World after Covid: “Think ahead and think differently”

Matt Williams, Risk Director at Euler Hermes BeLux

In May 2020, Matt Williams arrived at Euler Hermes BeLux as the new Director Risk, Information, Claims & Collections. Matt has a long history in Trade Credit Insurance and has been with Euler Hermes for more than 15 years. Due to the lockdown in the UK, he didn’t make his debut at the office in Brussels but started working from home. Three months later, we put to him 5 questions about the world during and (probably) after Covid.

1. How would you describe your role to a stranger in the elevator between ground zero and the 10th floor?

In fact, I manage three different departments. First, there is Risk Underwriting with the team of underwriters who make the decisions to manage our exposure. The second department is Information, responsible for the gathering of information and the credit rating of corporations in Belgium and Luxembourg. Last but not least, there is Claims & Collections, the people who assess and collect debts for our policyholders. So, indeed, I have three jobs. Aren’t we already beyond the 10th floor?

2. How does Euler Hermes support businesses in Belgium and Luxembourg?

In short? We continue to maintain strong levels of protection for our policyholders, making sure we make the right decisions to steer our clients away from bad risk. Sometimes, this steering may be controversial. I prefer to summarize it as: we provide credit management solutions to support businesses, during and after Covid.

3. Confident entrepreneurship: will it still be possible tomorrow?

Of course, we believe so. Even in the worst crisis entrepreneurship emerges. We saw it in 2008, we saw it during the dot.com boom, we see it now. The resilience and innovative power of entrepreneurs are amazing. There are always opportunities to grab and to turn into advantages. Today, we see coffee bars from the city center delivering coffee to the homeworkers in the suburbs.

4. Supporting businesses and keeping the risk under control. How do you succeed in keeping that balance?

It’s a permanent challenge. There’s a lot we do know, but also a huge amount of uncertainty. Some changes that were predicted earlier, were quicker to become reality, such as the rise of e-commerce. There is an overall shift in business which also has an impact on advertising, newspapers, etc. Who knows what the city centers are going to look like tomorrow? I wish I knew. In the meantime, we at Euler Hermes keep watching the trends very closely and analysing them. With a strong and dedicated network all over the world. We have analysts across the world, I can call them anytime. Our communication lines are very short and we have easy access to great amounts of local knowledge. These are huge advantages in a worldwide crisis, and particularly for an export-oriented country like Belgium.

5. How about the huge wave of insolvencies coming on? And do we go ‘back to normal’ or do you foresee ‘a new normal’ for businesses?

“A global forecast of insolvencies predicts a 35 % increase from 2019 to 2021. We expect +10% for Belgium (more than 23,000 insolvencies by 2021) and +31% for Luxemburg. This is huge. In the USA alone, the increase will even go up to 57%. A particularly critical moment – in each country – will be when government measures stop. Who can carry on supporting businesses, who can’t? There will be difficult decisions to be made.”

“I believe we won’t turn back to normal. In fact, it is (and will be) a new situation with a changed economy, with less emphasis on traditional retail, leisure and transport. Covid will have an overall impact on infrastructure and how people use it. In the new normal, credit management solutions certainty will have earned their presence.”

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