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Italian banks: Politics in and out of the boardroom

How Italian banks built new foundations

  Divorce Italian style

  Monte dei Paschi looks to the future

Italy’s cooperative banks are an important part of the country’s banking system, controlling about 40% of the retail market. Their one vote per shareholder principle, which is attracting criticism from some politicians and bankers, might make for an impregnable defence against the threat of hostile takeovers but nothing can protect them from the industrial – and some would say also the political – logic of consolidation.

Since 1980 the number of cooperative banks in Italy has fallen from 650 to about 430, and the October takeover of Banca Popolare Italiana, which attracted four other cooperative bank bidders, and this November’s takeover of Banca Lombarda by the Banche Popolari Unite group, shows that the number is likely to continue to fall.

“The cooperative banks played their role in the first wave of consolidation,” says a banks analyst at an Italian investment bank in Milan, “but the old way was that the central banks effectively decided who had to buy whom. Acquisitions of popolari were always the result of troubles at the acquired bank and the acquirer was always one of the stronger ones.

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