UBI Banca, Italy’s fifth largest lender, will open offices in South Africa and the Far East after expanding in the Mena region as part of plans to broadening its footprint beyond Europe.
UBI Banca, which was converted into a joint-stock company in October, has opened three new representative offices since mid-2015 – in New York, Casablanca and the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC).
The bank, which has a strong clientele of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), particularly in the construction and manufacturing industries, also has offices in India, Russia, Brazil and China (Hong Kong and Shanghai).
“Our international strategy is mainly focused on support to the internationalisation process of our SME companies,” said Rossella Leidi, the deputy general manager and chief business officer at UBI Banca.
“Our future plans are focused on South Africa, in order to have a sort of hub for the sub-Saharan area and another possibility would be strengthening our presence in the Far East.”
The DIFC office, opened last August, is only allowed to inform and connect UAE and Italian companies. The bank has relationships with UAE banks to help provide services to its clients.
UBI Banca, which is subject to supervision by the European Central Bank, narrowed its fourth-quarter loss to €45.2 million (Dh187m), compared with €875.5m net loss in the year-earlier period.
“The difficulties of the zero interest rates for banks in Europe mean that you cannot make much money, in terms of income statement,” said Andrea Moltrasio, chairman of the supervisory board of UBI. “Of course it is not an easy situation, but we are developing ideas and strategic options to have better performance in that field.”
The bank has been cutting costs to shore up its finances. It trimmed staff from 22,000 in 2007 to 17,000 in 2015. The bank does not plan more job cuts, Mr Moltrasio said.
Although the bank is focusing on developing on its own, Mr Moltrasio did not rule out mergers with cooperative banks, which are seeking tie-ups.
“At the moment we have a very intensive programme by ourselves and we want to manage to implement this programme for the rest of the year,” said Mr Moltrasio.
“In the meantime, once opportunities will be in the market, we will be ready to be part of it.”
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