Chapter 21: The Italian co-operative banking and financial system: institutions, performances and theoretical background
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For a large part of the last century, a peculiarity of the Italian co-operative movement has been its ideological fragmentation. Only in December 2010 did the three main associations of co-operatives ("Legacoop", with a left-wing orientation and, until the 1970s, even with some Marxist influence, "Confco-operative", with a Catholic background, and "AGCI", culturally close to the Republican movement, very active in the 19th century process of Italian unification) create a unique coordinating body, a first step toward a merger. The first co-operative bank was founded in 1883 by Leone Wollenborg, at Loreggia, near Padua. In 1897 there were more than 900 credit co-operatives (originally called "Casse Rurali e Artigiane") and 775 of them had a Catholic orientation. Their number was bound to decrease in the following decades because of mergers and economic crises. Over the last century, the Catholic co-operators have promoted two different types of co-operative banks: mutual loan societies (in Italian, "Banche Popolari", henceforth BP) and credit co-operative banks (in Italian Banche di Credito Cooperativo, henceforth BCC), while the left-wing co-operators of Legacoop have mainly been operating in the insurance and financial sector, by the acquisition (in the 1960s) of the insurance company Unipol, a corporation previously owned by a private entrepreneur.

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