To our more than 154.000 shareholders
Sondrio, 1st January 2022
Dear Shareholder, Dear Friend,
New Year’s Day; a day of celebration, exchanging greetings and wishes yet also a moment for reflection, analysis and making plans as we carefully fold up the previous year’s calendar and replace it with the new.
2021 was a key turning point in terms of health care. The intensive Covid 19 vaccination programme gradually forced a sharp decline in the number of people contracting and dying from the virus. With the arrival of the cold weather, the virus made a comeback, bringing with it once more concern and apprehension. The new variant, Omicron spreads far more quickly, yet, fortunately, has proved less damaging and lethal. We can only hope that the tried and tested counter-measures now gradually take effect. The pandemic has brought about profound changes in our behaviour, our way of life, eand the way we work and consume; changes that have had a severe impact on the economy.
Italy, overall, has adopted a stance of responsibility, demonstrating to the world, once again, an awareness that it is an integral part of a global community facing important shared challenges as seen in the G20 summit in Rome at the end of October. Similarly, Italy was present in Glasgow from October 31st to 12th November at the COP26 summit during which the 197 participants, in an attempt to slow down global warming, signed official agreements including, most importantly, a commitment to the gradual reduction in carbon consumption over the next decades. We sincerely hope this bears fruit.
As regards the economy, 2021 saw an improvement in growth figures throughout the industrial world with China being first off the mark. Although the USA was a slow starter, as the months passed, commercial transactions intensified and consolidated the recovery progress.
The Eurozone recovery began a little late yet made an adequate recovery with slight reductions in import-exports and a slowdown in production towards the end of the year due partly to a shortage of certain electronic components and pressure on the prices front which impacted both on inflation and interest rates which are expected to rise. The European Central Bank has seen fit to maintain its expansionary monetary policy.
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The Italian economy gradually left the recession behind, facilitating, as the months passed, the reopening of business activity including the crucially important tourist trade. The summer season actually performed above expectations even though the presence of foreign visitors was limited. This impacted negatively on commerce and in particular local shops who are already facing an endemic challenge from the all-powerful e-commerce operators. Industry raised its head and small businesses and artisans struggled to their feet. The building trade reawakened taking advantage of the government grant scheme while exports have led the way towards consolidated growth. The 2021 GDP was good at over 6% with positive forecasts for the coming new year. At the end of April the government presented the required documentation pertaining to the PNRR (Recovery and Resilience Plan) to the European Commission and subsequently received the approval needed to access the EU Next Generation funds, an initial sum of which (24 billion euro) is already available. These funds will serve to modernise the country and enhance its competitivity. Environmental sustainability has formed the basis of the innovative development model which is being followed with increasing awareness. Against this improving economic and medical backdrop, we have continued to work with zeal and responsibility, seeking out the most suitable opportunities in keeping with our long-standing ability to maintain a competitive edge in the marketplace and to react as market changes arise. Our Group subsidiaries, BPS (SUISSE) SA, Factorit Spa, Banca della Nuova Terra Spa have operated with the same strategic commitment making an important contribution to the balance sheet. Profitability has gone hand-in-hand with efficiency and stability. Here are just a few of the significant indicators at the end of September 2021, figures that are among the best in the sector: cost–income ratio 53,4%; Cet1 ratio 16,53%; Tier1 ratio 16,57%; Total Capital ratio 18,33%; NPL gross ratio 6,99% although this is expected to continue to improve significantly Although still awaiting the final figures, we can foresee that the end of year results will be excellent. This financial year will be remembered as a fitting coronation of the 150th anniversary of the Bank's foundation (March 4th 1871). It has been a history of growth, values and culture; a polyphonic choral account of a journey stretching over three centuries in which the 'Popolare', in a process of continued change, has consolidated its own particular company culture characterized by an uninterrupted succession of positive balance sheets - a source of pride and satisfaction for all of us. By responding to the constantly changing needs of the marketplace, our bank has contributed to the Nation's recovery process, providing support through credit facilities at competitive interest rates thus facilitating both businesses and households while assisting its clients to obtain State benefits as quickly as possible. The continued efficient use of IT systems for everyday banking operations has avoided clients having to queue up, thus saving valuable time. Today, more than ever, ESG (Environmental Social Governance) is focussed both on financing to clients as well as the Bank's and clients' investment portfolios. Given the continuing situation of practically zero interest rates, combining profit targets with ethical, environmental and social values makes it possible to maximise returns for the whole community. The internal current credit policy, as it stands, allowed us in July to define the first placement of our 500million euro Senior Preferred Green Bond followed in November by the issue of a subordinated Tier 2 bond for 300 million euro. All banks, and