Stefano Del Punta (Intesa Sanpaolo): finance for stakeholder inclusion in value creation

EMF - Executive Master in Finance CFO Series

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Stefano Del Punta, CFO of Intesa Sanpaolo, awarded for the seventh consecutive time in 2023 as the best European Chief Financial Officer by Institutional Investor, met with the participants of di EMF - Executive Master in Finance, directed by Andrea Beltratti, Academic Director and Alessia Bezzecchi, Program Director. The focus was on a less technical aspect of his work, namely the commitment to ensuring equal opportunities and inclusion, for which he was also recently awarded. This is of great importance at a time when corporate and financial institutions are differentiated by their global commitment to maximizing value for all stakeholders without detracting from the legitimate rights of their owners.

 

The Italian and International Economy: "In the past three years, the Italian economy has gone through the pandemic, two international wars, the inflationary shock and the fastest rise in interest rates in history. What do you make of its performance?" "Italy has proven more resilient than expected with its Gross Domestic Product level exceeding the pre-pandemic level by 3.5 percent. This is due to the presence of two elements that have historically been points of weakness, but in recent years have helped us to stand strong. First, the dwarfism of our industrial sector is in many ways a limitation, but it has allowed us to take advantage of a short and flexible value chain that has been less sensitive than others to shocks to international trade. The second element is the high cost of energy, which in a structural way has characterized us and led us to be increasingly efficient in its use. Finally, there has been good support from the perspective of fiscal policy. However, important challenges remain on the horizon, evident from the forecast for growth to return to 0.7 percent by 2024. Monetary policy also proved to be a beneficial element in the end, supporting a relatively rapid reduction in inflation without significantly increasing the risk of a recession in the context of what were the most optimistic soft-landing hopes. I believed that the European Central Bank should raise rates more gradually than it did to take into account the European peculiarities associated with the strong sensitivity to the commodity price shock. That said, it must be acknowledged that the results of monetary policy have been positive." "What are the areas of risk?" The CFO responds, "For Italy, the main concern is fiscal policy, as unfortunately the PNRR has not been, until now, a driving force with the desired characteristics. Hopefully it can become so after the review that has just been completed. However, Italy's biggest challenge is the declining population. It penalizes production mechanisms, consumption and investment. Internationally, the biggest risk factor is the tension between the U.S. and China, albeit in the context of beginning a dialogue."

 

Sustainability: "Over the past 18 months there has been more debate about sustainability aspects measured by environmental, social, and governance (ESG) elements, especially in the United States. What are your thoughts surrounding this?""In my opinion, the course is set, and there is unlikely to be any turning back. Companies will continue to give more importance to ESG elements because that is what most of their customers want. Moreover, the debate that has been mentioned has taken place mainly in the United States, while in Europe there are no major discussions taking place. However, we shouldn't consider the United States as having had second thoughts about reducing its efforts in this area: in some respects the United States has the lead over Europe, thanks to the measures implemented in the Inflation Reduction Act enacted during Biden's presidency. However, we must take note of the challenges in front of us, especially related to the reporting system, which in several cases cannot be applied due to lack of data. Banks are concerned about sustainability even if their primary pursuit is the interests of shareholders. A sustainable borrower is a company that has less risk of defaulting on its debts than others. And in fact ESG elements are finding more and more space in the rating models of companies, including small and medium-sized ones, which moreover are interested in sustainability both for the reporting requirements previously mentioned (e.g., on CO2 emissions) and to pursue their social goals. On the subject of sustainability, it is also necessary to broaden the horizon and remember the needs of the world's poorest countries, which cannot be left behind in the effort to reduce CO2 emissions precisely at a time when they need to increase their populations' income."

 

Skills and competencies: the Academic Director closes the Special Seminar with a final question regarding relevant skills and suggestions for participants. "Technical skills must be in-depth and always up-to-date. One must continue to invest by studying, even disciplines other than economics and finance, for example science and technology. I myself, after graduating from Rome, went through a period of study at New York University precisely to improve my technical skills, benefiting from a teaching methodology that was extremely practical and less theoretical than the one prevailing in our country at the time. Incidentally, the dynamics of transformation in the economy and society have accelerated today compared to when I was a student, and this has profound implications for one's professional background: the world is changing faster and faster, and it is crucial to maintain flexibility based on a broad view of what is happening. Soft skills are also increasingly important. One piece of advice I can give relates to the long haul of one's professional life, where it is crucial to maintain consistency and transparency, with the utmost intellectual honesty. In my role as CFO, this is a trait that’s more important than ever: performance evaluations of listed companies are less ratings-based and more related to internal assessments and interaction with management, which must be able to clearly explain objectives and the actions taken to achieve them. And in this context, bank leaders must always remember how important it is to work within communities, both those of the people who work in the company and those who represent stakeholders, for the creation of private and public value."

 

SDA Bocconi School of Management

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