- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 3, 2019

MILAN (AP) - Italian bank UniCredit on Tuesday announced 8,000 job cuts under a three-year plan that aims to significantly increase shareholder value.

The bank, Italy’s largest by assets, said that its net profit will grow to 5 billion euros ($5.5 billion) by 2023, from a forecast 4.7 billion euros in 2019, with earnings per share rising 12% per year.

The bank also plans to return 8 billion euros to shareholders through share buybacks - which will reduce its market exposure and increase the value of shares traded - and through dividends, which will increase by 40% in the period.

CEO Jean Pierre Mustier said the plan would increase stakeholder value by 16 billion euros.

Shares in the bank were trading up 0.02% at 12.37 euros, after an initial boost of nearly 1% on opening.

UniCredit aims to close 500 branches, putting the customer focus on “streamlined processes and innovative products,” it said.

That will include migrating customers toward digital banking channels, including mobile, while it seeks to grow both private banking and wealth management. The bank intends to increase online banking from 45% of customers to more than 60% by 2023.

While UniCredit said the job cuts and branch closures would be spread between Italy, Germany, and Austria, most will happen in Italy.

More than three quarters of the restructuring costs will be applied to Italy, and the news agency ANSA quoted unions as saying that as many as 6,000 of the job cuts and 450 of the branch closures will be in Italy.

European lawmaker Fulvio Martusciello said he would seek a meeting between Mustier and members of the EU economic commission to discuss the impact on Italy.

“Job losses in Germany and Austria will be negligible, while in Italy … those who lose their jobs will have a hard time finding another post,’’ Martusciello said in a statement.

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