Ever since the establishment in 1894 of Banca Commerciale Italiana (Comit) precise rules were given to manage and operate its archives. Moreover, taking a leaf from the experience of Deutsche Bank and Crédit Lyonnais, General Secretariat started procuring and organizing yearly financial statements and other economic information. Comit that had been incorporated as a joint-stock company engaged in deposit taking through branches operating all over the country, kept in a centralized structure all functions of leadership and control, aptly called Head Office. Head Office received from the branches the monthly and yearly statement of condition, all documentation pertaining to human resources, periodic records of monies due from borrowers, records of other financial transactions and so on. As a consequence the central repositories have always been kept with the utmost care and the archives in the periphery were less controlled. The separation between the papers generated by day-to-day transactions and the management files was indeed sharp.
At the dawn of the 20th century there was an archive repository in Milan, Via Nievo, meant to keep the most ancient documentation generated by General Secretariat, the first department of the bank. Regrettably, the building was destroyed by war-time bombing in August 1943. In 1941, a proper records centre was created in the compound of the data centre in Parma and precise rules were established to guarantee that all material delivered there be listed, described and tagged with a conservation term. The data centre had been selected because of its location in the country, however well connected to the highways and the railways, to safe keep documents and valuables in wartime. The archive serviced head office and branches alike. Most unfortunately this facility was destroyed by fire in 1973; it has been rebuilt to continue its original mission. Since the early ‘40s, within the framework of the head office every single department was made responsible for the keeping of its own archive to manage its current and semi-active documentation. Broadly speaking all file and folders were kept in good order with consistent procedures by dedicated clerical staff reporting to the proper department, with a fair degree of experience, however there were no common rules to be observed throughout the bank, except the periodic transfer to Parma of the material meant for long-term safekeeping. Decades went by and such transfers were not activated by precise schedules – in other words, the transfer was requested when lack of space in Milan became acute therefore, occasionally, some confusion happened between stale documents, to be destroyed, and those rightly meant to be stored in Parma. Also, some lapses in the descriptive inventories occurred. In the branches the matter was within the remit of the chief of operations (CSE, Capo Servizi Esecutivi) who supervised the maintenance of local archives and the transfers to Parma when necessary, normally at short intervals. This general set-up has remained basically unchanged until the fusion of Comit with Intesa Group, except the creation at the end of the ‘80s of a new repository facility in Milan dedicated to head office and to the main Milan branch. In this new records centre the material has been filed with a more stringent coding but the inventory list were less than satisfactory, as sometimes their dates and subjects appear missing. On the other hand the Parma Archive, which was reserved to the branches and to the Historical Archive, had to be greatly enlarged to house the increased volume of paper records generated by the new branches.
Raffaele Mattioli since the ‘30s had envisioned the project of preserving the valuable historical documentation then available in Banca Commerciale. Only at the end of the ‘60s three historical scholars, under the supervision of Leo Valiani, were charged with the vetting of the oldest surviving documents. Their action allowed the recall in Milan of a good deal of extremely precious material that had been sent to Parma and was therefore saved from the fire of 1973. The top-managers papers from the ‘30s onwards were all safe as Emilio Brusa, Raffaele Mattioli’s personal assistant and secretary of the board of directors, had lovingly managed them and he had been adamant that such papers had to stay in Milan. In 1984 the Historical Archive was established to answer the pressing request of outside researchers. The Historical Archive has elevated the function of safekeeping paper records into a professionally managed and efficient structure within the bank. In 1988 the fundamental corporate documents from inception until 1934 were made available to outside researchers and the publishing of selected inventories has started in 1991, with six volumes published so far.
In 1989 a bank-wide recognition of all departmental archives has been conducted to collect all documentation of interest predating 1945; all Italian and foreign branches were asked to collaborate accordingly.
Shortly after, taking into account the radical changes under way due to Banca Commerciale Italiana becoming a public company, it has been necessary to conduct an extraordinary recognition and culling of all documents generated after 1945, starting with the archive of the foreign department and then all the other departmental archives. Such heavy activity has been concluded in 2002 to contain the risk of dispersion and loss of documentation generated by extraordinary transactions (i.e. the fusion of the bank) and the subsequent disappearance of the keepers of the departmental archives.
At the time of this writing (2008) the Historical Archive is watching over 3 kilometres of linear shelves of documents, inclusive that kept in external repositories.