THE VIEW FROM… WESTERN EUROPE
Tuesday 09 June 2020
Francesco Giordano and Olivier Khayat, Co-CEOs of Commercial Banking Western Europe, reflect on UniCredit’s response to the crisis in Italy, Germany and Austria, and talk about how the Bank is developing new ways of working
How has the crisis affected UniCredit in Western Europe ?
Francesco Giordano: Italy, Germany and Austria were severely hit by the Coronavirus crisis before other countries in Europe. This proved to be very challenging, especially in Italy, since we had to adapt to the emergency and adjust our organisation to this unprecedented situation.
We therefore complied with each countries’ different preventive measures, but we also put in place specific UniCredit safety precautions to protect the health and safety of our employees and customers.
How did your banks in Western Europe respond?
Olivier Khayat: First, we took care of our colleagues’ and customers’ health and safety: this has always been and will remain our top priority. In the early stages of the emergency, we worked hard to minimise any infection risk by distributing personal protective equipment, closing most of our branches and encouraging Smart Working.
Colleagues in our branches and offices showed a high degree of flexibility and, thanks to them, we managed to stay ‘open for business’. We also strengthened our digital and remote channels to make sure that we could continue to meet our clients’ needs.
We’ve heard a lot about how UniCredit and its employees helped customers and communities. Is there anything that makes you especially proud?
OK: These were difficult times, but UniCredit and all of the Bank’s staff have made an extraordinary effort to remain close to our customers and our communities. We are helping people and businesses across Western Europe get access to liquidity, applying special conditions both on a voluntary basis and in line with local governments’ provisions. We’re talking about billions of euros in financial support to hundreds of thousands of customers and businesses.
FG: We’ve also helped public entities in Germany and Austria to raise over €15 billion to fund COVID-19-related stimulus packages and emergency public programmes. This is vital funding that will find its way to the real economy. We have also accelerated payments to our own suppliers to support their cash flows. And let’s not forget the massive contribution from UniCredit Foundation and our employees to socially meaningful initiatives aimed at helping people who were particularly affected by the emergency.
How are you now approaching “Phase 2”?
FG: People safety will continue to be our top priority so our new ways of working are being developed accordingly, also in line with government guidance. For instance, our branches will progressively reopen and receive clients only by appointment. Remote working will still be part of our daily lives and we will continue to help customers use digital services.
Have digital channels become more important?
OK: UniCredit’s digital transformation was already well underway, but the emergency is certainly accelerating it. Technology is key, so we must constantly develop our digital solutions to make them easier and accessible to most of our clients. For example, our new Global WEU App, which has been completely redesigned, offering an engaging customer experience and new advanced functionalities. Supporting our customers is of the utmost importance and, to make sure we always deliver better services, we are targeting an acceleration in the development of our digital offer.
What is your message for your UniCredit colleagues across the Group?
FG: I think we should all be very proud. This crisis was a tough challenge for our Bank, but I am very grateful to all of my colleagues for the great job they have done and the extra effort to ensure that our business was running and our customers and colleagues were safe. Thank you.
How are you personally coping with the “new ways of working” and the challenge?
OK: This was a new situation for me too! Finding a balance between steering a bank from home and personal life was not easy, but with the support of all my colleagues I was able to adapt to this new routine.
FG: When you are part of such a close-knit group of people, you understand how focusing on solutions rather than issues is often an effective strategy to deal with change. I always had great confidence in UniCredit’s adaptability, but I was surprised at how quickly we reacted to this emergency – including myself!