Almost 100 years after opening in France, Intesa Sanpaolo group’s unique heritage in the country is being celebrated with a move to the heart of the Parisian banking district.
Le Centorial, one of the capital’s best-loved historic beaux arts buildings, is the new home of Banque Intesa Sanpaolo-Succursale de Paris.
For general manager Adriana Saitta, it is an exciting symbol of both the dynamic future of the branch and its fruitful past.
“We have an exceptional history in France. The Paris branch – second in size only to London among our European divisions – is very important to us and this beautiful new office gives us the opportunity to welcome our many clients and present ourselves as a professional, solid and stable bank,” she says. “Our excellent results are generating a lot of curiosity and attention in the French business community.”
While the group’s early experience in France was in retail banking, today the focus is on corporate clients, among them many of the country’s biggest names including Groupe Renault, PSA Peugeot Citroën, Carrefour, Saint-Gobain and Nestlé.
“We have relationships with around 90 per cent of the top 40 Paris Stock Exchange companies,” says Saitta. Such an achievement is the result, she believes, of long-standing client relationships, a skilled and experienced team, and Intesa Sanpaolo’s invaluable cross-border industry knowledge. “We have the capacity to propose specific and relevant services.”
In many cases, clients are conducting major international deals, particularly in Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
Intesa Sanpaolo’s expanding global network “reflects our clients’ ability to do business outside their borders”, says Saitta.
Her own experience, before taking on the Paris branch one year ago, is similarly international. After 10 years with McKinsey, working on European retail banking, Saitta joined Intesa Sanpaolo, moving to the International Subsidiary Banks Division in 2007. As a former head of business and sales, she has extensive experience in Eastern Europe, North Africa and China.
Having a physical presence in the country allows for the easier and more nuanced navigation of France’s tough regulatory, legal and fiscal landscape. “We can be very agile in the way we work,” she says.
It is, she stresses, a very different corporate market to the Italian one.
“France does not have the large number of SMEs typical in Italy – largely due to the way the economy has been structured by the government – but there are many giants headquartered in France and working in many different countries.”
Key sectors include traditional heavy industries such as automotive, infrastructure and retail distribution, as well as real estate, energy (with a particular focus on nuclear), agriculture and food.
Saitta’s strategy for growth includes acquiring more “second tier” clients in these fields. “Even in the mid-range, companies still have around €4-8m turnover. Lowering the bar in terms of the kinds of clients we serve is an important opportunity in terms of our portfolio.”
While the bulk of the branch’s work is with large French companies (around 80 per cent estimates Saitta), Italian clients looking to invest in France are also very important to the bank.
Italy is now the third largest international investor in France (figures increased by 34 per cent from 2014 to 2015).
Headline deals this year include Lavazza’s purchase of Carte Noire for €700m and Campari’s €684m acquisition of Grand Marnier.
“We have a relationship with over 500 Italian clients who have been investing in France, particularly small companies looking for green field or medium sized acquisitions. It is a very important and complementary trade relationship,” says Saitta. “In Italy we call the French our cousins on the other side of the Alps.”
The French market is, she nevertheless admits, a “tough one” for foreign investors.
“The fiscal system, labour legislation and labelling restrictions can be an obstacle, though the state is now making real efforts to attract foreign investment.”
A significant government drive to promote innovation and facilitate start-ups; the largest venture capital pool in Europe (“something which is not sufficiently well known”) and the very low cost of risk (a large problem for banks elsewhere in Europe) all serve to make France an increasingly attractive market for future investment. “I am in no doubt,” says Saitta emphatically, “that this is an exciting place to be.”
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