Can the spirit of Mediobanca’s Cuccia survive Italy’s crisis?
Italy’s banking crisis might move Mediobanca ever further away from its past as the country’s corporate gatekeeper. But its merchant banking legacy still gives it valuable links and a clubby prestige cherished by clients and shareholders.
The cloistered and silent corridors of Mediobanca’s Milan headquarters, in a former monastery behind La Scala, are a world away from the busy lifts of the nearby UniCredit skyscraper.
Italy’s banking crisis, however, will push Mediobanca further from a past when it used a web of equity stakes to pull corporate strings. Under Enrico Cuccia, who died almost 20 years ago, Mediobanca helped Italian businessmen free up capital while retaining control during the post-war boom years. It became a defender of the local business establishment it epitomized, consolidating its power during the privatizations of the 1980s and 1990s.
While Alberto Nagel has been at the helm – he became chief executive in 2008 and was co-head before that – he has put more emphasis on consumer finance and wealth management, opening branches of the investment bank across Europe and launching online bank CheBanca!.
More recently, higher capital charges on equity stakes under Basel II and the travails of firms like Telecom Italia have added impetus to Nagel’s sales of the shareholdings.
Mediobanca has offloaded around €2 billion of these stakes since 2013.
“As we are modifying our business model, it follows that our shareholder structure and governance are evolving with the growth of institutional investors and a board with a majority of independent directors,” Nagel tells Euromoney, in a room with Latin inscriptions and black-and-white photographs of the founders.