As the biggest bank in Serbia, part of the Intesa Sanpaolo international banking group and a systemically important institution in the domestic financial industry, we are aware that we have a unique role in supporting families, businesses, communities and all of our stakeholders
Banca Intesa will take an active part in the implementation of the Serbian government’s set of economic measures through the disbursement of liquidity and working capital loans, while at the same time placing a special emphasis on favourable loans from existing guarantee arrangements with international financial institutions.
The Covid-19 pandemic has exerted downward pressure on economies worldwide, with experts warning that the global economy faces the biggest challenges since the financial crisis. How do you see the global economic impact of the Coronavirus?
With the Covid-19 pandemic continuing to make an unprecedented impact on lives, communities and businesses across the globe, there seems to be no doubt that the global economy is facing the most difficult juncture in recent history. As countries worldwide record plummeting external demand and lost export income, coupled with capital outflows and currency depreciations, the world economy is evidently sliding into recession this year. Even though it is impossible to assess the full impact of the pandemic at this point, given that its magnitude and duration are still unknown, the IMF indicates that the Covid-19 crisis could cause the sharpest economic downturn since the Great Depression, even more serious than the global economic crisis of 2008. Still, as all major central banks and governments adopt massive fiscal and monetary stimulus packages, in an effort to shield their economies from the shock, hope remains that the global economy could rebound in 2021, even though GDP levels are expected to fall behind the pre- Coronavirus trend.
How do you expect Serbia to cope with the economic pressure of the Covid-19 crisis? Do you think the government’s measures will help cushion us from the blow?
As I mentioned, the global pandemic is sending economies around the world into recession, and Serbia will not be an exception to this trend, with its GDP expected to contract in 2020 after five years of growth.
The government was able to deliver a robust response to the crisis by adopting a 5.1 billion euro package of economic measures, thanks to consistent fiscal discipline maintained during the past few years. In line with similar international programmes, the measures in Serbia aim to encourage Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), which represent the backbone of the economy, to preserve jobs through wage and tax incentives.
Banca Intesa made a 10 million dinar donation in support of the healthcare system during the pandemic
Support for larger enterprises includes subsidised lending through the Development Fund and a guarantee programme being implemented with commercial banks. While insufficient to prevent economic decline, I expect the government’s abundant fiscal stimulus will help preserve economic activity, mitigate the adverse impact of the crisis on the most vulnerable segments and return the economy to a growth path next year.
Economists agree that small businesses will take the brunt of the negative economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. What can Banca Intesa do to help them maintain business activity and weather the crisis?
As the Coronavirus outbreak continues to make a dramatic impact worldwide, it is inevitable that the crisis will put pressure on Serbia as well, particularly by exposing the vulnerability of some small businesses and SMEs. Looking to provide this strategically important part of the local economy with the necessary support, we will take an active part in the implementation of the Serbian govern government’s set of economic measures, through the disbursement of liquidity and working capital loans, while at the same time placing a special emphasis on favourable loans from our existing guarantee arrangements with international financial institutions.
Acknowledging the gravity of the situation for small business that is facing a loss of customers, we have also developed a special social network programme to support their operations and help them reconnect with buyers across the country. We are aware that we have a significant responsibility in helping to reduce the negative impact of the crisis and will continue to explore other measures so that our clients can overcome business disruptions during these challenging times.
The pandemic has locked down people and affected businesses. How do you expect the situation to impact on the banking sector in Serbia?
The Serbian banking sector met the Covid-19 pandemic in a stable and sound position, with comfortable liquidity and capital positions that will shelter it from the adverse impacts of the spread of the virus.
As the Coronavirus crisis exerts financial pressure on people and businesses in Serbia, some banks will inevitably feel the strain of the new situation and face rising exposure to non-performing loans. As for Banca Intesa, I can say that we are well-positioned to counter potential problems thanks to our stable fundamentals, improved risk management processes and readiness to help clients tackle their financial difficulties in the period ahead.
These unprecedented times call on us all to show empathy and cooperation, so that we can overcome the difficult situation we face together
At the same time, the social distancing imperative will definitely speed up the sector’s shift to digital banking, as consumers continue to reduce branch visits and start increasingly using online and mobile channels. I expect to see most customers who are already familiar with home banking solutions increase the use of digital services and products, while those traditionally orientated towards personal, branch-based banking will start to adapt to the new reality. More than ever before, it is time for banks to invest in digital infrastructure and remote platforms, in order to be able to minimise the impact of the current limitations, maintain stable operations and ensure customer retention in the long run.
What steps has Banca Intesa taken to help the citizens and the economy endure during the state of emergency?
We have an obligation to place additional resources at their disposal during these challenging times. In confirming our full commitment to the country, we have suspended dividend payment to our shareholders in order to further strengthen our capacity to address the crisis.
Also, setting health protection as our utmost priority, we have invited our clients to stay at home, make maximum use of our digital channels and reduce branch visits, even though we are keeping our branches open to make sure our services are available to the greatest possible extent. We have long enabled our customers to obtain loans via online channels and have now also trimmed interest rates and waived loan processing fees.
We also support our clients in activating online and mobile services remotely, whilst also extending the validity of their payment cards so that they can avoid leaving their homes. Furthermore, in line with the measures published by the National Bank of Serbia, Banca Intesa – together with the rest of the banking system – has introduced a 90-day postponement on loan repayments for all customers struggling with financial hardship and enabled people aged over 65 to receive their pensions without having to visit their branch.
Taking care of our employees, we have rolled out remote work for over 90 per cent of our Head Office staff and also ensured the highest level of protection for those who cannot work from home. In a situation in which market conditions have temporarily challenged our efforts to procure the necessary protective equipment, Olimpias Knitting Serbia has donated face masks for all our employees, and I would like to use this opportunity to publicly express our gratitude to our client for this appreciated gesture of solidarity.