Mustier tightens grip on UniCredit with Papa exit

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Dominic O’Neill
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UniCredit lifer and top Italian speaker to step down as number two; Khayat and Bisagni take wider commercial roles as Burton becomes CIB head.

General manager Gianni Papa’s departure from UniCredit sees the exit of its most senior career insider – and its most senior Italian executive – ahead of a series of strategic decisions due later this year. He is due to step down on June 1.

gianni-franco-papa

Gianni Papa

Papa’s exit is the most important move in a senior-management reshuffle, unveiled on Wednesday, ahead of the bank’s new three-year strategic plan, which it is preparing to unveil in December.

Investors will be watching that plan for any big changes, including the bank’s openness to potential acquisitions, or sales of parts of its operations. The plan is being put together in the context of Italy’s economy slipping back into recession, although UniCredit continues to post operational successes, with results coming ahead of market expectations in the fourth quarter, according to research from Jefferies.

Papa’s exit shows Mustier is tightening his grip on the decision-making process, and who will implement the changes. The reshuffle will result in less direct reporting lines to the chief executive so he can focus on strategy, according to the bank.

Mustier promoted Papa to general manager, a position that had been vacant for almost a year, after the French banker re-joined UniCredit as chief executive in 2016. At the time, Papa – previously head of the corporate and investment bank – offered an important bridge to local powerbrokers and UniCredit lifers.

Super-charged

The general manager position at Italian banks is sometimes akin to a super-charged chief financial officer, but can also be vulnerable to horse-trading in big strategic events such as mergers as a way to give top roles to bankers from both sides. Banco BPM, for example, ended up with a general manager and two co-general managers from Banco Popolare and Banca Popolare di Milano after those two banks’ 2016 merger.

Papa, like former chief executive Federico Ghizzoni before him, has been at UniCredit and its predecessor, Credito Italiano, for almost 40 years. He was born and raised in Milan, where UniCredit is based. Mustier, by contrast, is a relative newcomer to UniCredit and spent the formative years of his career at France’s Société Générale, before initially working as UniCredit’s head of corporate and investment banking between 2011 and 2014. 


Mustier is the only foreign chief executive of a big Italian bank and the only one who does not sit on the executive committee of the Italian banking association 

Mustier’s day-to-day workload has not left him much time to learn Italian. He is the only foreign chief executive of a big Italian bank and the only one who does not sit on the executive committee of the Italian banking association, the ABI. Papa, instead, is the most senior UniCredit member on that committee.

As UniCredit’s general manager, Papa oversaw the bank’s various geographically specific commercial and investment banking divisions. Mustier himself kept oversight of strategy, communications, compliance and risk, which he will continue to do, pending the appointment of a new head of finance and control. Mirko Bianchi remains chief financial officer.

Papa is also stepping down as chairman of UniCredit AG, its German operation, which includes HVB. A long-time resident of Vienna, he chose to commute to Milan every week. UniCredit’s statement says Papa will remain chairman of UniCredit Bank Austria AG.

More change

Other changes see Olivier Khayat, formerly co-head of the corporate and investment bank – and another former SocGen banker – take on wider responsibility as co-head for commercial banking in western Europe, alongside Francesco Giordano, formerly co-chief operating officer.

Gianfranco Bisagni, previously Khayat’s CIB co-head, will occupy the equivalent position to Khayat in central and eastern Europe, alongside Niccolò Ubertalli, previously deputy chief executive of Yapi Kredi, UniCredit’s Turkish joint venture.  

Richard Burton will become sole head of the corporate and investment bank, but still reporting to Khayat in western Europe and to Bisagni in central and eastern Europe. Burton is currently head of global financing and advisory at the bank.

Meanwhile, Carlo Vivaldi, formerly head of central and eastern Europe, will become co-chief operating officer alongside Ranieri de Marchis, who remains in that position.

The COO function is focusing more on digital transformation, assisted by Finja Kütz, who joined as UniCredit’s chief transformation officer in 2018 and is becoming deputy COO as part of the changes.