Handelsblatt Exclusive

The Italian Patient: UniCredit's New Rescue Plan

  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    The future of UniCredit, Italy’s largest bank, is inextricably tied to the future of the Italian economy, where the bank generates most of its sales and profit.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Jean Pierre Mustier took over as CEO of UniCredit, Italy’s largest bank, in July.
    • UniCredit owns Munich-based HypoVereinsbank, one of Germany’s largest banks.
    • Mr. Mustier, in this exclusive Handelsblatt interview, quelched rumors that UniCredit would sell HypoVereinsbank, which he called a core part of the Italian institution’s future.
  • Audio

    Audio

  • Pdf
UniCredit SpA Chief Executive Officer Jean Pierre Mustier Announces Plans For $13.8 Billion Stock Sale
Jean Pierre Mustier, the new CEO of Italy's biggest bank, UniCredit, is bullish about the troubled institution's future. Source: Bloomberg

Mr Mustier, you used to be a paratrooper. Do you like adventure?

Being a paratrooper is less about adventure than discipline. You try to minimize risk and plan ahead.

Some people see your new role as an adventure. What was it about what is probably the toughest job in the European banking industry that appealed to you?

UniCredit is a very good bank with big competitive advantages. My job is therefore by no means the toughest in the industry. When I was asked in June, I quickly accepted as I have strong emotional ties to this bank.

You told us a week ago that the ”no” vote in the Italian constitutional referendum would have no influence on your business model. But your business in Italy, which accounts for 48 percent of UniCredit’s revenues, cannot be immune to political developments.

There is a tendency these days to pay too much attention to short-term developments. Italy has always been subject to a certain political dynamism. Since 1946 the country has had 63 different governments. But Italy is still the third-largest economy in the eurozone and the seventh-largest industrial nation in the world. And Italy is a rich country. The wealth of the average Italian is eight times as much as that of an average German or American.

But Italy also has a debt crisis, chaotic governments, frequent changes of power, and a north-south split – and you say that the positive outweighs the negative?

I have a positive view of Italy, and there is a structural reason for that: The country has good entrepreneurs that do not rely on the government but have ensured their success with adaptability and creativity over generations. We should focus much more on these entrepreneurs and the good companies in Italy.

That doesn’t apply to the banking sector, however.

The banks in Italy were very hard-hit by the recession. That’s partly due to the fact that the government – unlike those in Spain and Portugal – did not lend the banks a helping hand. But I am extremely confident that there will be a constructive solution for Italy’s banks.

What do you make of the Italian government’s plan to spend €20 billion on bailing out the banks?

I am fully confident a constructive solution will be found, which will be in the best interest of the whole banking sector. I do not want to comment further.

But there is still a big unsolved problem: Italy’s debt crisis.

You have to make certain distinctions there. If you look not only at the officially reported debt, but also at the future costs of the social insurance systems and pension claims of the citizens, then Italy is actually in a better position than Germany and France.

In view of the high sovereign debt, some experts argue that Italy would be better off leaving the eurozone. Do you agree?

These comments are naive and not especially helpful. Italy benefits enormously from being part of the eurozone and the E.U. Just look at the U.K. and the potential disadvantages it faces through Brexit. It would be unwise for Italy to pursue a similar path. It’s not really my job to comment on politics. But there’s something I would like to say: In the debate on the pros and cons of E.U. membership, particularly the younger generation forgets one thing: peace. When we talk about the E.U., then we can’t base our discussion entirely on the economic benefits. We also have to consider what the E.U. has meant for peace in Europe.

 

Want to keep reading?

Subscribe now or log in to read our coverage of Europe’s leading economy.