VENETO BANCA S.C.p.A.

In a country like Italy, marked by municipalities and a deep tie with the territory, local banks have often played an important role in the economic, social and political development of their area. This is the case for Veneto Banca S.C.p.A.1 as well, the bank leading the twelfth Italian banking group for administered funds – Gruppo Veneto Banca -, current outcome of the “ancient” Banca popolare di Montebelluna (Cooperative Bank of Montebelluna), a town in the province of Treviso.
The economic history shows many examples of a single event from which important repercussions for the economic development of entire communities have spread. In this case, the creation, between 1869 and 1872, of a general market that made of Montebelluna a sort of centre of gravity for the surrounding area was decisive. The foundation of the bank, together with the establishment of the general market, can then be seen as one of the main tools through which the modernisation of Montebelluna took place. The establishment of the bank fitted in with a context of development that was fruitful for cooperative banks: indeed, in the same period similar banks were established in Asolo, Valdobbiadene and Vicenza.
On 8 August 1877, in the presence of notary public Guido Dall’Armi – future first CEO of the bank-, the promoting committee2 signed the founding act and deposited the capital stock – 21,096 lire divided into shares of 20 lire each – thus allowing the Board of Directors to take office3. The first statute was approved by the assembly only in April 1883: the articles regulated the institutional activity of the bank, but they also defined the action of the bank as a protagonist of local charity –the statute established that 10% of profit had to be put towards charity, at the Board of Directors’ discretion4.
The first years were dedicated above all to the strengthening of the bank, thus postponing the development to a second phase to such a degree that the first branch, Pederobba, became operative only in January 1914. Shortly after this first important step, war broke out in the territory of Treviso: in November 1917, after the defeat of Caporetto, the prefect was even obliged to order a stop to the operations by inviting the bank to transfer its securities in an area sheltered from the Austrian menace – the Bank therefore suspended all operations and moved to Ferrara.
The reconstruction that followed the Great War represented a big opportunity of expansion (in the mid 1920s, the profits increased four times as compared to 1914), but it brought with it also the first “attentions” from other big banks (“Rizzardi, the CEO, reported of a meeting held in Padova in order to agree on a strategy to resist against the attempts of the greatest banks to expand in small centres with the ‘clear aim of absorbing cooperative banks’”5), therefore Popolare di Montebelluna tried immediately to establish alliances by joining, with a fee of 20,000 lire, the Istituto Federale di Credito e Risorgimento delle Venezie. The new statute, approved in the meeting of 1923, opened up the possibility to grant loans to third parties and non-shareholders, thus stimulating further the fundraising skills of the bank (confirmed by two significant increases in capital: the first in 1923 – from 104,409 to 423,280 lire- and the second in 1935 – from 439,680 to 769,440 lire) and differentiating its action in the territory – 1934 was the year in which it started a collection of works of art as well.
During Fascism, the regime put the bank under pressure when appointing the chief executive officers and managers – with particularly clear effects in 19406 - and by asking repeatedly funding for the various fascist organisations – in particular the Opera Nazionale Balilla (Fascist youth organisation, TN) and dopolavoro (club organising leisure activities for workers in their free time, TN).
Thanks to the Marshall Plan and the start of the European process of integration, Italy, as other European countries, experienced an economic boom in the second post-war period and especially in the 1950s. In the province of Treviso, the average per-capita income shifted from 110,481 lire in 1951 to 363,907 lire in 1961. The industrial take-off of the Italian North-East can be seen also in the remarkable “fall” in support to agricultural credit by Popolare di Montebelluna and the parallel rise in the industrial one (between 1951 and 1971, the number of people employed in the primary sector decreased from 36.7% to 10.5%, whereas those in the industry increased from 43.8% to 66.9%). In 1954, the barrier of one billion deposits was overcome – they were only 100 million in 1946 and 400 in 1951.
The new economic and social context required stronger ties and alliances between small-medium banks: as a consequence, on 1 December 1955, Popolare di Montebelluna joined Unione delle banche popolari della Marca trevigiana (Union of the cooperative banks of the area of Treviso) – composed also of Asolo, Valdobbiadene, Castelfranco. A simple union, though, was not enough. Hence, tighter and tighter contacts with the bank Popolare di Asolo were made – a bank that was very courted by other two cooperative banks of the area and by other banks – until the merger was reached in July 1966, thus creating Banca Popolare di Asolo e Montebelluna, whose president was Roberto Tomatis from Montebelluna, while the vice-president was Leandro Biadene, former president in Asolo. The shares of the new bank were paid on a par with those of Montebelluna, and in a ratio 5 to 2 for those of Asolo. After the Asolo operations, more followed: in 1967, the merger with Cassa rurale e artigiana di Ponzano Veneto, and in 1969, the takeover of Cassa rurale di Borso del Grappa.
