April 23, 2020 / 1:35 PM / a month ago

Quick cash helps Swiss firms survive crisis as Austrians await aid

ZURICH/VIENNA (Reuters) - Mats Klingberg got the green light for an emergency bank loan under the Swiss government’s coronavirus aid programme in just three hours, easing fears about his clothes boutique’s future.

Mats Klingberg sits in front of his fashion shop Trunk in Zurich, Switzerland April 23, 2020. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

“It was incredible. I just downloaded the form, which was only one page, filled it out in 15 minutes and forwarded it to my bank,” the founder of high-end menswear store Trunk in Zurich’s fashionable Seefeld district, told Reuters.

“It has given me peace of mind, and I can see there’s a positive future ahead for sure,” the 48-year-old said.

Klingberg is among 100,000 small business owners who have used Switzerland’s rapid-fire aid package, which has emerged as a model for other countries struggling to keep companies afloat.

“Not a day goes by that we don’t explain this to someone,” Finance Minister Ueli Maurer said this week.

But over the border in similar-sized Austria, which has has committed 9 billion euros (7.86 billion pounds) to secure business loans and 10 billion euros in tax breaks under a 38 billion euro coronavirus package, firms say they have found it far harder.

“So far we haven’t received a single cent in subsidies from the (Austrian) government,” Andreas Fetter, who manages the DIY chain Fetter Baumarkt in Korneuburg, north of Vienna.

Swiss small businesses can get five-year bridge loans of up to 500,000 Swiss francs at 0% interest and backed by 40 billion Swiss francs ($41 billion) which Bern has made available in guarantees for commercial banks to lend to companies.

Klingberg, who also operates two stores in London, was put off from applying to the British scheme.

“They wanted all kinds of information, documentation and information about what you expect your cash flow is going to be in 12 months, which is impossible in the current situation.”

ANGER IN AUSTRIA

In Austria, Fetter Baumarkt, which has 400 staff, was allowed to reopen on April 14, but sales at its hardware stores dropped 90% during the month-long shutdown and it resorted to bank loans to buy inventory for the spring and summer season.

“There’s still too little information. How much the loans we have taken out can be rescheduled or transferred to the system of government support or guarantees is still up in the air,” Fetter said, adding this made it hard to plan.

Finance minister Gernot Bluemel said Austria had reacted quickly with its package, adding: “We quickly started paying out for immediate hardship cases and urgently needed purchases.”

However, Sepp Schellhorn, a lawmaker from the conservative Neos party said the Austrian system was “a joke”.

“The business community is angry, angry, angry,” he said.

Reporting by John Revill and Alexandra Schwarz-Goerlich; Editing by Alexander Smith

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