The European Investment Bank partnered with the national promotional bank to bring hope of overcoming the COVID-19 crisis for small Italian businesses

As a child, Giuliano Annigliato used to turn the knob of the television set again and again, just for the pleasure of tuning into one of the two channels available back then. Perhaps it was inevitable that he would find his way into local radio and television in Bagnoli, his working-class neighbourhood on the outskirts of Naples.

But he always remembered, too, how he had felt when his father died of a heart attack. Aged 19, it was a punch to the stomach, a unique heartache. The factory where his father had worked offered him a job, but he said: “No, thanks. I’ll manage by myself.” And after a decade in the media, he did just that, founding the advertising agencies A&C Network and Uno Outdoor.

For three decades, Annigliato’s business has grown in size and ambition, backing the restoration of monuments in Naples and elsewhere with an innovative idea that saves money for the municipality. But when the COVID-19 virus ravaged Italy in March, it hit Annigliato’s business too—most of his clients were in the clothing sector, one of the worst-hit by the pandemic.

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Giuliano Annigliato, founder of the two advertising agencies that back the restoration of monuments in Naples. ©DR

Hope arrived in the form of a €2.3 million loan from Monte dei Paschi di Siena, the oldest bank in the world. The loan was made possible by a partnership between the European Investment Bank and Cassa Depositi e Prestiti (CDP), the national promotional bank. A total €1.5 billion financing for Italian small businesses is the first European Investment Bank immediate COVID response and the largest EU bank support to any single country during the pandemic crisis.

“We are standing shoulder to shoulder with Italian small businesses and microbusinesses,” says Claudia Barone, a senior European Investment Bank loan officer who has been part of this quick response since the start of the crisis. Approved by the European Investment Bank’s board in April, more than €600 million had already been disbursed to small businesses by July.

We are standing shoulder to shoulder with Italian small businesses and microbusinesses

Behind Naples ads, the preservation of its history

If you are in Naples and you stumble across a huge Original Marines billboard wrapping the facade of a monument, chances are that Giuliano Annigliato is behind the creative idea: “These ads pay for the restoration of historic buildings”.

Obelisks, fountains and monuments attract the attention of companies and businesses, including Original Marines, Burger Italy, Lui-Jo, Enrico Coveri underwear. These companies have a temporary "advertising window" in Naples, while the monuments will be restored at no cost to the city.

With the rich history of Naples, once Kingdom of the two Sicilies and the wealthiest centre in Italy, there is a lot of restoration work to do. Nevertheless, at the height of Italy’s pandemic in March and April, Annigliato had hardly any business. Even the money he had set aside for emergencies would not have been enough to pay his 36 employees for long.  Annigliato had to make use of a temporary furlough scheme for some of them.

At the end of April, when the weight of the world seemed to be crashing on Annigliato, he got the much-needed liquidity from the European Investment Bank through CDP and Monte dei Paschi di Siena.  With this buffer, he was able to happily accept a big online order from Rossignol, the iconic French brand. “It was a godsend, a beautiful thing,” says Annigliato, his voice warm and enthusiastic, but also displaying the relief of a man who had been on the edge.

It was a godsend, a beautiful thing

Annigliato is opening up to the online market, finding other channels on which to offer his new products. If the crisis has taught us something, he says, it is that we shouldn’t let it go to waste. “Today it’s a virus, tomorrow will be something else. That’s life. And when life happens, you just have to deal with it.”

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The restoration site of the Torri del Carmine, a historic landmark in Naples. ©DR

Too small or too risky? No problem.

Annigliato compares the pandemic crisis to a war that we must fight with passion, flexibility, rationality and grit. Without these ingredients, the joint operation between the European Investment and Cassa Depositi e Prestiti would not have happened, either. As long-term partners, the two institutions enjoy a deep and rich understanding, resulting in security and comfort.

“With CDP, we’ve mobilized our respective energies, working as a unique team to benefit small Italian entrepreneurs,” says the EIB’s Barone. This required a lot of work, including simplifying long and cumbersome procedures, she adds.

The result is impressive. The EIB backs the CDP “Business Platform” instrument on favourable terms. CDP lends the funds on to financial intermediaries like Monte dei Paschi di Siena, which in turn back entrepreneurs like Annigliato. By partnering with CDP, EIB financing can reach businesses that would not usually have access to its favourable terms, because they’re too small or too risky. As CDP does not take any profit, Annigliato and other small entrepreneurs enjoy the full benefit of the EIB’s favourable interest rates.

With CDP, we’ve mobilized our respective energies, working as a unique team to benefit small Italian small entrepreneurs

Now, Annigliato is looking forward to restoring the Maschio Angioino, the medieval castle in the heart of Naples and a symbol of the city. Its turrets have seen many pestilences come to Naples and still they stand. Thanks to the cooperation between CDP and the EU bank, so will Annigliato’s businesses.