The 1970s were a time when the Bank became stronger, also thanks to the take-off of the industrial district of sport footwear – the Moon Boot snow boots became very popular -, yet, the one hundred years of activity were celebrated in an undertone, without big events. Instead, the following decade can be defined as a phase of high technological innovation for the entire banking system, and therefore for Popolare di Asolo e Montebelluna as well: in 1982, the first ATMs were bought and a few years later the bank joined Cartasì (a credit card provider, TN). At the same time, personal computers, printers and fax machines invaded the offices of the headquarters and branches requiring new competences – a revolution that ended up influencing deeply the profile of the average employee and eliminating the classic “accountant”. In 1983, the Bank opened its first historical branch in Treviso. A few months later, the bank was the victim of a resounding robbery in its headquarter in piazza Dell’Armi, a robbery that provided a huge plunder of more than twenty billion lire and brought the bank in the limelight at local and national level7. The increased structural dimension – in the mid 1980s, the amount of 500 billion lire from the collection of funds from customers was reached –led to the decision of establishing a Foundation “to face in a rational way all the new demands of intervention in the social and cultural field”8.
The national, European, and world framework changed rapidly between the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s. It was a decade of great social and economic transformations (just one fact: the immigrants in Montebelluna were about 120 in 1991 and ten years after they reached almost 4,000 units); with the start of the European Single Market and the ratification of the Treaty of Maastricht, the challenge for any small-medium bank was to grow or to succumb. Such a dilemma afflicted Popolare di Asolo e Montebelluna as well, also because in the region Veneto, like in the other Italian regions, long and complex chains of mergers and takeovers were taking place, thus threatening the bank headquartered in Montebelluna. Consequently, between 1996 and 1997, a draft of agreement with San Paolo was started, and the agreement was reached on 4 February 1997 and ratified by both Boards of Directors. The draft provided for “the distribution of products and services of the bank of Turin through the [network of Popolare]”, while San Paolo accepted the offer “of limiting its presence in the province of Treviso, by programming the cession [to Popolare] of two of its branches in Treviso, one in Castelfranco Veneto and one ready for the opening in Montebelluna”9. The “immaterial” cost of the operation was rather clear: to join forces with San Paolo meant, at least, to loosen the relationship with the territory that had been built tenaciously in more than one hundred and twenty years of activity. For this reason, several shareholders and some leading personalities of Montebelluna carried out an intense secret activity in order to break the deal with the bank of Turin. The right occasion took place on 22 March 1997: in the framework of Palazzetto Legrenzi, crowded with almost two thousand shareholders, the assembly substituted almost entirely the Board of Directors by electing different representatives, like the new President Flavio Trinca and the Vice President Franco Antiga, who were against the deal with San Paolo. In a matter of a few days, the agreement was cancelled and the Managing Director Vincenzo Consoli was appointed CEO. The new decade saw Popolare move on three fronts: 1) the takeover of other banks; 2) the European approach; 3) the much needed corporate reorganisation in order to better manage the articulate and complex activity of what was becoming a group and not a simple cooperative bank anymore. With reference to the first point, Popolare di Asolo e Montebelluna took over Banca di Credito Cooperativo del Piave e Livenza: a new dimension that pushed it to change its name into Veneto Banca and to give itself broader objectives. Afterwards, it took over Banca di Bergamo, Banca Meridiana, Banca del Garda and Banca Popolare di Intra, together with the controlled Banca Popolare di Monza e Brianza. Long before, the dynamic North-East had started to establish economic ties with the countries of the former communist bloc: therefore, the newborn Veneto Banca started a series of strategic takeovers, like the one of Banca Italo Romena, of the Moldavian Eximbank, of Banca Italiana di Sviluppo – now Veneto Banka Albania – and of Gospodarsko Creditna Banka – now Veneto Banka Croatia.
