A year that started with good momentum, profitability and economic growth both in the bank and society, suffered an abrupt upheaval just a few weeks later. We would have to go a long way back to find a situation comparable to the one we had to deal with in 2020.
As a bank, we have an important social responsibility and in the situation that has arisen as a result of Covid-19, this has become even more important. Within a few days, people, businesses and communities had to adapt to a new way of living with closed schools and kindergartens, strict social distancing restrictions, cancelled activities, home office and isolation. Much of what we normally took for granted was suddenly subject to stringent regulations.
There is little doubt that the Covid-19 pandemic will have consequences for many in the years to come. At the same time, we believe that the situation has also resulted in new value creation and a strengthening of basic values that are important for further development of the community.
Community spirit and a shared responsibility
When Covid-19 struck, the message from the authorities was absolutely clear; the situation would require action on the part of each one of us. However, while curfews were introduced in a number of other countries, the Norwegian government instead called for a sense of community spirit and a collective effort.
We have probably never before witnessed a greater collective effort than demonstrated during 2020. Both the rhetoric and actions taken are good evidence of a culture permeated by a desire and willingness to contribute for the good of society. We experienced this close up, also in the bank.
Despite the fact that in many ways society “stood still” in March and April, the level of activity in the bank has rarely been higher. In a few days, large parts of the organisation switched over to working from home without this preventing our more than 200 advisers from providing financial advice and closely following up customers who were suddenly facing uncertain financial prospects. By being close, proactive and easily accessible we were able to implement important and effective measures for our customers. The period stands out as a good example of the value of being ‘close’ stretching far beyond its purely physical aspect.
Adaptability and business development
Local businesses were also hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic. The past year has been very demanding for the tourism, event and culture, maritime and oil-related industries and they continue to face uncertainty and the prospect of failing earnings. However, for many parties in the wholesale and retail trade, building and construction, 2020 was a year for the history books as one of the most profitable.
The business sector in our region is used to changing and adapting. It has done so throughout history. We have grown in tailwinds and innovated in the face of headwinds. This has also been the case during Covid-19.
Sparebanken Møre has over many years developed expertise in order to be a good sparring partner for everyone from entrepreneurs and sole proprietorships to major cornerstone companies with long traditions. We are in contact with a wide range of enterprises every day and during the past year we have been highly impressed by the adaptability of the local business sector. There is little doubt that new challenges have generated new ideas. While some have established webshops or home delivery services, others have focused on new products and services due to changed customer behaviour and new needs. We have noted that few of our customers need interest-only periods and that many have managed to sustain their levels of activity during the year.
I take this as confirmation that we have an adaptable business sector, a robust customer portfolio and a strong drive to create value. Not least, it confirms the strength of the bank’s business model, which is based on being close and having local knowledge, close follow-up and a high degree of expertise.
Support for local services
In parallel with the adaptability of the business sector, we have also seen increased awareness among consumers around shopping locally. Both we and other members of the local community have implemented a series of initiatives to safeguard local offerings, whether that be shops, food outlets or various other activities.
There is no doubt that these are important assets for further community development that must be based on foundations provided by strong local communities. If we want local offerings to keep going, we also have to support them.
This is also why Sparebanken Møre made UN Sustainable Development Goal 11 Sustainable Cities and Communities one of our five priority goals. We take a systematic approach to measures aimed at making cities and rural communities in Nordvestlandet inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable, not least through our broad social engagement. Half of the bank’s distributed profit is returned to the local communities of which we are a part and every year we receive more than one thousand applications for support for good initiatives in our region. We also have around 120 long-term cooperation agreements with voluntary groups and organisations.
When Covid-19 struck and all activities were cancelled, we established comprehensive support schemes and measures aimed at mitigating its negative consequences.
A strong organisation – a strong region
When the environment changes, we have to adapt. In 2020, we tested aspects of our organisation that will also be important going forward and made ongoing adjustments to maintain business and competitiveness.
Accessibility and responsible councelling are top priorities and in November we opened a new branch at Digernes in Ålesund Municipality. Over the year, we hired a number of capable new employees who will help to developing the bank further, and we produced new digital solutions and established new digital meeting places. We worked systematically on sustainability and expertise – and, by no means least, the bank’s customer service centre was named Norway’s best in the banking category, for the second year in a row.
We have a strong organisation, and we operate in a strong region. These factors are interrelated. Local activity, employment and value creation are important prerequisites for an attractive region, but also when it comes to us being able to develop further as a bank.
In the fourth quarter, we launched a new recording of the famous Norwegian songwriter Jahn Teigen’s ‘Optimist’. The background for this was a desire to contribute to income generating work for artists, musicians, sound technicians, filmmakers and others in the cultural industry’s value chain, which has been hit hard by the Covid-19 measures. The choice of song was not random; its message expresses the power and strength of will of the people of Nordvestlandet.
The year just ended was a difficult year, but we must use the experience we gained in 2020 to develop both the bank and region further. Our values and qualities make me confident that we will succeed.
Trond Lars Nydal