A different story from NOA: 1 year of challenges and innovations since the beginning of the Covid19 pandemic

 

It is a moment of balance and reflection. It is now 1 full year since the start of the global Covid19 pandemic. Albanian society and economy were not spared, costing the country thousands of lives lost and a drop in income of -7.5%. Public debt increased by over 11.5% while sectors vital to the country's economy such as tourism were hit with a 60-70% decline in activity. No country in the Balkan region or on the European continent was spared. This is the macroeconomic landscape we have been facing for 1 year now. But what is the market-level narrative? What impact did this situation have on the well-being of the private activity, on the good functioning of the institutions, on the well-being of the Albanian professionals?

This is a story of how my colleagues and the staff of NOA financial institution faced an extraordinary situation for which there were no ready-made manuals, protocols and processes from which we could learn. It was a year full of challenges, but also of innovations and achievements which proved how high is the professionalism, commitment and sustainability of our staff. Their results and work speak for themselves. NOA managed during 2020 to inject into the Albanian economy full 28 million euros. An intrinsic value which benefited about thousands of Albanian farmers, small entrepreneurs and families and which increased NOA's total active loan portfolio to around 44 million euros (an increase of 8% compared to last year). Also, in accordance with the instruction of the Bank of Albania and in order to facilitate the borrowing businesses affected in their activity due to the pandemic situation, during 2020 NOA postponed over 2,800 loans corresponding to a loan portfolio of 10 million euros.

For a financial institution like NOA with 22 years of activity, the year we left behind and the pandemic situation were a context to reconfirm the values ​​and positive impact that our business model has on the local economy. While the banking sector restrained lending to the entrepreneurial economy due to pandemic constraints and uncertainties affecting the activity of small businesses, NOA's microfinance model was well prepared for such a scenario. Our adapted financing and facilitated procedures for Albanian businesses and farmers, proved how flexible and vital they could be in turning into such a situation. NOA never stopped lending to the country's economy, staying "non-stop open to business" for every entrepreneur and farmer.

This was also the reason why there were about 3,150 entrepreneurs and farmers who found an open funding window during 2020 at NOA and over 8,200 self-employed, family members and individuals. Funding that went to cover the rents of closed businesses, to cover arrears of wages for small family businesses, to cover the daily needs in some cases, but also for dozens of enterprises that sought to overcome the situation by reformatting their model or diversify the source of income. We thank each of them for the perseverance, energy and sacrifice they invested in their businesses and farms, which enabled the Albanian economy to avoid a collapse similar to that of 1997.

What was happening on the other side of the counter? Despite the uncertainties, insecurities, and even fears that surrounded the first weeks of the pandemic, our staff demonstrated a level of professionalism, commitment, and extraordinary devotion. Thanks to the strict observance of safety protocols, the activity was not interrupted for any moment, ensuring maximum protection of every staff and client who visited our branches. Likewise, there were no layoffs, rather a normal recruitment sequence shifting to online job interviews. Thus, during 2020, 54 new staffs were hired who were supported and integrated into the company through online training. At no point was the compensation and benefits package affected, on the contrary, during the year there were salary revaluations and there were no shortage of performance bonuses, as in a normal year. For the families of the most needy staff, given the difficult situation that the country went through, economic assistance packages were offered. It was precisely the combination of this unique, human and professional solidarity that enabled NOA to successfully overcome the managerial challenge represented by the pandemic for a company with 260 employees.

Finally, it is worth mentioning the impact on the operational level. Technological investments over the years enabled the company to ensure the normal continuity of the activity by enabling remote operation as well as the processing of an extremely high flow of customer files affected by the pandemic situation. A result that confirms the high level of technological security and technical capacity that NOA has available and that enables it to guarantee a leading position in the market in any situation. In parallel, the continuity of normal activity was also facilitated by the constant presence of NOA in the numerous communication and marketing channels in order to guarantee the highest quality and fastest information towards the groups and sectors of the clientele served. But not only. Always in respect of the social mission and its founding values, NOA undertook during 2020 an extensive awareness campaign under the motto "Choose Albania" in order to increase public awareness on the impacts of immigration, and towards the creation of new enterprises in place. In a year of pandemics and great challenges for the economy, the choice of Albania was a priority for any institution with a national reach such as NOA.

In conclusion, I would like to take this opportunity to reiterate our gratitude to every client and every staff member who turned the challenge of the Covid 19 pandemic into an achievement of an indisputable lesson in our capacity for change and innovation. The year we are leaving behind was a life-size "stress test" on our adaptive and lending capacity. And this is exactly where we believe the roots and reasons why 2021 will be another year of success for the whole company, for the agro sector or for financing family ventures are found. We plan to inject over 30 million euros into the country's economy with at least 30% directed to the agricultural economy in the country. NOA will continue to pursue an open door policy, a national vision for development, and advanced practices in introducing new technologies. 2020 was a test that confirmed our ambitions and capacities for more. Meanwhile, 2021 will be another confirmation of our unique business model in the service of free enterprise, in the service of the rural economy, in the service of the country.