Intesa Sanpaolo SpA, Italy’s second-biggest bank, appointed Carlo Messina as chief executive officer to replace Enrico Tommaso Cucchiani, who resigned.

“Cucchiani has stepped down as managing director and CEO with immediate effect,” Intesa said in a statement after management and supervisory board meetings yesterday. “The management board, with all its members in attendance, has unanimously appointed Carlo Messina managing director and CEO.”

Messina, born in Rome in 1962, succeeds Cucchiani, who led the bank for 21 months before stepping down after clashing with some shareholders. Messina is currently the bank’s general manager and runs the retail division of the Milan-based lender.

“Any incoming management will struggle amid political risk, lack of progress in economic reform and a low interest-rate environment which is particularly punishing for Italian banks,” said Paul Vrouwes, who helps oversee about 5 billion euros ($6.8 billion) in global financial stocks at ING Investment Management in The Hague, Netherlands. “A change brings added uncertainty,” said Vrouwes, who doesn’t own Italian bank shares.

Cucchiani’s departure comes after Intesa’s net income slumped 75 percent in the second quarter from a year earlier to 116 million euros amid rising bad loans. Intesa is among banks in the country that are struggling to improve asset quality and profitability as the longest recession in more than 20 years makes it harder for businesses and households to repay loans. Tension within the bank’s board comes as Prime Minister Enrico Letta’s administration is teetering after allies of former leader Silvio Berlusconi said they planned to quit the cabinet.

Stock Performance

Intesa reduced costs and reorganized its branch network under Cucchiani, 63. The stock has risen 21 percent since he took the helm on Dec. 22, 2011, compared with a 2.4 percent increase in UniCredit SpA, Italy’s largest bank, and a 42 percent gain in the Bloomberg Banks and Financial Services Index.

Cucchiani resigned after at least one of the lender’s top three investors — all of which are banking foundations — sought to push him out amid mounting criticism over his management style, people with knowledge of the matter have said.

Cucchiani’s ouster comes as the International Monetary Fund, which conducted a review of Italy’s lenders this year, has urged greater oversight of foundations’ governance, according to IMF reports published this month and in March.

Corporate Governance

Although Italian banking foundations follow some general corporate governance principles, they face weak internal accountability and are heavily influenced by the interests of their membership, the IMF wrote in September. Intesa’s three largest shareholders are the foundations Compagnia di San Paolo, Fondazione Cariplo and Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio di Padova e Rovigo, which own a combined stake of 19 percent.

Cucchiani, a former member of Allianz SE’s management board, was appointed CEO of Intesa in 2011, replacing Corrado Passera, who left the bank to become a minister in the cabinet of former Prime Minister Mario Monti. He beat out Intesa’s two general managers, Gaetano Micciche and Marco Morelli, for the top job. Micciche and Morelli had been described as the front-runners by Italian newspapers.

Messina, who joined the bank in 1995 as planning manager at Banco Ambrosiano Veneto, holds an economics degree from Rome’s Luiss University. He was also formerly a professor at the Luiss School of Management.

(Source: Bloomberg)