Warsaw and Italy mark a red-letter day

The industrial powerhouse of Central and Eastern Europe, Poland is celebrating an economic partnership with Italy dating back 100 years. Intesa Sanpaolo has been there from the start supporting cross-border trade

Andrew Davis


The commercial ties between Poland and Italy go far deeper than most people realise – so deep, in fact, that Italy is the third-biggest trading partner of Poland, with bilateral flows worth almost €22.5 billion in 2017 and growing fast.

This year the two countries marked a century of diplomatic and economic relations and Intesa Sanpaolo will figure prominently in the celebrations, having played an integral part in their trading relationship since day one.

This is largely thanks to the influence of Joseph Toeplitz, a Polish banker who joined Intesa Sanpaolo’s forebear, Banca Commerciale Italiana (BCI), early last century and took Italian citizenship. During 17 years as chief executive of BCI, Toeplitz internationalised its operations, building enduring links between Italy and Poland and encouraging Italian companies to expand there.

Joseph Toeplitz at his desk in 1931, a photograph taken by Vittorio Cicala.
Source: Intesa Sanpaolo Historical Archives, World Map.
Discover more on Intesa Sanpaolo’s presence in Poland here

“It was because of Toeplitz’s influence and role as facilitator that Italian industrial groups such as Fiat decided to invest in Poland back then,” says Novella Burioli, who took over as general manager of Intesa Sanpaolo’s Warsaw branch in January.

Many companies followed and today big Italian businesses including FCA, Ferrero and Leonardo have a significant presence in the country, working alongside bankers from Intesa Sanpaolo to aid their expansion.

Intesa Sanpaolo remains important in Poland’s commercial banking market, alongside local players and other international banks, focusing on supporting its clients’ cross-border trade and finance needs, including acquisitions, infrastructure and energy projects, as well as providing cash management and liquidity.

Given Poland’s vital role as a hub for industry in Central and Eastern Europe, the bank has key relationships with manufacturing companies, especially leading industrial, automotive and appliances producers. It works with major infrastructure and energy companies, with a focus on supporting the deployment of renewables as well as energy-efficiency solutions.

Burioli is also looking closely at Poland’s social housing sector, a policy priority for the government and one in which Intesa Sanpaolo has existing expertise.

“Besides the traditional offering, we leverage the bank’s unique skills, for example from our involvement in the circular economy thanks to our relationship with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation”
Novella Burioli, general manager of Intesa Sanpaolo’s Warsaw branch

As an Italian bank, the natural focus for the Warsaw branch is on providing local support for the Polish subsidiaries of Intesa Sanpaolo’s Italian clients, who account for about two-thirds of the client base. The other third, who represent the lion’s share of deals by value, is made up of the Polish subsidiaries of Intesa Sanpaolo’s multinational clients and large Polish companies that can benefit from its international branch network across Europe, Asia and the Americas.

Burioli points to significant recent deals her branch has completed, including a financial package worth more than 1.2 billion zloty (about €300 million) for Poland’s biggest oil and gas company. As a result, Intesa Sanpaolo became a tier-one bank for the client this year.

“Another outstanding transaction that we are very proud to having taken part in is the financing of the first wind farm in north-west Poland, supporting the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources alongside the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development,” she says.

And the relationship with Fiat continues. Lucyna Bogusz, CEO and vice-president of the management board of FCA-Group Bank Polska, says: “We have been working with Intesa Sanpaolo for five years. During this time the bank has become one of the most important providers of finance for our business in Poland. We really value the commitment, professionalism and unique customer-relationship management that the Intesa Sanpaolo team in Warsaw bring to our partnership. As a result, we have built an excellent relationship that is key to the financing of our Polish operations.”

Intesa Sanpaolo’s approach, Burioli explains, is to use the bank’s industry expertise and international network to go beyond the traditional bank offering and add value to clients’ operations. This might involve helping a Polish company to expand into South America, with input from industry experts based in Italy and bankers in South America and New York. Together they could help the client understand the local issues that need addressing, for example legal and tax matters.

Equally, Burioli’s relationship managers aim to support clients by sharing know-how and best practice from the bank’s work with other clients. “We can bring a lot of technical knowledge to the table that we gain by sitting at all those tables in other parts of the world,” she says. Burioli, for instance, used to work in Intesa Sanpaolo’s New York, Singapore and Hong Kong offices.

“Besides the traditional offering, we leverage the bank’s unique skills and global expertise. So, depending on the customer’s needs, we work face-to-face with them to give them tools and share our expertise, whether it’s technical know-how or local knowledge of a country where we operate with other companies. This is something our customers really appreciate.”

Intesa Sanpaolo’s Warsaw branch already has about €1 billion in assets and aims to double that in the near future, helped by Poland’s buoyant economy, which grew at 5 per cent in 2018 – the fastest rate in the European Union. Although the rate is projected to slow slightly over the next two years, Poland is expected to remain the major engine of growth in Central and Eastern Europe and to continue to attract large flows of inward investment.

This makes Intesa Sanpaolo’s Warsaw branch particularly important to the bank’s offering across the whole region. Companies frequently site their HQ for Eastern Europe in Poland and then branch out to the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania and so on. Thanks to Intesa Sanpaolo’s international subsidiary banks, which provide coverage from the Western Balkans to Ukraine, it can accompany them.

A century after Banca Commerciale Italiana arrived in Warsaw, trading links between Poland and Italy have grown to become major factors in both their economies. Intesa Sanpaolo’s role in encouraging and supporting those links demonstrates how much can be achieved through relationships that are truly long-term.

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