An interview with Italian banker Giuseppe Guzzetti
Giuseppe Guzzetti, Chairman of the Cariplo Foundation and one of the main shareholders of the Intesa Sanpaolo bank, explains his social liberalism and stresses: politics has nothing to do with this.
Giuseppe Guzzetti, 78, grew up in the Christian Democratic party and was president of the Lombardy Region from 1979 to 1987, then senator in the Italian parliament for two terms. In 1997 he was appointed chairman of the Cariplo Foundation, and still holds that office.
Since 2000 he has also been president of the ACRI, the association the represents the foundations of banking origin. The Cariplo Foundation, one of the main shareholders of the Intesa Sanpaolo bank with equity investments of just under 5%, disposes of a treasury of about 6 billion euros.
The bank foundations as a group hold shares in banking institutions for a value of over 40 billion euros and often play a decisive role in determining the banks' organization and policies.
Strong powers don't exist, but the defense of Italian-ness makes sense. With the banks in the system.
Yes, Unicredit could be an interesting acquisition, like all the large banks with a large shareholder base» says Giuseppe Guzzetti, President of ACRI (the association that represents the foundations of bank origin) and Chairman of the Cariplo Foundation, unofficial banking executive and historical ally of Giovanni Bazoli, president of Intesa Sanpaolo. Guzzetti, 78 - but he doesn't look it - former leader of the Christian Democrats in the Lombardy Region. Untouched by even a hint of shady deals, he is smart, tough and, surprisingly, a mediator. He never took part in the financial gossip this fall about a possible defensive merger between Intesa and Unicredit, denied by just about everybody concerned after being authoritatively suggested by the Italian daily Corriere della sera. He agrees to talk to Panorama, in the framework of an interview about the entire sector that he has represented for years with great energy and almost pride: that of the foundations of bank origin.
So, no problem about Unicredit?
That it is a possible acquisition doesn't mean it is at the mercy of anyone who comes along. The bank foundation shareholders are not there for decoration: though they own about 14% they have always been the pivotal point of stable shareholder alliances. Because they are healthy and strong: just last year the system distributed as much as 1.1 billion euros in social assets that otherwise no one would support.
They are strong, so are they ... strong powers?
There aren't any strong powers: every now and then people dig that out to justify their own lack of success, claiming non-existent prohibitions from above.
I beg your pardon, but really, on the subject of Unicredit, isn't there something going on?
Either you accept the rules of the market or you don't. If a company has a large shareholder base it has to take into consideration the fact that this shareholder base can change. Having said this, however, many years of stable governance, with lists that always reveal full agreement presented by the Italian and foreign shareholders at the shareholders' meetings, prove that the company has a cohesive ownership, and that we get along well together.
The new IRI, the Italian Deposits and Loans Fund, in which the foundations have 30%, wants to buy Ansaldo Energia: will you approve?
First of all, it is not a new IRI; then, if Ansaldo Energia is part of the strategic priorities of the country, I think it is a good thing if it stays Italian.
What are you, a nationalist?
I am for a social, not financial, liberalism; nobody wants another IRI and the market has to have the last word, but there has to be a way to defend the value of the national background when it comes to certain strategic assets.
Is that why you agree that Intesa Sanpaolo, where the Cariplo Foundation is a key investor, should become part of the bank system? Alitalia, the attempt on Parmalat...
There you go again with the buzz words: strong powers, bank system... The defense of Italian-ness doesn't mean contradicting the rules of the market, it means having an economic policy. If the decision-making center of a company emigrates abroad, the decisions are made from a different point of view and for different prevailing interests. We saw that with Parmalat, where the new strategies could lead to the closure of its assets inItaly. A bank system simply uses deposits to make profits, just like any other bank. If and when it can, without neglecting the imperatives of good management, it prefers to use them to support domestic economic assets that create greater value for it as well.
Let's go back to the Deposits and Loan Fund. You control 30% but your shares are about to be converted from privileged to ordinary. The government was hoping to collect 4 billion but you are offering one: what will happen?
We'll soon know, it's a matter of days. We are shareholders and we want to stay, but if we are faced with demands we consider excessive, we can always exercise our right to resign.
Mr. President, is that a threat?
Don't even suggest such a thing! Maximum loyalty and collaboration, however the contracts and the Italian civil code exist for a reason and must be respected. By contract, we have the right to resign, and if we are forced to use it we will explain why.
Aren't you holding secret negotiations?
Nonsense, everything is out in the open. We have given the government time to decide, however the time is running out.
What sort of timing do you expect?
Mid-December. But we are in a hurry, because when we receive the government's proposal we have to decide as a body, and that will take a little time. It's not something I can decide by myself.
What do you think you have obtained, as shareholders in the Fund, that would justify the investment?
