In Hoist Finance we are focusing on the fundamentals. Our purpose is to Help People Keep Their Commitments and our promise is to be By Your Side. That means that our number one priority is to help our 6.5 million customers to find solutions and to help our bank clients deal with their balance sheets so that they can focus on their core business. As a company we are well prepared for all situations. We are the experts in helping people through financial difficulties. We are doing that now, and will continue to do so.
Covid-19 is testing our operations in the sense that the countermeasures introduced in our markets limit the access to our offices. Our operations are #DigitalByDefault, which means that access to our physical premises is not a prerequisite to keep the shop open. Right now, around 90 per cent of Hoist Finance’s employees are working from home. They have access to all necessary systems, and we are conducting our day-to-day work in the same way as before. The breaks around the coffee machine are replaced with virtual breaks, and physical meetings are replaced with online video conferences. We are using collaboration tools such as Microsoft Teams and Facebook WorkPlace, which ensure that we are all up to speed, engaged and ready to share the best practices across markets. We are having the same number of customer-dialogues as before, and our opening times have not changed. We offer an omni-channel experience and today about 15% of our customers choose to be digital only. Our payment solutions are working well and payments through new channels such as WhatsApp for business and RCS are increasing day by day. The chat traffic handled by our chatbot Kai is also steadily growing.
Our business continuity plans have been tested and proved themselves to be robust. I am very happy to see how quickly we have been able to adapt. For obvious reasons we don’t know how long this situation will last, but we are ready to deliver in these difficult times. Our priority is to keep our colleagues safe and to help the governments in their efforts to #FlattenTheCurve.
Previous crises have taught us that our business model is reasonably well protected from macroeconomic downturns. We are not completely insulated from unemployment, but typically what we see is that somewhat lower collections now is compensated by higher collections later. This was true in the financial crisis and we expect this to be true also now. Our customers’ ability to pay has not changed to date, but might be affected in a few weeks. How much remains to be seen, and the various stimulus packages that are being introduced will help reduce the negative effect.
The other important factor is of course the willingness to pay, and so far, we have not seen any change in this. Customer Contact Representatives have of course updated scripts with the right answers to questions that our customers might have. In times like this, our best advice is generally to stay on the payment plan, repay the debt and prepare for the future.
Currently, a lot of companies struggle with liquidity and we see that governments around the world are providing that through various channels and actions. In Hoist Finance, we have a strong balance sheet, with good asset/ liability matching and a solid base of depositors. Since we successfully issued the AT1 instrument earlier this year, we have no further plans for any significant capital markets or other funding activities. From a balance sheet perspective, we consequently find ourselves in a position of strength.
The market for portfolio investments has been improving in 2019 with higher margins. In Q1 we don’t see a lot of transactions happening due to the practical difficulties of actually doing business, but also a growing uncertainty. We believe that the first half of 2020 will be slow, but that the market fundamentals will continue to improve.
Let me take this opportunity to remind everyone of our responsibility to help governments combat Covid-19. Make sure to stay healthy and to take care of yourselves and your loved ones. We are committed to staying on top of the situation and to ensure that we are accessible and relevant as a speaking partner to our customers and bank clients.