A positive outlook

Ten years after the merger and the news is all good, says Carlo Messina

Alastair Smart


Carlo Messina is managing director and chief executive of Intesa Sanpaolo

One of the aims of the merger between Banca Intesa and Sanpaolo IMI in January 2007 was to create the top bank in Italy. Was this achieved?

By pretty much any measurement, you’d have to say yes. With 4,047 branches nationwide, we have the most extensive network in Italy. It serves 11.1m customers, giving us a market share of 16 per cent. And then there’s our market capitalisation, which means we rank first at home and among the best in all Europe.

But this is about more than just numbers and rankings. By having such a strong presence throughout Italy, we create relationships, share experiences and realise the dreams of families, businesses and communities across the country.

We create relationships, share experiences and realise the dreams of families, businesses and communities across the country
Photo: Carlo Messina, managing director and chief executive of Intesa Sanpaolo

So, in a way, your ambitions are local at the same time as global.

Very much so. We’re not just here as a place to deposit money; we’re here to engage in a dialogue with our customers, to help implement their business ideas – and, ultimately, improve their lives. We embrace a diverse clientele, from micro-businesses to multinationals.

Do you have any figures to back that up?

In the first nine months of 2016, Intesa Sanpaolo granted around €40bn in new, medium to long-term loans worldwide – of which €29bn went to families and small to medium-sized Italian businesses.

When you talk about ‘improving lives’, does that extend beyond finance?

It does. Our aim isn’t just to contribute to economic growth but to the cultural richness of society. Our Progetto Cultura is at the heart of everything we stand for as a bank; aimed at the preservation, enhancement and sharing of Intesa Sanpaolo’s rich artistic heritage. Much of this is carried out at the Gallerie d’Italia – our galleries in Milan, Vicenza and Naples – where we exhibit highlights from our collection of 20,000 works of art and host an array of cultural activities.

You mentioned ranking highly in Europe in terms of market capitalisation. It seems you’ve achieved another objective of the merger: namely, becoming a major international force.

It’s true. We’ve developed a strong presence in Central and Eastern Europe, as well as in the Mediterranean Basin – where we’ve around 1,200 branches in total. This network is supplemented by a corporate and investment banking division, with operations in Ireland, Brazil and Luxembourg, as well as hub branches in London, New York, Dubai and Hong Kong.

A decade on, how much of an example is the merger for other banks?

It’s not my place to comment on how other businesses operate – or should operate – but what I can say is that our five-year average annualised return for investors is 11 per cent, compared to 0.31 per cent for European banks overall. Europe – and Italy, in particular – probably does have too many banks. And consolidation was certainly the answer for Banca Intesa and Sanpaolo IMI. But each case is different, and for any merger you need to create value for your shareholders.

How did Intesa Sanpaolo perform in July’s ‘stress tests’ carried out by the European Banking Association?

Very successfully. In fact, we were the only major bank in Europe whose excess capital far surpassed the regulators’ requirements, even in the most adverse scenario.

What does the future hold for Intesa Sanpaolo?

With eurozone interest rates at a record low, Italians are increasingly turning away from classic savings accounts towards asset management. Intesa Sanpaolo is ahead of that trend; our inflows from asset management are second only to BlackRock in Europe. We’re also backing life insurance, another area of the business that’s proving profitable in a climate of low interest rates. There are clear signs, too, that Italy’s economy is finally recovering after the financial crisis of 2008 – which is obviously good news. Plus, we’re looking to continue our growth internationally. All in all, then, the future is looking positive for Intesa Sanpaolo.

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