Now there's an important question, at last. We were decisive in ensuring that the Fund would invest part of its vast resources deriving from the management of post office savings accounts (which I stress, are marginal amounts with respect to the overall availability, and with the broadest guarantees of every safeguard for these investments) in measures for support of the economy and society that otherwise would not be taken: the national housing project construction program, the private equity fund for small and medium enterprises, and the strategic Italian fund.
However the Fund was used mainly to finance the Treasury by acquiring shares in Terna and Snam.
Although the Treasury earned important resources, the first priority was to separate those networks from the groups of which they were part.
Are those economists who accuse you of political contamination right to say that?
No. Those like us who apply correctly the Ciampi law do not run risk. The Constitutional Court also helped us, by providing that the public participation in the orientation board of the foundations can be in the minority, as long as the areas are represented. Today the representatives of local governments on our boards account for less than 30%.
But politics get involved, in any case...
Last spring we actually gave ourselves a code of self-regulation that ensures discontinuity in time between the political office held and the appointment to the boards, both incoming and outgoing. You would do better to look at how the foundations operate. Everything is transparent, they distribute funds only through regular tender procedures and projects published on our websites.
However the politicians treat you well. You don't even pay the new IMU property tax. A recent amendment was just presented to have you pay it.
I read that amendment. It's perfectly useless because the law already exists and we pay IMU. This year we will pay 3 million. We've had other increases too, just like everybody: the increase of taxation on financial revenues from 12.5% to 20% and from 2013 the new stamp tax that will amount to a miniature wealth tax of several tens of millions a year. Who says we don't pay? We pay, and how! All the tax increases are large amounts of money that can't be used to help society. But I've had people say to me: you pay the taxes and we'll provide for welfare with that money. It's a shame, however, that welfare has been left to fend for itself.
It could be worse: there are those who would take your equity away.
Yes, and that would destroy once and for all the possibility that, from the investment of that wealth, resources could be produced for the benefit of welfare, culture, volunteerism. In addition, our wealth did not originate as public funds and it would not make any sense for it to become public now. TheConstitutional Courthas stated that originally the equity of the savings funds, with which the foundations are endowed, was private, built in different parts of the country by the people who established and managed the savings and loan associations for the families; the fruits of that equity should go above all to those areas.
Some foundations did not function properly. Montepaschi, for example...
The equity of the foundations is not at risk by any means, despite what anyone may say. No one is distributing portions of equity.Sienahas always been in a class by itself. Of all the 88 foundations of banking origin, 18 no longer have direct investments in their respective banks and only 14 smaller ones have over 50% thanks to an exception intended to favor the continued existence in the various areas of their autonomous banks. Most of our equity is not invested in bank assets, and we hire Italian and foreign professionals to manage it.
Is your welfare activity really useful?
Fundamental: 13.5 billion euros in 10 years. And it will be necessary even more in the future, with the crisis of the welfare state.
It's too bad your banks are earning so little these days. European taxes are to blame for that. Why weren't you able to obtain some attenuation?
We have made it clear to everyone where we stand and why... At the European level they ignored us.
And to think that the Italian banks are supposed to be healthier than many others. Or aren't they?
Italyhas not put public funds in the banks, as they have inGreat Britain,GermanyandFrance, where they have nationalized the banks. Our banks weren't full of toxic derivatives, and had invested only minimally in Greek bonds... That is why I complain about this schizophrenic attitude: they accuse the Italian banks of having too many government bonds in their portfolios, but if we didn't buy them who would take those huge amounts? What is more, our Italian government bonds remain one of the healthiest investments. Not to mention that compared to international tax levels the Italian banks are subject to a particularly penalizing system. For all these reasons I have strongly criticized the European Banking Authority, EBA.
To no avail, however, and for that matter, the government never replied to you and to the ABI when you asked it to revalue the shares of Bankitalia held by the banks.
The matter of the shares doesn't concern the foundations, but the banks, and the interlocutor is the Bank of Italy. More information is being gathered on the subject and hopefully this will lead soon to a conclusion.
Here's another question you'll like: what is the achievement you are proudest of?
There are two: the Foundation with the South, that we created with the organizations of the service sector to support welfare in southern Italy, and the housing projects. We just delivered the first 90 apartments in Crema. Not the usual public housing, but nice flats to facilitate life for young families. It is an experiment of the Cariplo Foundation and, starting from this one, we are going to develop an extraordinary housing plan in various regions thanks to the Housing Investment Fund (FIA - Fondo Investimenti per l'Abitare) and regional and local funds in which the foundations participate. We expect to be able to offer 20,000 units for rent at advantageous prices to those categories in difficulty who, for one reason or another, do not have the possibility to apply for public housing, and are unable to pay the market prices