The merge agreement between Nuovo Banco Ambrosiano and Banca Cattolica del Veneto was executed on December 31, 1989. That was the meeting point of two 100-year long trails covered by two pre-eminent Catholic banks.
Banco Ambrosiano had been established in Milan in 1896 upon the initiative of Giuseppe Tovini, a lawyer from Brescia that had already initiated in 1888 Banco San Paolo of Brescia in order to have a regional coordinator of local Catholic banks and therefore the direct or indirect supporter of several Catholic enterprises and other charities (engaging ‘ad pias causas’ as Pope Leo XIII had indicated in Latin in his brief of 1887) already existing all over Lombardy.
After Tovini’s death in 1897 Banco Ambrosiano became operationally closer to an ordinary credit institution, but kept a strong Catholic imprint, such as its statutory channelling to charities of a quota of its earnings and its constant links to the Catholic Church hierarchy.
The original capital was fixed at one million liras and until the late '1930 Banco Ambrosiano developed organically its capital base to sixty million liras and its territorial network to twenty branches, with only eight of them outside Lombardy: Turin and Alessandria (1919), Genoa (1920), Piacenza (1921), Novara and Venice (1922), Bologna (1925) and Rome (1937).
The most important growth for Banco Ambrosiano took place after its 50th year, when it really could qualify as one of the pre-eminent private banks in a system that was dominated nationwide by government controlled and larger institutions. Such position was reached thanks to its executives that were able to exploit the opportunities for growth arising within Lombardy, one of the most dynamic and internationally oriented regions in Italy that was a indeed leading the country’s industrialization.
That growth entailed the expansion of the branches network and more importantly the enrichment of the operational capabilities, based upon a robust increase of all international business and the acquisition of capital stakes into banking, finance and insurance companies within the national boundaries and – by the early ‘60s – even beyond them.
One facet of such growth has been the ability to segment all clientele in order to offer taylor-made services, therefore focussing better than ever before on medium- and large-sized customers (both from the private and government sectors) and finally targeting on businesses that were innovative in their products and processes.
Following the crack occurred under the Calvi’ s management(1982), Nuovo Banco Ambrosiano its footing in those financial and credit markets already oriented towards deregulation and took again its planned growth with increased tempo.
The most relevant steps taken along such way were the 1989 merge with Banca Cattolica del Veneto which resulted in the establishment of Banco Ambrosiano Veneto and was followed by the expansion in Southern Italy with the acquisition of Citibank Italia and several small banks in the Apulia, Campania and Sicily regions.
Banca Cattolica del Veneto, the other component of Banco Ambrosiano Veneto, had a different soul as a Catholic bank, since it sprang from the tradition of solidarity and cooperation of the Veneto's people. Banca Cattolica predates Banco Ambrosiano as it was established in 1892 under the name of Banca Cattolica Vicentina. It may be said that it was established as a socially oriented and Catholic Church inspired institution to counterbalance the movement of people's banks (‘banche popolari’ or ‘banche cooperative’ in Italy, ‘Raffeisen banks’ in Germany and Austria, just across the border). Banca Cattolica was incorporated as a limited liability cooperative company, to support local economies along guidelines of solidarity among its stakeholders, typically craftsmen and professionals that animated a society that was rooted in agriculture, with some opening up to the forthcoming industrial development.
Banca Cattolica Vicentina in its operation would look after Catholic inspired enterprises acting as cooperative and mutual support ventures, as well as local banks and other entities sharing a similar vision.
The learning curve had its difficult points and in its first decades of life Banca Cattolica Vicentina had to balance carefully the solidarity targets with its own capital restraints. Towards the end of the '1920 Banca Cattolica Vicentina appeared to possess the best footing to provide a lifeline to several Catholic banks, active in the Venice region, that had been adversely affected by the great crisis of 1929.
In 1930 three of them joined forces to form Banca Cattolica del Veneto. Six more fusions occurred in the following decade and five more from 1946 to 1969, thereby consolidating a business model of growth by acquisitions that explain the unique density of branches operating all over the territory. Banca Cattolica del Veneto managed 111 branches in 1940, 152 in 1965 and 204 in 1989, when it merged into Nuovo Banco Ambrosiano.
In the aftermath of World War II, under the control from 1946 to 1971 of Istituto per le Opere di Religione (IOR, the Vatican bank) and the stewardship of Secondo Piovesan – that had started in 1930 and would continue for over four decades – the robust growth of the peace economy presented to the bank the opportunity to rethink gradually its operating policies; the bank responded accordingly by activating the various schemes meant to support industry such as the European Recovery Program – ERP, also known as Marshall Plan, and the new institutions offering medium- and long-term financing. The net result was a different attention to cooperative enterprises and agribusiness and a frank support, which was based also upon the capillary presence on the territory, to the regional development of the social and economic landmarks that would be identified as ‘third Italy’. On the eve of the constitution of Banca Intesa in its first configuration – mid ‘90s – Banco Ambrosiano Veneto was recognised as a bank of national import, endowed with strong links with certain areas of the Italian peninsula, a first tier operator in the ongoing process of consolidation of the Italian banking system.