Gianluca Cugno, Head of The International Corporate Network at Intesa Sanpaolo, describes himself as an optimist and a realist. Both characteristics are, he believes, key to the success of the department responsible for coordinating and expanding the bank’s international presence. Opportunities are plentiful.
“We know that the bank can and must grow internationally,” says Cugno. “Our aim is to continue steadily building our network and help our clients to grow, too.”
Formed in August 2016, the division provides a new structure for the bank’s international business. By adopting Intesa Sanpaolo’s trademark organisation by industry, the group offers in-house specialist knowledge for specific sectors as well as geographic regions.
Our very high industrial standard is known, so it is logical we build on that and widen its scope to neighbouring countries, then further afield and so on
Gianluca Cugno, Head of The International Corporate Network at Intesa Sanpaolo
“We realised that a more strategic presentation – allowing us to take the bank with all of its business functions to the countries where we are present – would be more efficient and focussed than sending individual products to individual countries,” Cugno explains.
The structure facilitates international up-scaling, he explains. “There is continuity in covering regions where companies are involved in the industries in which we specialise,” he says.
And while bigger competitors are being constrained to reduce costs and “un-invest”, Intesa Sanpaolo’s relatively lean size and architecture makes ongoing investment more cost-effective and more fruitful.
He cites infrastructure projects in the Gulf as an example: “Our very high industrial standard is known, so it is logical we build on that and widen its scope to neighbouring countries, then further afield and so on.”
With between 30 and 40 per cent of Intesa Sanpaolo’s business already happening beyond Italian borders, Cugno deems the international arena “exceedingly and increasingly significant”.
“Even with the Italian economy in recovery phase Italy, cannot be the only mechanism of growth for our bank – nor indeed for many Italian companies. We aim to be the ‘house bank’ for Italian companies who want to export or invest internationally – in mergers and acquisitions, too – and we have a duty to our shareholders to go out and find opportunities.”
But that is not to say, he stresses, that international expansion should be impulsive.
“The challenge is to invest in a focused, steady way in certain countries and in certain industries. We find investments which will be useful for meeting bigger objectives. Our ambitions are many, but we must be selective and precise because we operate in challenging times with relatively scant resources.”
Cugno has no desire to be “the bank that does everything, everywhere,” he explains. “We want to be seen by our clients as a tier 1 bank in those sectors, regions and skills in which we specialise.”
Cugno’s perspective is a long-term one. “Particularly at a time when geo-politics and macroeconomics are not always clear, we must ensure continuity so that any volatility which might arise does not knock us off course.”
Commitment is important not only for ensuring growth and healthy returns, but also essential for clients.
“We want to remain a partner for our clients. We are not interested in opportunism,” he says. “Obviously when we go to a country we seek to make the most of the local experiences, we adapt to the circumstances, but maintaining our character is extremely important.”
Exciting opportunities abound in many areas of the world, says Cugno.
Europe remains a priority. “We are an Italian bank, in Europe, and our commitment to the European area does not change,” he says. “We want to play an ever more important role with a complete platform of products.”
America, too, continues to be of interest. “It is a significant market and remains a key point of reference for us,” he explains.
Asia offers potential for future business, says Cugno, but the continent’s diversity calls for particularly judicious selectivity of region and product.
It is in the Middle East – with two Intesa Sanpaolo branches recently opened in the Gulf – that Cugno currently sees the most striking opportunities. “It is not the area with the highest turnover, but it is where we are growing most. We are able to capitalise on our experiences in other areas,” says Cugno.
As the region’s economies invest in diversification, opportunities in the bank’s specialist sectors – particularly infrastructure, but also telecoms and media, basic resources, oil and gas – are growing. “Companies can turn to us to sustain projects with long-term investment, for project finance, fixed income and for all their needs,” he says.
For Cugno, success can be measured in his clients’ feedback. Sometimes, he admits, they are very pleasantly surprised. “We measure ourselves against the major international players and we can show that – on our target products and sectors – we match and even better them.”
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