Italy Following U.S. Banks' Lead on Quality of Services

Quality is quickly replacing efficiency as a buzzword among Italian banking executives.

"Quality is our primary objective for 1992," said Sandro Molinari, general manager of Cariplo, a Milan-based savings bank. "In Europe, competition has prevalently been based on pricing and not on the quality of service. This must change."

Mr. Molinari added that U.S. banks have been forerunners in that regard, "setting high standards for the banking world."

Toward its quality objective, Cariplo said it plans to devote substantial resources to employee training and professional development. It has three training centers and conducts regular management seminars.

Forming the Culture

"Staff training and refresher courses contribute to improving employee relations, discipline levels, and, above all, to forming a corporate culture," said Mr. Molinari.

This view was echoed at other banks, but Cariplo's general manager has taken a keen personal interest in what he sees as the challenge facing European banks.

"Cariplo is becoming more global - offering more services and a wider range of products to our customers," Mr. Molinari said. "A well-prepared staff is essential as we move into insurance, mutual funds, asset-management services, and stock broking."

"Right now, we are conducting a research project on the quality of services, convinced that quality is the most evolved frontier of marketing," said Antonio Ghio, head of research and product development at Cariplo.

Credito Italiano's managing director, Pier Carlo Marengo, boasted that the bank has "traditionally been a quality bank." Its expansion and restructuring plans are careful not to compromise that tradition, he said.

Joint Training Venture

Together with Banca Commerciale Italiano, also controlled by the state holding company IRI, Credito Italiano has formed a joint venture for staff training. It says it already has Europe's most avant garde training center - in a 17th century palazzo near Monza - but that its employees' professional level is a growing priority.

Italy's largest private bank, Banco Ambrosiano Veneto, also said that its employees' quality and professional skills are a primary objective. The bank has set up its own training company, La Centrale Formazione, and made very large investments in this area.

The Bank of Italy said that, paradoxically, although the number of employees in the banking sector is very high in Italy, the work force in the financial services sector is very small compared to other countries. As Italian banks begin to offer more sophisticated products, they will require a more highly specialized labor force, predicted an official at the Union of Italian Bankers.

In reference to the new frontiers of the Italian banking system, Paolo Gnes, general director of the Italian savings bank institute, suggested that "quality, not only in terms of costs but in terms of services, should be next."

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