Italy central bank policing Intesa’s efforts to move customers to digital

By Giuseppe Fonte and Valentina Za

ROME (Reuters) – Italy’s central bank is policing the way Intesa Sanpaolo is moving thousands of its customers on to the bank’s mobile-only service Isybank after receiving complaints, parliament minister Luca Ciriani told lawmakers on Wednesday.

The announcement come in reaction to calls by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni’s own party for the Treasury to protect Intesa customers and allow them to opt out of what politicians argue would be a “forced migration” to the new unit.

Isybank, a cloud-based, low-cost mobile bank, is a key plank of Intesa CEO Carlo Messina’s long-term strategy to withstand competition from fintech by cutting costs and focusing the efforts of expensive branch staff on value-added wealth management and non-life insurance services.

Intesa is targeting some 4 million of its customers who generate around 200 million euros ($211 million) in revenues a year and could become more profitable if shifted away from the branch network given they already only use its digital bank services.

After launching Isybank in June, Intesa this week started moving about 300,000 customers from its traditional network, the lawmakers said in the parliamentary question to the government.

The ruling politicians took issue with the digital notice Intesa sent to customers and the fact the change of the code that identifies current accounts, given the migration, risks disrupting people’s payments.

“Notice of this forced migration, sent between June and July, triggered protests by many customers, as shown by the many complaints received from various consumer associations, because it was sent in a rather questionable manner.”

“Once again the trust relationship between banks and customers has been undermined,” said lawmakers including Brothers of Italy’s leader in the lower house, Tommaso Foti.

Their move comes after several initiatives by Meloni’s coalition that have sparked alarm among investors, among them a surprise windfall tax on banks and proposals to give borrowers the right to repay their bad debt at a discounted price.

Italy has backtracked on both, but investors said confidence has been damaged.

Addressing parliament over the issue, Ciriani said the Bank of Italy informed the government it had received “several complaints” about the migration.

The central bank therefore asked Intesa to confirm it had given adequate notice to customers while also providing them an option not to be shifted to Isybank.

“Bank of Italy received adequate reassurances from Intesa and confirmed that it would continue to monitor the operation,” Ciriani added.

($1 = 0.9476 euros)

(Editing by Josie Kao and Keith Weir)