Small business powers Bosnia’s recovery
Bosnia and Herzegovina is in a strong position for growth, despite recent setbacks.
The economy of Bosnia and Herzegovina looks set to rebound following the events of the past few years, including the pandemic.
Following a 3.2% reduction in GDP in 2020, in 2021 the economy showed strong signs of recovery at around 6% year-on-year.
These results were achieved thanks to the resurgence of industrial production (up 6.7%), private consumption, exports (34.8%) and the full revival of tourism, says Marco Trevisan, CEO of Intesa Sanpaolo Banka BiH.
This positive economic outlook is expected to be maintained in 2022, with predictions of 2.5% GDP growth. However, inflationary pressures, rising energy costs and the current international political climate have caused economists to revise their inflation forecast to 11.5% in 2022.
Nonetheless, there are good investment opportunities. “This country has a strategic location, a very stable financial sector, favourable trade and other agreements,” says Trevisan.
“Moreover, the legislation, customs and tax system are favourable and it has a competitive workforce, low operating costs, good natural resources and very attractive investment locations.” Sectors on the rise include agriculture, metals, wood, energy, tourism, real estate and textiles.
While the country is not part of the European Union, Trevisan points to other advantages. “We are really in the heart of Europe and we have a free trade agreement. So this makes the country interesting to look at as an investment opportunity,” he says. Additionally, Bosnia and Herzegovina is undergoing a range of infrastructure investments to improve its connectivity to neighbouring countries.
Bosnia and Herzegovina is notable for its thriving small business landscape, with few large corporations. Catering to small businesses is an area in which Intesa Sanpaolo excels.
“Small businesses are the backbone of our economy,” says Trevisan, “We have a special focus on credit programmes for craftsmen, offering a wide range of products for start-ups, as well as a specially formed team of professionals for the needs of this type of client.”
The bank has also provided access to credit line funds to both the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.
There are plans to introduce new products, such as SMS and m-token services for legal and business entities. “The bank is moving in the direction of increasing modernisation and digitalisation of business,” says Trevisan. “It will soon be possible to deposit money to the account of a legal entity through the Intesa Sanpaolo Bank ATM.”
In light of the economic and political climate triggered by the war in Ukraine, projections for the banking sector in Bosnia-Herzegovina have been lowered and the country’s banking sector saw limited demand for new lending in the first three months of 2022, according to Trevisan.
He explains: “The new scenario has called for a revision of 2022 growth targets, but we see performing loans growing lower than expected.”
This reduction, he says, “is equally distributed among corporates and individuals as a consequence of the slow recovery of loan demand and overall international instability. Targets for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have been confirmed on the back of good performance so far and a solid pipeline for the coming months.”
Environmental, social and governance (ESG), as with the rest of the Intesa Sanpaolo Group, is a key pillar of Intesa Sanpaolo BiH’s business plan from 2022 to 2025.
The bank has already launched an ESG transformation programme. Intesa Sanpaolo was the first bank in Bosnia and Herzegovina to sign an agreement with the EIB for a €20 million loan for social impact finance for SMEs.
It is for social enterprises and companies that commit to achieving certain socioeconomic impact goals such as gender equality, youth employment and social inclusion for vulnerable groups. “The objective is to support local businesses to generate positive socioeconomic impact and sustainable growth,” says Trevisan.
The bank is focusing on consolidating its position as one of the major operators in the country. “We are confident that our network is capable of covering the needs of our clients, according to our strategy,” says Trevisan.