In 2004, the futuristic and prestigious administrative centre of the group was inaugurated. It substituted the previous headquarter in piazza Dell’Armi, which had seen all the events of the “old” Popolare di Montebelluna since the very beginning. Along its path, Veneto Banca did not renounce to its status of cooperative bank, deep-rooted in the territory (interviewed by the newspaper “Corriere della Sera”, Vincenzo Consoli, Managing Director of Veneto Banca, answered in this way to the journalist who asked about the many occasions in which various banks had tried to attack the bank: “We are a beautiful lady and the suitors are many, but we are a serious lady”. About the hypothesis of listing Veneto Banca on the stock exchange, he replied curtly: “I can’t see the need for it: nobody sells shares here, we have twenty thousand shareholders but there’s no queue to get in”10). Between 1997 and 2007, Veneto Banca more than doubled the number of branches, employees and shareholders, and managed to triple the dividend yield. In December 2010, the Gruppo Veneto Banca had almost six hundred branches representing a well-structured territorial network, depending on Veneto Banca in the North, on Cassa di Risparmio di Fabriano e Cupramontana in the Centre, and on Banca Apulia in the South – the latter two had became part of the Group at the beginning of 2010. In 2011, Veneto Banca merged with Compagnia Finanziaria Torinese (Cofito), former holding company of Banca Intermobiliare (BIM), specialised in wealth management and private banking, and it made a takeover bid on the totality of its shares: such an operation confirmed the strength and dynamism of the Group in a quite negative phase for the Italian economy.
From the small group of men who founded Popolare in Montebelluna in 1877, to a bank with over 40,000 shareholders and 6,200 employees, “one of the first twelve Italian banks for administered funds”11.

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1The acronym stands for ‘Società Consortile per Azioni’, Italian Consortium Joint-Stock Company.
2
The promoting committee was composed of: Francesco Calvi and Gaspare Marangoni-Ghirlanda, big landlords; Francesco Pasqualetti, Giacinto Baldo, Edoardo Guillion Mangilli, Clarimbaldo Corunda, landowners; Lodovico Boschieri, Giovanni Aurelio Legrenzi, lawyers; Antonio Saccardo, professor; Antonio Gobbato, spinning mill owner; Francesco Grilli, Luigi Gandin, Giovanni Gasperini, traders.
3The first Board of Directors: Antonio Serena, spinning mill owner and future mayor of Cornuda; Giovanni Ferrari and Giovanni Peratoner, chemists; Antonio Bolzon and Giobatta dell’Armi, engineers; Giovanni Polin, landowner; Gaetano Legrenzi, doctor; Giobatta Marcato, trader; Giovanni Nardello, investor.
4Statute of Banca popolare di Montebelluna (Società Cooperativa Anonima – cooperative joint-stock company), titolo V: Bilancio, utili e loro riparto e riserve, Articolo 45 (title V: Balance, profits and their share-out and reserve, Article 45 -TN).
5Gasparini D., 1918-1945: una banca, più banche: il radicamento nel mandamento, in Gasparini D. and L. De Bortoli, Storia di una banca di territorio. Dalla popolare di Montebelluna a Veneto Banca (1877-2007), Treviso, Canova edizioni, 2008, p. 141.
6Ibidem, pages 152-153.
7E intanto vicino Treviso portano via 760 milioni (In the meanwhile, near Treviso, 760 million lire are carried away- TN), “la Repubblica”, 3 July 1984. The amount cited in the article does not include the money stolen from the safe-deposit boxes.
8Gasparini D., 1967-1996. Oltre il miracolo economico: da Asolo a…Torri di Quartesolo, in
 Gasparini D. and L. De Bortoli, Storia di una banca di territorio. Dalla popolare di Montebelluna a
Veneto Banca (1877-2007), op. cit., p. 275.
9Gasparini D., 1997-2007. 22 marzo 1997: la difesa dell’identità e dell’autonomia, in Ibidem, op. cit., p. 282.
10Pica P., interview to V. Consoli, Consoli, il “popolare” Veneto tra sportelli, finanza e Generali, “Corriere della Sera”, 4 september 2007.  See also Righi S., La campagna d’Italia del ragionier Consoli, “Corriere della Sera”, 26 January 2009.
11Brochure Veneto Banca Holding, Conoscere il territorio, riconoscere il valore, page 3. Downloadable from http://www.venetobanca.it/pagine/pagina.aspx?ID=La_banca001&L=IT (consultazione aprile 2011). On the topic, see Possamai P., Veneto banca entra nella top ten del credito, “la Repubblica”, 7 september 2009.


Links: (in Italian only) www.venetobanca.it


Editor: Massimo PIERMATTEI