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CEO of Febelfin, Karel Baert, shares his vision on the economic impact of the corona crisis. Curious? Then be sure to read the opinion piece below.


Over the past year, the devastating pandemic caused a deep systemic crisis. To guarantee our health as much as possible, the government quite rightly took drastic measures to limit contact between people: teleworking became mandatory, companies and businesses were closed and a movement perimeter was established. Because our economy is based on human contact through trade, working on a factory floor or through travel, the health crisis automatically turned into an economic one.

The fact that the impact was enormous can be seen from the statistics and projections of the National Bank of Belgium. In the first half of 2020, the total value we normally create was approximately 15% less compared to the previous year. For the entire year of 2020, the loss estimate is just under 7%. In concrete terms, this means that we will not return to the same level of prosperity as in 2019 until around the end of 2022. Three years of work will then be lost and for some people and sectors this loss will be very difficult or impossible to eliminate.

To keep the business world out of the wind as much as possible, the government intervened massively with support measures for employees, the self-employed and companies. For loans, this meant, among other things, that, together with the banking sector, systems of government guarantees for loans were developed and that payment deferrals for capital repayments were made possible.

There were hardly any conditions for benefiting from this, only the viability of a company before the outbreak of the pandemic and experiencing payment problems afterwards had to be demonstrated.

For a crisis that everyone knew would be very serious, but no one knew who or what it would affect, how heavy the damage would be and how long it would last, these were the right measures: massive, general and almost unconditional. There were hardly any panic reactions on the professional money markets. It is striking that in the crisis year of 2020, the number of bankruptcies was 30% lower than the year before.

The question we must now ask ourselves is whether the type of measures that led us through the first unusually hard wave of the Covid crisis are still the most appropriate today. The state of emergency in the health sector has certainly not ended yet and there is not even a real end date in sight.

But the figures show that the second lockdown has hit us economically much less hard overall, although the sectors with many human contacts again took the brunt. From that perspective, we are not in exactly the same situation today as we were in mid-March.

We now have knowledge and experience about the financial and economic consequences of this crisis and where possible, companies have taken actions themselves to increase their resilience. And in the meantime, instruments are still being developed to provide capital and loans where necessary. We are therefore slightly better equipped than at the start of the crisis, but today many problems at individual companies remain hidden beneath the surface.

A more targeted and individual approach to companies experiencing problems is therefore a necessary step that must be taken now. A constructive dialogue between bank and company, in which the initiative can come from both parties, is the best way to keep viable companies afloat in this economic storm.

Solutions tailored to individual companies are absolutely necessary. Because every company is different. And through an individual approach, the best structural solutions can be sought together with the bank for that company, certainly in terms of possible lending, but also for strengthening the company's own resources. The aim is to save as many companies as possible, so that they can then focus on the future again.

Hence my appeal to all companies benefiting from support measures: do not wait until the support measures expire in a few months, but contact your bank as soon as possible. Better today than tomorrow.

This is the only way to save as many companies as possible, etcetten wij ook samen een eerste stap naar een broodnodige en duurzame heropstart van onze economie.

- Karel Baert, CEO Febelfin