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Post pandemic Italy’s banking sector: new challenges, new opportunities for the real economy

    • Meeting in digital format
    • 15 June 2021

          As it leaves the health emergency behind, Italy is focusing on economic recovery. The European resources of the National Recovery and Resilience Plan offer major opportunities in a shifting scenario. On the one hand, the crisis was not the result of structural problems, but rather due to a situation created by the pandemic; this means that, despite the difficulties of this forced arrest, reviving the economic machine should not be too problematic. On the other hand, however, these long months of inactivity have compromised the financial situation of many firms.

          Banks are a central actor on this stage, capable of offering financing and support for starting back up thanks to the increased financial solidity they have built up over recent years. Moreover, they can be an important driver behind mobilizing the considerable private savings accumulated during the acute stages of the pandemic. Indeed, economic revival poses the challenge of jumpstarting a national system that has traditionally favoured other forms of corporate financing over bank lending. This means funnelling family resources toward the real economy, with advantages for both business as well as for savers who continue to be hampered by a persistent low-income quandary.

          The primary beneficiaries could be those small and medium-sized enterprises most heavily hit by the crisis; yet major groups would also reap the benefits of the further evolution of financial markets. These latter today account for a minimal slice of the national economic fabric, with a stock exchange capitalization equal to 37% of GDP, the lowest of the major European economies. Instruments do exist from which to depart, such as PIRs (individual savings plans), that nevertheless need to be made stronger and more attractive to the public.

          Legislative intervention is necessary but has not been sufficient. Italy continues to lag significantly behind in financial education. Overcoming this divide calls for making citizen choices more conscious by bringing them closer to financial operators and investment instruments, which they often avoid due to excessive and unmotivated diffidence. This is an undertaking that, on the model of other European states, must begin with the educational system. Building a financial culture among young people means offering them instruments by which to dialogue with an increasingly complex and sophisticated world of finance.

          Covid-19 and the many changes of the past year – starting with the acceleration of digital literacy – offer a springboard for a leap forward that presupposes a new normalcy rather than a return to pre-pandemic conditions. There are some encouraging signs supported by a change in European economic policy and across the entire Western world. Savers are more optimistic and receptive to investing in the real economy and banks are called upon to act as catalysts for these resources and the nation’s desire for recovery.

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