MILAN, July 17 (Reuters) - British bank HSBC is launching a new commercial division in Italy to lure mid-sized companies that export abroad as cash-strapped domestic lenders give up market share.
By introducing its new division, HSBC is lowering the bar for access to its financial and markets services, which are currently only offered to Italy's largest corporations.
The bank also appears to be turning a blind eye to the fact that Italy is struggling to emerge from its longest recession in 70 years amid record corporate loan default rates.
"Right now HSBC sees an opportunity at the level of the real economy. We want to intercept mid-sized Italian companies that make the bulk of their revenues abroad," Marzio Perrelli, CEO of HSBC Italy, told Reuters in an interview.
"Italian macro data are not encouraging but they are not that terrible. Italy remains Europe's fourth-largest economy and the world's ninth-largest in terms of trade."
While HSBC plans to expand, some foreign banks are retreating. Barclays, which opened a retail network in Italy before the financial crisis, said in May it was parking its Italian retail banking operations in a bad bank, a signal it could sell the business.
HSBC established a presence in Italy in 1995 and has been active in investment banking, corporate finance and other financial services. It does not have a retail presence in Italy.
HSBC is one of Italy's top three specialist banks that trade in Italian government bonds and is also the biggest financial partner to SACE, the state-backed company that provides insurance and financing for Italian firms doing business abroad.
It is also one of the few bank that offers services in renminbi, the official currency of China.
"We are in pole position to help those Italian companies that want do business with China," Perrelli said. (Reporting by Lisa Jucca)