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“UniCredit will continue to be a pan-European bank”

06.10.2010

Federico Ghizzoni, born in Piacenza, 55 years of age (15 of which spent abroad), was appointed 24 hours ago as the new CEO of UniCredit Group. After a long day of meetings with management and the press, he is granting his first interview as CEO. Sitting next to chairman Dieter Rampl inside the bank’s headquarters in Milan’s Piazza Cordusio, he cannot hide the emotion and pride of a bank employee who has just become a banker. “My first telephone call after being appointed was to Alessandro Profumo, the man who built this group.“

In the morning, he received a telephone call bearing good wishes from Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. And, together with Rampl, he contacted the Bank of Italy and the Ministry of the Economy, which he will visit in person in the next few days to present his credentials.

In spite of the board’s obligation to maintain confidentiality, our conversation cannot help but begin with Mr. Profumo’s departure.

Chairman Rampl, what was the real reason behind the board’s vote of no confidence in Mr. Profumo?

RAMPL: The days leading up to Profumo’s exit were among the most difficult of my life. I can understand your curiosity, but I cannot nor do I wish to say much more. Mr. Profumo built this bank. And during the financial crisis, we worked together to defend its independence. Subsequently, however, a number of tensions arose between Mr. Profumo and the board. Let us say: problems to do with governance and respect of roles. The bank itself, not single individuals, must be the board’s only priority. So let us say that, after 15 years of valued work at the top, perhaps it was time to change.

Forgive me for insisting: is it true that the proposal to sell Mediocredito Centrale to Poste Italiane and the cooperatives, so that the government could create a Banca del Sud [Bank of the South], also weighed in the matter? And will this sale now go ahead, or has it been suspended?

GHIZZONI: I have now inherited the Mcc case, and I can tell you what we will do from here on in. Mcc is not a strategic asset for us; the same business activities can be performed by other companies in the group. So, negotiations will continue. Any eventual sale will also depend on price.

Two years ago, speaking of Mr. Profumo, chairman Rampl said: “He is the bank”. Who is the bank now? You, Mr Chairman?Or chief executive Ghizzoni?Or the board?

RAMPL: There are particular kinds of bankers, who have built a bank. But in a large international group, with 165,000 employees, there is also a front line of top management. It would be wrong to think of the bank as just one person. Santander, for example, is not represented by Emilo Botin alone, but by a huge international management team. The same applies to UniCredit.

GHIZZONI: On this point, I would like to recognise Mr. Profumo for the having assembled the strong team which worked alongside him.

But, in the first instance, the search for a successor was also conducted externally. You even tried to engage Andrea Orcel from BofA-Merrill Lynch, an investment banker with a very different profile from Mr. Ghizzoni’s. How do you explain this?

RAMPL: When a large group needs to appoint a new chief executive officer, it must evaluate all options. We contacted Mr. Orcel, whom we regard highly. We then evaluated various possibilities with the members of the board, starting with the appointments committee. Mr. Ghizzoni was the unanimous choice, since we think he has all the qualities needed to guide the bank in an independent manner during the coming years.

Did the “Fondazioni” play a decisive role in ousting Profumo, as Generali chairman Cesare Geronzi recently claimed? And to what extent did politics influence the decision?

RAMPL: Politics played no role whatsoever. The Fondazioni have the same shareholder rights as all the others. Let me also remind you that we have the most international board among all the Italian banks. And the group enjoys an international standing.

Veniamo al resto dell`azionariato. The advance of the Libyan investors, who now hold 7.5%, has provoked controversy, on top of the Abu Dhabi-based fund, which holds 4.9%. Not to mention the strong presence of German members on the board, which is not proportionate with their share of capital. Will UniCredit become increasingly less Italian?

GHIZZONI: Regarding the Libyans, chairman Rampl and the board have already said they will need further documentation in order to assess the independence of these two investment vehicles. In general, I can say that every large bank needs stable, long-term investors, and the arrival of both the Libyans and Abu Dhabi are steps in this direction.

RAMPL: The presence of German members on the board is based on the merger agreements signed between UniCredit and HVB, which have now expired. The board was, however, elected for a three-year term at the 2009 shareholders meeting. Our shareholders also include Allianz, with a stake of over 2%, and a smaller stake is held by the AVZ Foundation of Vienna, a former shareholder of Bank Austria. Furthermore, former German finance minister Theodore Waigel sits on the board to represent the institutional investors, and was nominated by Assogestioni.

Let’s discuss the top management team. Who will be the new director-general?

GHIZZONI: I already have a very clear idea of how I will re-organise appointments. But I was only appointed 24 hours ago, so please give me a few days to speak to the managers in question. I am convinced that there is room for everyone.

What are the priorities on your current agenda?

