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Messina battles to keep Italy's crown

Intesa Sanpaolo chief executive Carlo Messina bristles at the idea that Italian finance should be an underdog in Europe. His bank can prove otherwise and, he says, lower interest rates will only make its fee businesses shine more brightly. But in a stagnating economy with tech-savvy challengers gaining share and other Italian banks recovering, are acquisitions the only way for Intesa to grow and retain the favour of investors and clients?


Illustration: Simon Prades

Sitting back after his lunch with Euromoney, Intesa Sanpaolo chief executive Carlo Messina points at the European bank chief executives pictured on Euromoney’s November cover. With some satisfaction, he reels off each one’s market capitalization. They all lead banks that are more international but valued lower, on a price-to-book basis, than Intesa. 

His greatest pleasure surely comes when he points at Jean Pierre Mustier, chief executive of UniCredit – still the biggest Italian bank by assets but with a market cap of €26 billion, well below Intesa’s €36 billion.

The battle between Messina and Mustier is more heated than ever, not least because of different attitudes towards their home country, and because UniCredit is catching up with Intesa, especially in terms of its shareholder remuneration.

Unlike Mustier, who is French and has only worked at UniCredit since 2011 (and even then with an 18-month break until he rejoined the bank as CEO in June 2016), Messina was born in Rome and has worked at Intesa Sanpaolo and its predecessor institutions for a quarter of a century. He has been the chief financial officer, chief risk officer and head of Intesa’s locally-dominant retail network, Banca dei Territori. 

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