Istituto Bancario San Paolo (IBSP) came to the international scene relatively late, establishing representative offices in London and Zurich in 1960 after receiving the approval of Italy's central bank, Banca d'Italia, to do so, and two more in Paris and Frankfurt a year later. But it was in the 1970s that the bank truly began its international expansion.
Against the backdrop of financial crisis, credit crunch and portfolio constraints, IBSP sought to maintain and reconcile its dual nature as a public-law entity compelled to back the political decisions of the Italian government, and a market-oriented credit institution.
Despite the prudential approach taken by Banca d'Italia, which was disinclined to permit the country's banks to head for foreign shores, under the leadership of its president Luciano Jona, IBSP would succeed in moving beyond national borders.
The first step was the opening of several representative offices: IBSP chose London and Zurich based on its strong correspondent relationships with the most important banks in Great Britain and Switzerland, as well as the business dealings that many of its customers had launched in those two countries.
One sign of the bank's evolution from a purely regional entity into a more international one came in 1971, when it co-founded the consortium bank Anciennes Institutions de Crédit Italiennes (AICI) with Banco di Napoli, Banco di Sicilia and Monte Paschi di Siena in order to gain access to the capital held by the Italian International Bank, a London-based investment bank. In the same period, it set up a currency exchange bureau linked to the world's most important financial centers, and worked with Centrale de Livraison de Valeurs Mobilières (CEDEL), established in 1970 as a clearing house used by the Euromarkets.
These were the initial moves made by IBSP as it sought out its place in the broader world, but its approach differed from that of Banca Commerciale Italiana (BCI) in that it focused its energies primarily on European markets. Indeed, its top management was determined to build up a major "bank for Europe".
In the 1980s IBSP evolved into a full-fledged Europe-wide institution, setting up offices throughout the continent: Amsterdam (1982), Brussels (1984), Düsseldorf, Madrid and Munich (1986), Athens and Stockholm (1987) and Moscow (1989). Outside of Europe the bank set up outposts only in North America (Chicago, Los Angeles and New York) and East/Southeast Asia and Australia (Tokyo, Singapore and Sydney), based on its resolve to establish branches or representative offices only in the world's major financial centers. Thus it was during this decade that the bank began to evolve into a truly international bank focused on the Old Continent and on integrating into its financial markets. The objective was to transform its branches into a service and financial assistance sales network, and its bank directors into managers skilled at meeting their customers' needs.
The bank's international expansion was driven primarily by the desire of its leadership to become the most important Italian bank in Europe. But it was also determined to advance innovative solutions for international trade, especially in support of medium-sized companies; to take advantage of its penetration of the Italian market and its strong position in Lire and ECU in order to create a pool of overseas customers; and to play a role in the growing global market for financial products, foreign currencies and securities.
By 1987 IBSP was the leading Italian bank in terms of equity investments, 15% of which were foreign holdings. Its new offices, stakes and partnerships in First Los Angeles Bank, Sanpaolo Lariano Bank, Sanpaolo Bank di Nassau, Compagnie financière de Suez, Banque Vernes et commerciale de Paris, Banco de Ibiza, Banc Català de crèdit, Hambros Plc, Bankhaus Brüll & Kallmus and Salomon Brothers, subsequently helped it further expand its European presence.
In the 1990s the bank's office network was restructured in order to launch various new initiatives intended to secure and consolidate its presence both in more traditional areas of operation as well as in markets engaged in trade with Italy and other expanding economies. IBSP continued to strengthen its international dimension in this period even after merging with IMI in 1998 to form Sanpaolo IMI, establishing branches and representative offices in Mumbai and Beijing (1990), Bangkok, Stuttgart, São Paulo and Toronto (1991), Berlin (1992), Mexico City (1994), Istanbul (1995), Shanghai (1996), Warsaw (1997) and Buenos Aires (1999).
Sanpaolo IMI extensive foreign network was combined with Banco di Napoli's own in 2002, and further restructured following the creation of Intesa Sanpaolo in 2007 and the reorganization of the new group's overseas presence.
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