Evolution and reforms in the Italian banking system

Italian banking system

Notwithstanding the lengthy recession, the Italian banking system is solid and has demonstrated a good capacity of resilience; it has managed to resist difficulties and to adapt to changes. In any event, the continuation of the severe economic and financial crisis through 2014 (which prompted an almost 10-percent decline of GDP and a 25-percent decrease in industrial production) had the effect of increasing the balance of the non-performing loans on bank balance sheets to a level above the average reported in other developed economies. The aggregate balance of non-performing loans should nonetheless be viewed in light of the rates of debtor-collateral coverage, which are much higher in Italy than in other countries.
An international comparison provides a proper representation of the state of health of Italian banks. From this perspective, Italy’s banks are in an advantageous position vis-à-vis the banks of other Euro Area countries, which, for example, are highly exposed to the emerging markets that are currently facing economic difficulties. The comparison between Italian banks and the banks of other European countries also shows the latter’s significantly higher exposure to the financial derivatives that were responsible for the outbreak of the financial crisis between 2007 and 2008. In comparison with their European peers, Italian banks are less exposed to the real estate sector, which also triggered a crisis, including in certain European economies. The Italian credit system is therefore solid as a whole, even though it is challenged by a high level of non-performing loans concentrated within certain banks.

Despite the solidity of the banking sector as a whole, the Italian government has demonstrated an awareness, since its investiture, of several historical limits of the credit system: the excessive fragmentation of supply, the very limited availability of other types of financing as an alternative to bank credit, and the disproportionately long times for recovering doubtful credits. Radical changes to the banking sector were inaugurated in 2015: the reform of the mutual banks; the self-reform of the banking foundations supported by the government; the reform of the cooperative credit banks (CCB); the introduction of the Guarantee on Securitisation of Non-Performing Loans (GACS); and the acceleration of the timing for credit recovery.

These measures have transformed and significantly reinforced the sector. The government has intervened with a strategy based on three fundamental aspects:

  • Consolidation of the banking sector, through the reform of the largest mutual banks, the reform of the banking foundations (Italian Version), and the reform of the cooperative credit banks. The largest, strongest and most transparent banks will sustain the recovery, supply the best services to households and businesses, and manage the doubtful credits with greater efficiency.
  • Reduction of the timing for credit recovery, which has historically been longer in Italy than elsewhere (Italian Version). The implementation of the online civil court proceedings (Italian Version) and the “business courts” is producing important results; in 2015, an initial revision of insolvency proceedings was introduced, and other measures in this direction have been launched, pending more broad-based reform of bankruptcy law. These measures reduce credit-recovery costs and improve the potential price of the doubtful credits in the event of a sale.
  • “Finance for Growth” package, a series of measures that the government has implemented in order to "open up" financing channels as alternatives to banks. Securitisation companies, credit funds, and insurance companies may now all grant credit to businesses. The Italian insurance regulatory authority (“IVASS”) and the Bank of Italy have issued the guidelines for implementing the regulations that are allowing new players to enter the credit market. EU-based investors no longer pay withholding tax on medium-/long-term financing.