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«Amundi is not worried about Italy’s public debt, the first fiscal choises of the new government are market-friendly»

Exclusive interview to Valerie Baudson (ceo Amundi). «We believe that we can still grow significantly in Europe, but another main focus is Asia». Worried about geopolitical tensioni between Usa and China? «It is not imaginable not to be in China for an asset manager who looks to the economic and demographic trends of the future». Climate change and Esg issues? «They are not stalling and I explain you why»

di Alessandro Graziani

6' di lettura

«The first fiscal choices of the new Italian government appear realistic and market-friendly too, we are not worried about the sustainability of public debt. We have confidence in Italy, where we think we will continue to grow as well as in Europe. The other main focus of business development is in Asia, where the growth expectations of asset management are the highest». Valerie Baudson, the chief executive officer of Amundi, speaks from the Parisian district of Montparnasse. Amundi, the European leader in asset management, Amundi is the only European group in the international top ten of asset managers and is the pioneer of sustainable investments. The French group, controlled by Credit Agricole, in Italy manages about 200 billion and is among the main investors in shares and BTP. Here are the group's growth strategies in the first Italian interview with Baudson, 51, the first woman-ceo to lead a global asset management giant.

The first question to the CEO of a French group inevitably concerns Italy, all the more in the midst of an almost diplomatic crisis between the two countries on the case of migrants. Amundi is in Italy one of the major subscribers of BTP. Are you afraid of excessive Italian public debt? What do you think, as a great investor, of the first steps of the new Italian government?

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We are not worried about the Italian public debt. The first key figures about 2023 Budget Law are in line with the principles of prudence and debt sustainability and it's correct that they also give further support to those parts of the economy most vulnerable to the energy crisis. I would say that the first fiscal choices of the new government appear realistic and also market-friendly, as evidenced by the recent trend of the BTP-Bund spread. I am confident about the economic recovery in Italy.

In Italy you have grown organically and with the acquisition of Pioneer. For some time the market (and politicians) speculates about your interest to buy Anima Sgr. Are you really interested? And what is your growth strategy in our country?

In each of the 35 countries where we operate we are called into question with acquisition hypotheses, but we never comment on market speculations. Amundi's priority is organic growth but we review if and when opportunities arise in the market, as happened in 2017 with Pioneer and last year with Lyxor. We have demonstrated good know-how in integrations. At Amundi we evaluate acquisitions only under very precise conditions: a limited execution risk, a return on investment (ROI) of more than 10%, an enlargement of the distribution network as happened in Spain with the agreement with Banco Sabadell to buy Sabadell AM, consistency with our strategic plans. And I also add the technological aspect: we aim to accelerate the deployment of our digital management platform ALTO system, which we already sell to third parties. When possible acquisitions are mentioned, I cannot exclude that this could include technology companies too.

Amundi is the only European group in the US-dominated top list of global asset managers. Do you really think it's possible to reach their size? And to do that, in which geographical areas of the world do you plan to grow?

Well, our group's growth story started 12 years ago. Europe is in our dna, we have roots in France and Italy. We consider ourselves French-Italian or, Italian-French and we believe that we can still grow significantly in Europe. But another main focus is to grow in Asia where, also for demographic reasons, in the coming years it is expected that there will be the greatest global increase in savings to be managed. We already manage € 380 billion in assets under management in Asian countries and we aim to reach 500 billion by 2025.

How?

We rely heavily on India, where we have a partnership with the giant State Bank of India (SBI) which has a 25% market share of the local banking sector. It is a country that has 1.4 billion inhabitants, with a growing middle class that accumulates savings to be managed. In other smaller countries, such as Thailand and Malaysia, we have our own operators who work with local products. In others like Singapore, the focus is more on importing international expertise, like our multi asset managed in Italy, to local clients. And then of course there is China where, as in India, we work with local partners and where we have increased tenfold the assets under management in the last 8 years.

In China you have two joint ventures with local partners, with one of the two where you own 51% of the company. What are your growth plans in China? Do geopolitical tensions with the US lead you to expect a slower growth? Some Western banks seem to be curbing exposure to Beijing...

It is not imaginable not to be in China for an asset manager who looks to the economic and demographic trends of the future. A large part of our know-how is to monitor and deal with economic and geopolitical evolutions around the world. In addition the capital risk of an asset manager is much lower than that of a bank entering a new market, which must invest a lot of capital and bear risk in lending money. We are not lending money to our clients, we manage their savings.Question. To reach the US giants in your industry, don't you need to grow in the US?Answer. Amundi already has $100 billion of assets under management in the US, and we plan to grow. But more than for the size, our presence in the US is important for the expertise gained there that then it is useful to be used with European and Asian customers, the real strategic engine of our future growth.

You have been among the global leaders in ESG investments for years. But after the invasion of Ukraine by Russia and the consequent rise in energy prices, climate change issues seem to be stalling. What is your position on this subject?

I don't believe at all that climate change issues are stalling. I don't enter into the political debate but I tell you what our clients are doing. For example, this year at Amundi we collected € 8 billion in ETFs and 80% of these flows went to ESG ETFs. Believe me, climate change is not at all stalled and it is getting more and more into people's conscience and investment choices. We know this very well since when we founded Amundi 12 years ago, we included responsible investments among the 4 founding pillars of the group. At that time, we were practically the only ones to say that.

However, the issue is the subject of political tensions, especially in the US. On the one hand, many environmental movements denounce the “greenwashing”, on the other, some Republican Governors criticize the “green fashion” for the damage it immediately causes to the traditional energy industry and puts at risk too many jobs. What to you think about this?

If we want to make the energy transition and achieve zero net emissions by 2050, the goals require action by governments and companies supported by the financial sector. We, as a responsible asset manager, are here to help companies in their transition. At Amundi we have never wanted to put companies out of play, apart from a very few of them to which we give the G rating. We invest more in companies that behave well, but without excluding the latecomers.

Inflation. Recession. Global geopolitical crisis. What worries you most?

They are all related issues. Inflation, which was beginning to rise in raw material and energy prices as early as the second half of 2021, had a surge after the Russian war in Ukraine with the consequent tensions between east and west of the world. The maxi inflation has led to the high rise of interest rates by central banks. This whole environment is leading to a recession that, according to our economists, we will see in 2023 both in Europe and in the US. They're all linked phenomena.

A context that forces you to play defense?

The context is certainly challenging. In the short term, the answer is to focus on diversified portfolios, with less equity and more government bonds that now offer more attractive returns. But an asset manager must never lose sight of the long term. And I remain confident and focused on the strategic and global macro trends of our industry: ageing population, increase in the middle class in Asia and India, maxi-bank deposits that will have to be invested even more in times of inflation.

Let's come to the corporate governance issue. As a big investor, in the latest shareholders’ meetings of listed companies you have brought forward the issue of excessive remuneration of top managers. Are you satisfied? Or has little changed?

Our strategy on this issue is based on simple principles. The first is that companies’ remuneration must be transparent. The second is that remuneration must be reasonable, especially in relation to the ratio between the salary of the CEO and that of the average employee. Then we consider if there is equality between men and women. And that there are clear ESG target parameters in the remuneration. These may seem ambitious targets, but we ask others to do what we aim to do first in Amundi.

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