With new openings due to open in Doha, Jakarta and Abu Dhabi, a Washington office in its fifth month of operation and recent expansion in Turkey and Brazil, Intesa Sanpaolo’s growing international corporate and investment banking presence is clear.
The network of branches and subsidiaries – connected by strategic hubs in London, New York, Hong Kong and Dubai – gives Italy’s largest retail bank an ever-increasing global footprint and, according to
Teresio Testa, Intesa Sanpaolo’s head of International Network and Global Industries, is strategic to its growth. “We need our antennae all over the world,” he says.
The economic crisis has made it all the more important to establish a place on the global stage. “Our focus must be international. Today, Italy’s cake is a little smaller and we already have a considerable share of it. We must, of course, protect our position at home, but we have very little room to grow. Overseas, by contrast, is almost a green field.”
With Intesa Sanpaolo’s domestic clients increasingly subject to acquisition by multinationals, the business map is expanding. “Decisions that were once taken in Milan, Rome and Turin are now moving to Frankfurt, Dubai, Paris and New York, and we must be ready for that,” says Testa.
Competition, he admits, is fierce. “Other players are huge banks such as JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley, Deutsche Bank, BNP, but the experience of the past three years – when we have tested ourselves internationally – shows we can do it. We are very happy with what we are building.”
While Intesa Sanpaolo may not be able to match its competitors in terms of size, Testa believes its new international strategy works in its favour (backed up by top liquidity ratios as a result of its strength at home).
We are a lean, flat structure with very short decision times thanks to excellent dialogue with the chief lending officer.
In addition, he says, it is a keenly self-aware department, proud of its strengths and always striving to do better. “It is best to say to a client, ‘We can compete very well on this and this, but we cannot do that’. We do not want to waste our own or our clients’ time on things we are not specialist in.”
Key to Intesa Sanpaolo’s success – which he proudly states has “shocked” many competitors – is its innovative industry-focused organisation.
Dedicated specialists cover the strategic sectors of oil and gas, power and utilities, automotive, telecoms and media, infrastructure, healthcare, basic resources, and luxury and consumer goods. “It was an important and serious change, but it was also in many ways an easy, organic one,” he says.
The result is tailored, relevant service based on real industry expertise, with greater transparency and more personal relationships. “The teams have a global knowledge of the industry trends so they suggest solutions which go beyond simple lending and into a whole series of other products to benefit them and through which we would like to grow.”
With growth not always following a traditional linear pattern of acquisition of suppliers or competitors – “often sectors are widening, with digitalisation creating ever more crossover” – expertise has been particularly important.
The industry-based approach allows a lighter structure, which, says Testa, means the bank is able to maximise opportunity and reduce risk.
“We can move in relation to world trends. Pushing and decelerating according to the market is a source of strength in our future strategy.”
The short-term focus is to further refine the bank’s offering by maintaining a presence in areas of growth. “We are developing the structures and top-quality teams – who know the local language, culture and economy – to identify clients with whom we can develop relationships and to focus resources where we will have the most success.”
Investment will be made in export finance, structured export finance, project finance, commodity financing – a key target – and foreign exchange.
The branch in Abu Dhabi will allow the bank to operate in local currency for the first time, opening up the possibility of business with major corporates.
While presence in Washington – the home of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund – means “understanding where investments will be made in order to be beside our clients there from the very start”.
After 25 years with Intesa Sanpaolo (“the challenges and opportunities have made the years fly”), Testa continues to look to the future. “Our culture is innovative, forward looking and always a step ahead. Every day we work to earn and keep our clients’ respect and business. That is what marks us out.”
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