2017 AFTE Days

“Banks are neither asleep nor overweight”

 

2017 was indeed a record year for the AFTE Days, which took place on November 14 and 15: 1,400 participants, 69 sponsors, more than 80 speakers. One of the most noteworthy speeches was that of Jean-Pierre Mustier, Chief Executive Officer of UniCredit Group.

His remarkable career made him the perfect voice to explore “Prospects for the Banking Sector.” A leading player in the field before the subprime crisis, particularly as head of the Corporate & Investment Banking Division of Société Générale as of 2003, today he holds the reins of UniCredit, an establishment that has shed its old skin and is now experiencing a Rinascimento.

According to the speaker, who was thrilled to talk about the future of banks – “Proof at least that they have one” –, the bank of tomorrow is first and foremost the bank of the day before yesterday, rediscovering its “traditional occupations.” He added that finance for the sake of finance is a thing of the past. Fifteen to 20% return on equity, which was the rule in the late 2000s, “is no longer tenable” (including from a purely mathematical standpoint, noted this École Polytechnique graduate), while the long-term average from other sectors of the economy hovers around 8%. “The crisis reminded us that gravity exists,” he insisted.

Not only have banks rediscovered their old virtues; they are also capable of changing when the context requires. Jean-Pierre Mustier took exception to accusations that banks are acting like “dinosaurs.” “They are neither asleep nor overweight,” ensured the marathon runner and cross-country skiing aficionado, adding that banks are quick to take to new trends, especially since “there is no copyright” in the world of finance.

The bank of tomorrow must also take risks, an indispensable requirement for making money. Risk-taking is its expertise, and this exclusively human capacity for judgment is not threatened by big data.

Chastened, but lithe and agile, “ready to move fast,” banks are far from an endangered species, as long as competition, which acts as a “stimulant,” is not distorted. “The EU's Revised Payments Service Directive obliges us to provide access to account information. So be it. But does anyone force Google to release its data?” lamented the CEO of the number one Transalpine bank. Rules specific to the financial sector should apply everywhere and to all players. Jean-Pierre Mustier also expressed his satisfaction with ad hoc measures adopted in recent years, including those contained in Basel III: “They contribute to reducing risk, and thereby allow for lower capital costs,” he pointed out.

Regarding digitization, Jean-Pierre Mustier joins other business leaders in expressing cautious openness and considering current changes as evolutionary rather than revolutionary. “We tend to exaggerate customers' ability to go 100% digital,” he observed, while also reckoning that “mobile offerings are limited.” At UniCredit, he is devoted to reducing paperwork, because “digitization means simplification.”

Finally, while noting that “We need large European banks,” he expressed doubts regarding the effectiveness of cross-border mergers, championed by the European Central Bank, since cost reductions are unlikely and concluded by observing that “In the credit business, it is important to be seen as a national bank.”

 

Arnaud Brunet

Editor in Chief 

La Lettre du trésorier – AFTE