Reporter meets one of ‘Germany’s dumbest bankers’

With Germans wondering how employees at the KfW bank came to sink over €300 million ($500 million) into Lehman Brothers just hours before the Wall Street firm collapsed, one paper has gone straight to the source.

Reporter meets one of 'Germany's dumbest bankers'
Photo: DPA

In its Sunday edition, the Bild describes how one of its reporters attempted to interview Rainer Hartje, one of the three KfW employees the paper has dubbed “Germany’s dumbest bankers.”

Hartje, a risk controller at the bank, has been suspended along with two colleagues from the bank’s management board, Detlef Leinberger and Peter Fleischer. The three men have been deemed responsible for the blunder last Monday which saw €317 million transferred to Lehman Brothers after it was clear that the US firm was filing for bankruptcy.

Bild said it wanted to find out how someone feels when they’ve made such a sizeable blunder. On the first attempt to speak with Hartje, the paper’s reporter only succeeded in getting a door slammed in his face.

But the paper wrote that on the second attempt, Hartje apologized for having been so unfriendly.

“You have to understand, though, that given the current situation, I can’t tell you anything,” he reportedly said.

When asked how he was doing, he could only shrug his shoulders. Asked if he felt like a pawn, the risk controller gave a small smile and repeated his statement that he couldn’t comment, the paper said.

In July, KfW and Lehman Brothers agreed on a “swap” transaction to protect themselves from exchange rate risks, Bild reported. It was agreed that on September 15, KfW would transfer €317 million to the US bank in exchange for dollars. By September 12, it was clear that Lehman Brothers was in serious trouble and KfW decided to stop any more transfers.

But on Monday, September 15, the transaction went ahead as planned and it seems unlikely that KfW will be able to recoup its losses. The currency swap is now under investigation.


Where in Germany do people have the highest disposable income?

An economic study has shown huge regional differences in income throughout Germany. So which parts of the country have the most to spend each month, and which are feeling the squeeze?

Where in Germany do people have the highest disposable income?

A study by the Economic and Social Sciences Institute (WSI) of the Hans-Böckler foundation reveals stark regional differences in disposable income in Germany. In some cases, households had as much as double the spending money of those in other parts of the country. 

Here’s where people have the most – and least – disposable income each month.

What is disposable income?

The WSI calculated disposable income as the sum of income from wealth and employment, minus social contributions, income taxes, property taxes and other direct benefits or taxes.

What’s left is the income which private households can either spend on consumer goods or save.

The study, which was based on the most recent available national accounts data for 2019, looked at the disposable income of all of the 401 counties, districts and cities across Germany.

Which regions have the highest and lowest disposable incomes?

The study found that the regions with the highest disposable incomes were in the southern states.

Heilbronn in Baden-Württemberg had the highest disposable income of all 401 German counties and independent cities – with an average per capita disposable income of €42,275. The district of Starnberg in Bayern followed in second place with €38,509.

READ ALSO: REVEALED: How much do employees really earn across Germany’s states?

By comparison, per capita incomes in the cities of Gelsenkirchen and Duisburg in North Rhine-Westphalia were less than half as high, at €17,015 and €17,741 respectively. These regions had the lowest disposable income in the country. 

The study also found that, more than thirty years since German reunification, the eastern regions continue to lag behind those in the west in terms of wages.

According to the WSI, the Potsdam-Mittelmark district is the only district in the former east where the disposable per capita income of €24,127 exceeds the national average of €23,706.

Do regional price differences balance things out?

The study also showed that regionally different price levels contribute to a certain levelling out of disposable incomes, as regions with high incomes also tend to have higher rents and other living costs.

“People then have more money in their wallets, but they cannot afford more to the same extent,” WSI scientist Toralf Pusch explained.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: When will Germany raise the minimum wage?

Therefore, incomes in the eastern states, adjusted for purchasing power, are generally somewhat higher than the per capita amounts would suggest.

That could explain why, even after price adjustment, the cities of Gelsenkirchen and Duisburg in western Germany continue to be at the very bottom of the list.

Saxon-Anhalt’s Halle an der Saale, on the other hand, which has an average disposable income of only €18,527, benefits from the lower prices in the east.