I am largely independent and that I am taking a pragmatic course on the basis of the social market economy.
Did you come up with the idea of becoming treasurer of the FDP straight away?
Hermann Otto Solms, who held the office for a total of 26 years, proposed me at the party congress.
And you didn’t say no.
When I joined Christian Lindner when I asked whether I could also imagine a mandate in a state parliament or in the Bundestag, I said that was not an issue for me at the moment. A voluntary job, yes, but not a mandate that earns me money. Lindner remembered this when it came to the successor to Solms.
Are you still a member of the Verdi service union?
An entrepreneur and FDP treasurer who pays union fees?
I’m with Verdi and I’ll stay that way.
Why is this important to you?
At a young age, I was involved in a union as a trainee at the municipal utilities in Worms. Just as I am still a member of my old sports club, I have also remained a Verdi member. I think the unions do a lot of important things and stand up for the workers. I support that. Even if I often disagree.
You value clear statements, emphasize them again and again. So please make a clear statement: Who will ultimately pay for the Corona debt, which at the federal level alone amounts to more than 300 billion euros?
We all. However, there is a risk that the younger generations will have to pay disproportionately.
The federal election is next year. It is becoming apparent that the election campaign could be about precisely this question: Who is paying for the crisis? What is your attitude towards the previous proposals, which range from the property tax to Olaf Scholz’s additional burdens for high earners to foregoing tax increases?
I warn against engaging in any ideological, populist tax hike discussions. We are facing serious economic upheavals due to the Corona crisis. So far, the federal government has postponed many decisions to some point. By suspending the bankruptcy law – there is actually a reporting obligation within 21 days – and extending the short-time allowance until after the election, a lot has been done to restore calm in the economy. Many people have the impression that the pandemic is a health challenge, but economically and financially nothing is actually happening. Only, of course, the receipt will come.
So higher taxes after all?
We generally have tax legislation in which people with higher incomes already make a significantly higher contribution to the financing of the state. Unfortunately, the top tax rate takes effect very early on. We would have to change that. Instead of tax hike debates, we need a discussion about how we can get out of the crisis stronger than we went in. How do we get growth organized? How do we manage the socio-ecological transformation of our economy without the economy falling by the wayside? These are questions that are at stake.
How do you want to achieve more economic growth? More support for start-ups?
Yes for example. Large companies like BASF, SAP or Daimler were founded at some point. Research, development and a spirit of innovation always preceded it. And people who were able to use the framework conditions so that the companies became large companies that are now involved in a wide range of activities. Creating jobs, training, investing, global travel. These champions that we have today develop from the wealth of ideas of younger people who just want to do something. In the Corona crisis, we now first have to ensure that not every good idea goes bankrupt. And we have to make sure that we create an investment culture so that these companies can develop.
Do you mean completely new funding programs?
By that I mean programs that already exist, but that are often not used because they are too complex. As a federal government, I would invest massively in innovations and encourage private investors. This includes artificial intelligence, hydrogen technology, and much more investment in digitalization. There is a lack everywhere. I would have liked to see the double-digit billions that the temporary reduction in VAT costs invested in innovative companies and jobs for the future, among other things. Unfortunately, that was not done. If you look at the rate of investment in artificial intelligence, it is marginal.
You want to renew the promise of social advancement. As?
The opportunities for advancement are not evenly distributed in Germany. For example, we need to invest a lot more money in pre-school education. The course for the future is already being set. We are a country poor in natural resources, which would do well to invest in the people who later make their contribution as researchers, as developers in the healthcare sector or wherever else they contribute to society. Every euro is well invested. Incidentally, this also applies to the integration of those who come to us. We have to do a lot more for our children and those of immigrants too. We live from these future resources in our country. Many overlook that.
Issue of climate protection: Can the zero emissions targets in an industrialized country like Germany be achieved without nuclear power?
The question no longer arises because the decision to phase out nuclear power has been made. We now have to see how we can manage the energy supply in the long term without nuclear power and how that remains affordable for people and companies.
For decades, you were at the forefront of companies that sell financial products or insurance. How do you feel about the various sales regulations?
There is no question that we have to protect consumers. But you always have to keep an eye on whether you actually achieve what you want in the end, or whether you overdo it. If you create a complexity for consumers with documentation obligations and the like that does not contribute anything to transparency and only increases the effort and costs for the company, then I do not think that makes sense.
Your suggestion for more targeted investor protection? A commission ban and instead a product-independent consulting fee, as demanded by consumer advocates?
I already write consumer protection very big, but I am opposed to a commission ban. I will also tell you why. Many people in Germany would no longer protect themselves with insurance if they had to pay a consulting fee directly for it. Maybe that’s because of the local mentality. Germans are still more or less happy to pay direct for a lawyer and for the tax advisor. But we are not very willing to pay directly for advisory services in the financial services sector.
How do you invest your money? Shares?
I will not make any new direct investments in stocks at all in the future. Because I don’t want to get into conflict because of my voluntary, but ultimately political role. At the moment I only save in ETFs. Because the externally managed portfolios have a very long-term horizon.
Shares are absolutely taboo?
Just imagine if I had bought Lufthansa shares four months ago and a week later it became known that the state was supporting Lufthansa. Then I would be permanently exposed to suspicion of insider trading. That’s why there are currently only two alternatives for me. One is said ETFs, they are my pension scheme. And the other: I invest in my entrepreneurial commitment.
But you already have a few properties …
I live in an apartment in Berlin that is my property. I also have a few rented apartments and a small takeaway shop. And my house in South Africa. And in Palma de Mallorca I’m currently restoring a house from 1850.
In the end, all of your assets, which are estimated to be in the three-digit million euro range, will end up in your new foundation. What is special about her?
What is special about it is that the foundation is committed to democracy and diversity. In terms of content, it covers everything that I have been committed to since my youth. So, fight against the law, strengthen democracy, support projects that promote critical, independent journalism that makes a contribution to democracy. And in the area of diversity, it is diversity in all its facets that I want to support. It is regulated in such a way that in the end my entire fortune flows into it. So I am giving everything back to society. The only exception: a smaller part goes to my family, which I provide for basic security. But I think that’s completely legitimate too.
You don’t waste anything – maybe on expensive hobbies?
Yes, I like to travel and I don’t look at the money. But I don’t have any expensive all-rounds – maybe still to come. But rather no, that’s not in my DNA. If you come from a working-class family in which the father hunched over at Opel in the press shop for 39 years and the mother contributed to making the two sons feel better with part-time jobs, then you have a different connection to money. Namely, that you shouldn’t spend money on things that don’t make sense. It might sound strange, but: The urge to do more, more and more, and more and more is completely alien to me.
Harald Christ (48) grew up near Worms. He trained as an industrial clerk and quickly made a career. In 2005 he led the issuing house HCI Capital to the stock exchange. That made him a multiple millionaire. Management positions followed at WestLB, Weberbank, Postbank and the insurance group Ergo. Since 2018 Christ has been concentrating on its consulting firm Christ & Company. The versatile entrepreneur was in the SPD until the end of 2019. In March 2020 he joined the FDP. In September he was elected federal treasurer.
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Image sources: Axel Griesch for Finanz Verlag