GHIZZONI: In the short term, besides defining the top management team, I will continue to work on projects that are currently underway. In Italy, the launch of the single bank project is a priority. This is an essential challenge for us, because we will re-establish close ties at the local level. This is not simply a slogan. It is a big organisational project which, thanks to the way we have set it up, will lead to the creation of 100 local banks. This means that the allocation of credit will be substantially decentralised.

Italy accounts for around 50% of the group’s assets, but in 2009 it contributed only 5—10% of profits. To what extent did the effects of the Capitalia acquisition weigh on these results?

GHIZZONI: The Capitalia purchase has brought more advantages than disadvantages. Thanks to the merger, we obtained substantial cost synergies. No, the problems lie elsewhere. Some are tied to general Italian issues, such as the typically low capitalisation levels of Italian companies as compared with German ones, or the different rates of economic growth. In addition, at current interest rates, it is difficult for anyone to make a profit in retail banking.

The general impression, however, is that UniCredit has problems of its own. Also at the commercial level...

GHIZZONI: We are not hiding from our own difficulties. Otherwise we would not have launched a large project like the “single bank”. We have the resources to relaunch our business in Italy too. In the meantime, we are continuing to reorganise our branch network. We have closed 600 branches. And we continue to focus on costs.

And abroad? How much truth is there in speculations that the German businesses could be spun off and returned to German investors

RAMPL: This hypothesis has absolutely never been under consideration, by any of us.

What about Central and Eastern Europe?

GHIZZONI: I have already said that we may exit a few areas, such as the Baltic countries. We will also evaluate this option in other areas where we do not have significant market share. In other countries, such as Slovenia — where we are the country’s seventh largest bank — we will focus more on corporate business than retail. In Poland and Turkey, we aim to expand further. These are countries — Turkey especially – which are comparable to BRICs. In a country of 75 million inhabitants with economic growth rates of 10%, we own a leading bank with 950 branches. So we will continue to invest there.

Was the 2007 purchase of a bank in Kazakhstan a mistake? This is said to be one of the errors for which Mr. Profumo has been blamed. Is this bank now up for sale?

GHIZZONI: With hindsight, the investment was not a profitable one. But at the time, the conditions for making it were right. Kazakhstan is a country with plenty of natural resources and great potential, and many other western banks are also present there. For the moment, we are working on restructuring it for a return to profit. This is certainly not the right time to sell it.

Speaking of selling, could the stake in Mediobanca be put up for sale? And how much truth is there in recent speculations about a merger with UniCredit?

RAMPL: We have stated repeatedly that it is a strategic holding. Besides, selling it at current prices would make no sense. A merger between UniCredit and Mediobanca? I would be hard pressed to see where the benefit would lie.

On the subject of Basel 3: UBS has just announced that it may not distribute a dividend, in an attempt to shore up capital. Is UniCredit also considering this possibility?

GHIZZONI: Absolutely not. We believe we have sufficient capital to satisfy the new Basel 3 rules without foregoing a dividend payout. Naturally, we are also aware of the need to work on optimising our capital allocation. And we will have to review our business model for certain activities. Of course, European banks are penalised with respect to American ones, due to separate countries’ regulatory structures. In Poland, for example, we have a Core Tier 1 of 18%, while in Croatia it is 20%. But excess capital cannot be transferred easily from one place to another.

Let’s discuss Ghizzoni and politics: Up to now, you have worked abroad, where you oversaw 19 banks in 16 different countries. What relationships did you have with those governments?

GHIZZONI When you operate in a country as a foreigner, you have to try to be seen as a local. For example, during the financial crisis, I always took steps to support those countries’ economies and companies. But, obviously, politics should never interfere in the affairs of a private sector bank. So far, I have not had any problems of this kind.

One final curiosity – a very Italian one – for Mr. Ghizzoni. Did you, like Mr. Profumo, also vote in the primaries for [Italy’s] Democratic Party?

GHIZZONI (smiling...): Do you know, I can’t remember?

NOTE

Ukrsotsbank is one of the largest universal banks of Ukraine, operating in the local market since 1990. The bank offers full range of services to individuals and corporate clients.

The renovated Ukrsotsbank emerged on 31 October 2016 as a result of strategic deal whereby 99.9% of Ukrsotsbank shares have been transferred from UniCredit Group to ABH Holdings S.A. (АВНН) in exchange for a minority 9.9% stake in ABHH. Thus, the bank has combined 26-year-old traditions of Ukrsotsbank’s client-centric attitude, European quality of service inherent to UniCredit, as well as international banking expertise of ABHH in a number of European countries including CIS. Thanks to the successful synthesis and synergy of the two assets of ABHH in Ukraine, Ukrsotsbank and Alfa-Bank, the banking market of Ukraine will see the rise of a new stronger financial institution. This, in turn, will spur up technological advance, increase efficiency, improve quality of service for the clients, reduce cost of banking services whereas their range will inevitably expand.

The extensive retail network of Ukrsotsbank consists of 237 branches, its headcount reaching nearly 5 thousand employees.


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