we are no exception, are constantly under the Rating Agency spotlights. In our letter to shareholders in July we mentioned the positive comments of the German company Scope Ratings. On the first of September, Fitch Ratings confirmed their previous positive assessment and upgraded their outlook from ‘negative’ to ‘stable’ given the healthy asset quality, the increasing operational profitability, high capitalisation, funding assets and liquidity. Along similar lines was the assessment by DBRS Morningstar, one of the most prestigious rating agencies, that for the first time also assessed the subordinated debt rating as ‘investment grade’ and ranked it at level ”BB”with a “stable” trend. This decision reflected an appreciation of how our bank has managed to maintain a profitable position despite the Coronavirus pandemic contemporarily reducing its stock of NPEs which continue to have ample coverage. In terms of expansion, a new branch in Milan was opened making it the 40th for the Milanese metropolis, confirming once again our unchanging appreciation of Milan the working city par excellence. All the departments and sectors of the Bank have worked with commitment in their own special areas yet maintaining a dynamic synergy with each other in order to develop IT solutions and render them more efficient and secure. Our numerous financial and insurance products have become more accessible, and thanks also to our training webinars, we have continued to provide support and consultancy for our clients involved in foreign trade. Although our cultural programme has been somewhat compromised by not being able to physically host popular events, every attempt has been made not to lose momentum and quality. First and foremost, our new look 'Notiziario' has continued to focus on crucial current affairs such as climate change and environmental sustainability. However the most important event, which coincides with the 150th anniversary of the Bank’s foundation, is our participation in the Italian celebrations of the 700th anniversary of the death of Dante Alighieri. On October 1st, the Bank proposed “ DantedìValtellina” involving the school campus in the morning followed by a conference in the afternoon. The event saw the participation of our own Luigi Credaro Library, the Municipality of Sondrio, the District Education Office and the sponsorship of Enciclopedia Italiana Treccani and the Accademia della Crusca. To complete the event, a bibliographic and artistic exhibition was held entitled “DanteQui- Testimony of the Great Poet in the cultural sites of Sondrio” The success of the event went beyond all expectations and the day’s intensive cultural programme was recognised by the Italian President , Sergio Mattarella, who saw fit to award the event a medal. As in past years, donations were made to social causes and in some cases to combat severe human distress primarily in the province of Sondrio. Through the “ Conto Corrente Solidarietà” (an account into which donations from the public can be made) contributions were given to AISLA, UNICEF, AVIS, AIRC and ADMO. On December 29th 2021, the Banca Popolare di Sondrio was converted from a Cooperative Bank to a Joint Stock Company. This in accordance with the law and the subsequent approval required from the shareholders who were called to the virtual EGM in a somewhat surreal atmosphere, given that debate was not possible. This historic event invites reflection on all that has passed or evolved revealing its most positive countenance.
Dear Shareholder, Dear Friend,
Among our many current considerations, the transformation into a Joint Stock company urges us to ensure that the way we work will remain unchanged. Stronger than ever is our determination to pursue and honour the founding principles of our Bank, namely to provide credit for the community and meet ”the needs of households, small and medium sized businesses, coops as well as private and public institutions with particular territorial reference beginning with that of its origins the Valtellina and Valchiavenna”
After a century of experience in our mountains and valleys, in 1973 we ventured outside our provincial borders and starting from Milan, adding branch after branch we reached Rome, the capital. In 1995 the BPS (Suisse) S.A. Lugano was founded, inspired by the parent company’s criteria of ‘a local bank’
Whilst facing the complex, we are aware of change, even when detrimental, convinced that opportunity also derives from adverse events. It is up to us to grasp these opportunities. We know not what the future holds and predicting it is the task of soothsayers, sorcerers and charlatans.
Our ‘modus operandi’ is to face adversity, accept the challenges, react and plan, working hard as a team and so it shall be for the New Year that is beginning today. The destiny of any company is in the hands of those who manage it; its human capital. In this sense, today the Banca Popolare di Sondrio, as all will agree without fear of contradiction, is in good hands something we can state clearly and proudly. Our actions are guided by a sense of responsibility and awareness, unity, inclusion, creativity and innovation which all lend substance to our values, in primis our reputational capital in the hope that the economy, society and politics all move together, along with good banks and good finance, towards a truly integrated humanism. We are the guardians of our history and proud of our identity. We look to the future and the younger generations with reasoned optimism because it is our desire that this heritage continues in the interests of the community and all those who are associated with the work of the Bank as it generates not only economic progress but also human and social development. Inspired by William Shakespeare, we declare that ‘What’s past is prologue.’- the future is in our and your hands. With these thoughts, we thank you for your trust and confidence and sincerely wish you and all your families a, first and foremost, healthy, yet also prosperous 2022.
With best wishes
CEO and General Manager
Mario Alberto Pedranzini