No. 3 - The central bank and the territory. The Bank of Italy's peripheral network

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by Angelo Battilocchi and Marco Melini March 2017

This paper provides a brief but systematic account of the evolution of the Bank of Italy's territorial articulation in Italy and abroad over its history, now spanning more than 100 years. The Banca nazionale, whose roots can be found both in Genoa and in the House of Savoy, expanded in parallel with the Italian unification process. This bank adopted different strategies, ranging from brokerage - which was successful in Parma and Venice, but failed in Tuscany - to a predominant coexistence with the issuing banks in southern Italy. It was not a linear process, and it was hindered by internal resistance and local interests, so much so that it would take more than 30 years before a start could be made on simplifying the constellation of issuing banks and another 30 years until the bank became the sole issuing institution. From 1893 to 1895, between the banking crisis and the much sought after assignment of the provincial treasury service, the Bank’s Savoyard-institutional DNA prevailed over its commercial-Ligurian side, though it did not completely obscure it. From then on, the expansion echoed that of the provincial network under state administration, with only two exceptions: the colonies, which followed a separate path, and the opening of branches in towns that were not provincial capitals so that the Bank could provide services in the places where they were needed. By 1929 the Bank of Italy had 148 branches, which became as many as 152 during some stages of the Second World War. From the 1960s onwards the number was gradually reduced and some branches were closed. In the last decade, the downsizing of the national network acquired fresh impetus, leading to a drastic reduction in the number of branches. In conclusion, the Bank of Italy has proven capable of adapting its branch network, expanding and reducing it according to changes in the political, geographical and economic environment of reference and to the institutional functions that have been entrusted to it over time.