Italian banker shares his international perspective
UniCredit official with focus on foreign clients has worked all over the Continent
Posted: January 30, 2013
UniCredit's Fabio Bini says a company should aim for a potential market share of 100 percent in all countries.
Fabio Bini has only lived in Prague for around six months, but having had his first overseas assignment in 1991, and with 13 years of experience in his company's Central and Eastern Europe division, he feels at home already.
The wide geographical focus of Bini's career, including his current role as head of UniCredit's international clients department in the Czech Republic, offers parallels with the bank's own multinational origins.
The company has its headquarters in Milan and Rome but has undergone mergers with both German and Austrian banking groups in the past.
As he looks forward to his first full year in the Czech Republic, Bini sat down with The Prague Post to offer his views on the Czech economy, foreign investment, the varying business cultures of Europe and other subjects.
Name: Fabio Bini
Current position: Head of international clients department, UniCredit Bank Czech Republic
Previous roles: Thirty years with UniCredit, working at the headquarters in Milan, Italy as well as in France, Monaco and Slovakia
Education: Master's degree in economics, University of Milan
The Prague Post: What types of services does an international clients department offer?
Fabio Bini: The picture I have in my mind is the entrepreneur landing at the airport and saying, 'What should I do? Whom should I know?' What we can offer and provide [is] the local expertise, because we're based here and we look at the country from the point of view of a foreigner. Something that's normal here may not be as normal or self-evident to a foreigner. I am talking about silly habits. In China, [when you present a business card] it must be with two hands and you must bow. These are the simple rules. Many clients coming here don't ask about loans or fees or margins. Their first request is to understand how it works here.
TPP: How difficult is the economic climate currently?
FB: What I have seen so far is that there may be waves up and down, but the Central and Eastern Europe [CEE] region as a whole is stable and has a growing trend. If we're specifically talking about the Czech Republic, last year there was growth of another 26 billion Kč new investments from abroad. I'm feeling very positive. If you look at what our clients are doing, they keep investing. We as a bank keep investing. Our economic forecasts are that the trend will continue. There will always be waves, but the trend is positive. If I look at my clients, most of them are growing and acquiring new clients, which can only be positive. We don't have problematic clients that are in trouble.
TPP: Has the Czech economy become too dependent upon Germany?
FB: In 2012, we reached the highest peak of exports to Germany. Germany invested a lot - it's the major investor in the Czech Republic. [But] you have other countries that invested a lot and keep investing. There's a growing trend for countries such as Turkey, Romania, Poland and Bulgaria [to invest].
TPP: What differences have you noticed most between the economy of the Czech Republic and that of Slovakia, another country you have worked in?
FB: To some extent, the climate - the market - is very similar because both countries have a huge share of foreign investors: automotive, construction, chemicals. The main difference of the two countries in terms of industry is that in third place in Slovakia we have energy, while here we have real estate, in terms of size of investment. Otherwise, the two countries are quite similar.
TPP: The Czech Republic has a strong manufacturing sector. How well-regarded are Czech-made goods overseas?
FB: One of the first things I noticed when I came here was that the Czech Republic is a brand. It's a positive brand. Some of our clients tell us whenever they export to other countries, if their goods are made in the Czech Republic, it's better. Their clients prefer to buy from here. With the final client, it's better if it comes from the Czech Republic, especially in the mechanical industries. It's not Italian-made, it's not German-made; it's Czech. That means the quality of the employees is good. This is extremely positive for the Czech Republic.
TPP: How ambitious are you in terms of growing your bank's market share in the Czech Republic?
FB: I always have in mind something from university. [The professor asked]: "If your market share is 20 percent, what is your potential?" At that time, I thought you could probably think of increasing 50 percent or 100 percent, so if it's 20 percent, then it goes to 40 percent. The professor said, "Wrong. Your potential is another 80 percent." You must try to reach the best, that's the target. The target is 100 percent market share. So, although I may be satisfied with our position here, in reality there's always a company that's not our client, [so] we still have something to do. It can be challenging, especially today when this afternoon I have six meetings. It will be tough. Our market share of the Italian [companies in the Czech Republic] is 54 percent. That means there are some we would like to have and for some reason we don't have.
TPP: Italy, your home country and the home country of UniCredit, is very different from the Czech Republic. How would you compare the two countries' respective business cultures?
FB: The difference between Italy and most CEE countries, not only the Czech Republic, is that here we are more deal-oriented. In Western Europe, not only Italy, the first importance for the client is [instead] to build reliability, trust. Trust is the basis for the relationship. This is very evident from Italy, Spain, France, especially southern France, and southern Germany, where people make a difference. The first question as a client is: "Can I trust you?" If the answer is yes, they open the wallet and share the deal with you.
TPP: You have only been here full-time since July, but you have known the Czech Republic much longer. What have you noticed in how the country has changed?
FB: When I [first] came to Prague, it was June 2002. I would say that being in such a good and beautiful city, with a lot of foreigners, as it always happens, the evolution of the mentality becomes a mix of 75 percent of the local culture with some evolution, of taking the best of the foreign habits.
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