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The Warsaw Voice » Other » May 28, 2008
ITALY IN POLAND
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Banking on It
May 28, 2008   
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Francesco Calcara, the Representative of Intesa Sanpaolo in Poland, a leading banking group in Italy, talks with Ewa Hancock.

Can you tell us something about the history of Intesa Sanpaolo?
Intesa Sanpaolo was created on Jan. 1, 2007, in a merger of Banca Intesa and Gruppo San Paolo IMI. The merger led to the emergence of a domestic leader in all banking segments, with a strong capital base and solid asset quality, and representing one of the most relevant players in the eurozone, ranked fourth in terms of market capitalization-with 61.2 billion euros (source: Bloomberg, with prices as at 30 April, 2008).

Intesa Sanpaolo has the largest banking network in Italy, with 6,566 branches (and 1,308 abroad) and roughly 11.5 million customers (plus an additional 6.9 million abroad), with an extensive branch footprint nationwide and a market share in excess of 15 percent in 15 regions out of 20. Our high penetration in the domestic market makes us a true "local" bank in all Italian regions, with an unrivaled retail presence.

Intesa Sanpaolo's relationship and dedication to Poland and its economy date back to the beginning of the 20th century. In the 1920s, Banca Commerciale Italiana (BCI), one of the banks that were part of the former Banca Intesa, had a prominent position among Italian banks in pursuing a strategy of wide internationalization by both creating a multinational banking network across Europe and America and developing international lending operations.

From 1919, shortly after Poland regained independence, BCI was particularly involved in expanding and strengthening Italian-Polish relations. Józef Toeplitz, CEO of BCI from 1917 to 1933, significantly contributed to the development of this strategy. In fact, Toeplitz's Polish background-he was born in Żychlin near Warsaw in 1866 into a prominent upper-middle-class Jewish family-and the affection for his native country were the factors that determined Toeplitz's feelings for Poland. From 1919, at Toeplitz's initiative, BCI played a major role in trade between Italy and Poland, particularly being active in the trading of Polish coal-an important product for a country like Italy that lacked raw materials.

The close relationship between BCI and Poland was maintained in the years that followed, as proven by BCI's capital investment in Bank Handlowy (now Citi Handlowy) in 1927-subsequently divested in 1935. In 1975, BCI decided to set up a direct presence in Poland by opening its own representative office. Then, at the beginning of the 1990s, BCI decided to make a capital investment by acquiring an 18-percent stake in Międzynarodowy Bank w Polsce (International Bank in Poland) at that bank's inception. Then, as a result of a change in its strategy, BCI withdrew from that investment in 1997 and concurrently decided to become a shareholder in Bank Rozwoju Eksportu (now BRE Bank), with a stake of 3.8 percent; it withdrew from that investment in 2003. Istituto San Paolo di TO, one of the banks that participated in the merger of Intesa Sanpaolo, opened its own representative office in Warsaw in 1997.

What are your plans regarding investment in Poland?
Intesa Sanpaolo is currently active in Poland through a representative office. Its aim is to assist Italian corporations interested in the Polish market to develop relations between the different areas of the bank's business and their Polish counterparts, and finally to maintain and promote relations with institutional bodies and entities.

However, we felt that in order to globally assist our customers in Poland, we needed to offer all of the services as a local bank. With this in mind, at the beginning of this year we signed a cooperation agreement with BRE Bank. This decision is definitely helping us raise our profile vis-a-vis our local counterparts, and to step up our ability to operate in this country by offering our customers, through BRE Bank, a full range of products and services. At the same time, we are able to give BRE Bank clients access to our network and services in both Italy and Central and Eastern Europe or elsewhere. BRE Bank was founded in 1986 and as a commercial bank it focused on services for companies. Now BRE Bank is one of the leading domestic corporate banks, the fifth largest Polish bank in terms of consolidated assets (with zl.56 billion as of the end of Q4 2007), with the corporate division contributing around 75 percent of the bank's profit in Q1 2008.

Has Intesa Sanpaolo invested in any other country in Central and Eastern Europe?
As a matter of fact yes. In addition to being a "true local bank" in Italy, Intesa Sanpaolo has always dedicated human and financial resources to support its customers abroad where needed. With this in mind, we not only decided to open and or maintain fully operational branches in the most important financial and commercial centers worldwide, but wanted to particularly focus on continental Europe and the Mediterranean basin, by establishing a strategic presence in retail banking.

As far as Central and Eastern Europe is concerned, Intesa Sanpaolo covers the region from Russia (KMB Bank, Zao Banca Intesa), to the Czech Republic and Slovakia (VUB Bank), Hungary (Central-European International Bank), and Romania (Intesa Sanpaolo Bank Romania), all the way to the Balkans, including Slovenia (Banka Koper), Serbia (Banca Intesa Beograd), Croatia (PBZ), Bosnia and Herzegovina (UPI Banka), and finally Albania (ABA). Fully operative branches are also available in Austria: in Vienna, Innsbruck and Dornbirn. Finally, we are finalizing the acquisition of Pravex Bank in Ukraine.
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