“We are a leading bank with rich experiences and broad know-how”. Interview with Marco Iannaccone, General Manager since April of UniCredit Bank Czech Republic and Slovakia
“To achieve sustainability, we interact with five capitals: financial, human, social, natural and intellectual”

Marco Iannaccone joined UniCredit Group in 2002 and has almost 20 years of international top management experience in the banking sector. In this interview he tells us not only about his first months in the Czech and Slovak markets, but also about the new challenges that the Group intends to face.

The last few months have been very turbulent, what is your opinion on how the Czech economy is reacting to this situation?

After such an extensive economic shock, it will take time to get back to ‘business as usual’. The COVID-19 health emergency is far from over. We have started to see the first signs of a commercial recovery, but some companies move faster than others. We reacted fast to support our clients and the local economies and play an active part in local government financial programs, as well as the EIF Package in Czechia and Slovakia, to provide companies with additional funding.

For which sectors of the Czech economy is in your opinion the current situation the most difficult?

Businesses providing goods or services to local households are in a better position than those oriented towards the export of services or capital goods. Providers of foreign-tourism-related services, such as hotels in Prague, are troubled. In manufacturing industry, the automotive sector will experience sharp fall of its sales this year. The same applies to machinery producers.

Has the situation in recent months changed your attitude to mortgage lending? If so, how?

We have always applied a conservative approach and our processes meet all regulatory requirements, including those of the Czech National Bank. The pandemic did not change our approach. We have continued to support our clients, allowing them to quickly and easily postpone their payments if needed. Now, the mortgage market is quickly getting back on track.

How is the coronavirus crisis affecting the behavior of banks’ customers?

We have seen an increase in the use of our digital channels. Digital transformation is a key pillar of our strategic plan. Our online channels were ready when we had to limit our branch availability. Czechs have an advantage as almost 80% of people here already managed their daily finances online before the COVID-19 outbreak. Our research shows that during the crisis, an additional 10% started using our digital channels.

In the midst of every crisis lies a great opportunity. How does this maxim apply to UniCredit Bank today?

The situation we are currently living in has changed the world in many ways. Many companies, including UniCredit, have moved towards new ways of working, including adaptation to social, technological and economic trends. Working in a “smart” modern environment means that the time spent working from home has become a standard part of the working week.

The pandemic has forced many companies to order its employees to work from home. How would you rate this experience? Do you think it could be useful to continue working from home once the emergency is over?

Our data confirms that nearly all of our colleagues from main offices prefer a combination of different working locations. At UniCredit, we decided to change the concept of our offices last Autumn. Our smart office means a new working environment and a new approach to work, with visible benefits.

The transition to space encourages a positive work culture, supports an open communication flow and connects individuals as a team. We want to engage our employees, to help them work more efficiently and even spend time with their children at work – in the unique environment of our Work & Play room. It is great to see the first completed floors in Prague and Bratislava and the colleagues who are enjoying this new working environment.

You are considered an expert on Central and Eastern Europe. What are the most specific aspects of the banking market in the Czech Republic?

Central European countries have very competitive markets which are quickly developing digital services. To succeed, you must be the best one. Looking at the Czech Republic and Slovakia from my experience, which was so far pretty short (since April 2020), I have several positive remarks.

When I started my job here, at the very beginning of the pandemic, I was impressed by the strong, spontaneous wave of solidarity from my colleagues, who raised almost CZK 5 million to support hospitals in both countries. Even though I was not able to meet any of my new colleagues in person for first two months, the level of readiness and the flexibility with which they switched to digital channels was fascinating. As I am now getting to know our customers in Czechia much better, I have to say, that the overall level of digital-savviness of our clients is also high compared to other markets.

The Czech market appears to be characterized by increasingly fierce competition between banks. What do you think UniCredit’s winning cards could be?

UniCredit is a simple, successful pan-European commercial bank with a fully plugged in Corporate and Investment Bank and a unique network serving an extensive and growing client franchise. We are part of the biggest financial group operating in the local market, which helps us to serve our corporate clients throughout Europe and most of the world thanks to our international network of banks and partners.

We are a solid bank with strong capital ratios and an unstinting focus on value creation for all our stakeholders, through innovative commercial actions, digital transformation, enhanced risk management, transparent corporate governance and key social impact banking initiatives based on ethics and respect.

UniCredit Foundation supports a series of initiatives aimed at children. Which projects will be supported this year and how much do you want to give for this support?

We have launched the “Call for Europe 2019” initiative to identify and support social projects that help children specifically. We distributed almost CZK 2,2 million in Czechia and Slovakia this year, which went to six non-profit organisations which specialized in helping children.

In the Czech Republic, we supported the Nave Italia project for children from socially disadvantaged families, treated for cancer. The Laguna Psáry Home provides homes for children with mental disabilities, and the parent association Full Moon Children try to create conditions for a decent life for children on the autism spectrum or with mental handicaps. We hope to help create conditions for a better life.

But we do not stop there. I was pleased to join my colleagues in the call for support for five hospitals, as soon as I joined this market. Joining the strong wave of solidarity meant a lot to me. It was a unique feeling to provide immediate help of over CZK 4,9 million to help fight COVID-19 in such a short time.

A very current issue is that of a sustainable development. What is UniCredit Bank’s approach to environmental protection in the Czech Republic?

For us, value creation means more than just generating financial value. It also means creating sustainable value in terms of human capital, society and the environment, which we are doing over time by listening to and responding to the real needs of our customers and our stakeholders. This is what we mean by our motto: Banking that matters. To achieve sustainability, we interact with five capitals: financial, human, social, natural and intellectual. We combine traditional banking activities with corporate citizenship and philanthropy. We also contribute to achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

UniCredit Bank, since its landing in the Czech Republic, is considered a point of reference for Italian entrepreneurship in this country. How do you interpret this role and what prospects do you think Italian business have in the Czech Republic?

With a strategic location, educated workforce and competitive infrastructure, the Czech Republic has been for a long time an appealing destination for overseas companies striving to grow in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE). This, together with the EU membership, makes the country a perfect gateway to the single European market of 502 million consumers.

Most international companies base their activities here to service the whole CEE region. Our bank is ready to help any company interested in opening the doors of Czech and Slovak markets, as well as the other European markets in which our Group operates. We are a leading bank with rich experience and broad know-how. We meet the needs of individual companies to support them in achieving their ambitions. We have an extensive experience in developing joint solutions with International Financial Institutions (such as EIF, EIB, EBRD, IFC) to support access to funding for various clients in different industries.

di Giovanni Usai e Giovanni Piazzini Albani