UniCredit, Italy’s largest bank, has introduced a
unified branding strategy across its various subsidiaries, which
will result in the group’s signature being used as an umbrella
brand across all business divisions and countries. The move is a
sign of UniCredit’s goal to become a major global player, writes
Douglas Blakey.

In keeping with the trend for major European financial services
groups to simplify their branding, UniCredit – Italy’s largest
banking group and, after a string of acquisitions over the past two
years, now Europe’s second-largest by market cap – has begun a
year-long process of brand simplification across its growing
international portfolio of subsidiaries.

The group began aligning its brands in Central and Eastern Europe
(CEE) earlier this year, and is now aligning its remaining
subsidiaries with the master brand in its core markets of Italy,
Germany and Austria.
The UniCredit Group master brand and its distinctive font and logo
will now be used as an umbrella signature across all business
divisions and countries. Well-known group subsidiaries such as
HypoVereinsbank and Zagrebačka banka will keep their names, though
they will adopt the new typography.

In Austria, the Bank-Austria Creditanstalt brand will be dropped
and replaced with Bank Austria, which will also implement the
visual identity of the master brand. The switch to the new brand in
Austria will take place early next year.

In Italy, UniCredit’s retail banking arm will continue to operate
under the UniCredit Banca name but will adopt the red colour of the
master brand.

Similar to BNP Paribas and Santander

The branding strategy is the same as the one BNP Paribas adopted in
2005 across its international portfolio, a process it implemented
again last year following its acquisition of Italy’s Banco
Nazionale del Lavoro (BNL). BNL retained its name, like other
well-known subsidiaries Cetelem, Cardif and BancWest, but quickly
adopted the French group’s stars branding, logo and font.

Spain’s Santander also adopted a similar branding strategy across
its portfolio in 2006, retaining strong group entities such as
Banesto and Abbey but unifying them under the same Santander brand
signature.

“We are a leading European bank – in fact, the first truly European
bank – and we want to be perceived as such,” said Alessandro
Profumo, CEO of UniCredit Group. “We are convinced that all
divisions of the group will benefit significantly from building a
strong brand around our UniCredit Group master brand.

“We believe that we will benefit significantly from making clearly
visible to our stakeholders – ranging from employees to customers –
that we all belong to a strong international banking group, while
continuing to actively promote cultural diversity and build on
existing local brand value.”

The brand roll-out comes at a time of huge expansion for UniCredit,
as it looks to become a major European and global banking player.
Last August, the bank launched the website http://www.unicredit.eu/ and has
been promoting the .eu suffix as part of its ambition to be
acknowledged as a pan-European brand. The bank has also put in
motion a programme through which all group e-mail accounts have
been assigned the extension .eu.

The bank’s 2007 interim results highlight the growing importance of
its international operations, with more than 60 percent of revenue
now generated outside Italy (see pie chart). UniCredit,
which now accrues around 20 percent of its revenue from CEE, has 24
million customers throughout the region.

In the past two years, UniCredit has spent over €30 billion ($42
billion) on takeovers, transforming it into an international
banking powerhouse. Following its acquisition of smaller Italian
rival Capitalia – the transaction was announced in May and approved
by Italy’s anti-trust authority on 18 September – UniCredit became
the largest banking group in the eurozone. It plans to drop the
Capitalia name and morph existing Capitalia branches and branding
to the UniCredit name.

UniCredit has targeted early 2009 for completion of its rebranding
of the Italian retail banking branches and aims to complete the
rebranding of its international subsidiaries in the first half of
2008.

While similar to the strategies of BNP Paribas and Santander, the
UniCredit approach of retaining a number of local brands differs
markedly from that of other banks such as HSBC, Fortis and Credit
Suisse, which have largely implemented a one brand ideology over
the past few years. In contrast, a multi-brand strategy continues
to be pursued by HBOS and Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS).

UniCredit argues that its marketing and communications investments
will increase significantly as the uniform visual appearance in all
markets will lead to significant spillover effects. Sponsorships,
for example, says the group, will now be considered from an
international perspective, and will have a much wider reach and
impact.

Marc Beckers, UniCredit’s head of identity and communications,
added: “Our aligned look and feel will make our customers and the
public at large more easily recognise the banks of the UniCredit
Group in all 23 countries we operate in. It will implicitly
demonstrate the international power and standing of our group
locally in each of these markets.”

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