Italy’s biggest retail bank Intesa Sanpaolo is planning to expand its footprint by entering Qatar and elsewhere in the Middle East, the bank’s executive vice chairman Marcello Sala said.
The Gulf Co-operation Council states, which have accumulated huge surpluses over the past decades due to high energy prices, have been attracting the world’s largest lenders, promising hefty returns to make up for mounting losses at home.
“The Middle East is one of the two most strategic regions for the bank,” Sala said. The other region is central Europe.
“There is a lot of business by Italian companies in this region. You cannot help your clients get into these countries if you are not there,” said Sala.
The bank has also applied for a license in Qatar, the world’s largest producer of liquefied natural gas.
“We opened an office in Abu Dhabi and we are discussing with the Qatari authorities to open a branch there,” Sala said.
Intesa and other Italian banks have been hammered by the eurozone debt crisis because of their vast holdings of domestic state bonds.
Intesa has a 16% market share in Italy and is merging or shutting some branches and shedding jobs as it seeks to cut costs.