“We are not a bank in the common sense,” reads the corporate brochure. That’s putting it mildly. The World Bank, established in 1944, is a sprawling lending institution, made up of two separate organisations and owned by 185 national governments. Under the World Bank umbrella, the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) raises funds in the capital markets to provide loans to middle-income countries, while the International Development Association (IDA) relies on contributions from its wealthier shareholders to fund interest-free loans and grants to the world’s poorest countries.
“Working at the World Bank, one has the hope of being able to say that one helped to improve the world, in however small a way.”- Vincenzo La Via
More than 10,000 employees are enlisted to the Washington, DC-based institution’s poverty-fighting mission. Among them is Vincenzo La Via, its CFO, who oversees the group’s $25 billion in commitments. The formative years of La Via’s career were spent at the World Bank when he was a member of its young professionals programme in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He then worked at the Italian Treasury Ministry and Intesa, Italy’s largest bank, where he rose to CFO before rejoining the World Bank nearly two years ago.
His second stint at the bank has come during tumultuous times. In June, World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz—a former US deputy secretary of defence—resigned under a cloud of alleged ethical violations after two years at the helm. Soon after Robert Zoellick, a former US trade negotiator and senior executive at Goldman Sachs, took over for Wolfowitz, a damaging report into the institution’s lax anti-corruption efforts was issued by a panel of investigators led by Paul Volcker, former chairman of the US Federal Reserve.
At the best of times, the World Bank faces a broad spectrum of criticism, from those who oppose its favourable loans to countries like China and India, which generally have easy access to finance from other sources, to members of the anti-globalisation lobby, who rail against the group’s support for policies that promote free trade. Despite the additional scrutiny that the Wolfowitz fallout now brings, the World Bank isn’t standing still. It recently pledged to more than double the amount it contributes to the IDA from internally generated income. The pledge is intended to spur equally generous commitments from donor countries.
Further measures to advance the group’s poverty reduction mission, and reform governance of the bank itself, will surely keep La Via busy in the years ahead. So will his boss. “By nature, I’m an impatient person,” Zoellick noted at an October press conference. “I like to move things quickly.”
What made you want to become the CFO of the World Bank?
I was drawn to this position because it is a unique one in so many ways. The World Bank has been a player in financial markets for around 60 years and has also been involved for decades in what we now call emerging markets. With globalisation, one can therefore see the world changing from a perspective that one could not get in the private sector.