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The history of Banca Agricola Popolare di Ragusa (BAPR – Agricultural Cooperative Bank of Ragusa) is tightly connected to that of the territory in which it operates, that is to say the town of Ragusa and southeastern Sicily. The connection with the local context is one of the specific traits of any ‘banca popolare’ (cooperative bank), yet in the case of BAPR it is very strong, so that the history of the territory and the history of the bank intertwine and influence each other giving life to an indissoluble pair.
The bank was founded in March 1889 in a social and political context that was particularly favourable to the development of such institutes. Indeed, in that decade, the bases for an important modernisation of the area of Ragusa were set: in the field of credit this meant overcoming the traditional circuit dealers – bankers. Consequently, on 10 March 1889, also thanks to the hardship of Mutua Popolare – which had already been operating in town for several years – due to the economic crisis, a group of citizens of Ragusa1 signed the act of foundation of Banca Popolare Cooperativa di Ragusa in the office of the notary public Emanuele Cabibbo. The first shareholders paid the capital and started looking for new people to involve in the deed: by the end of the year, the young bank had already about sixty shareholders who underwrote shares for a total of 56,000 lire. Most shareholders were small and big landowners, while only a few were workers and representatives of other social classes. Differently from the majority of statutes adopted by other cooperative banks, the one of Popolare Cooperativa di Ragusa did not regulate the bank’s charity work.
After having chosen a location for its headquarters, the bank started its activity: at the top of the Board of Directors, Giorgio Arezzo was named President and Giovanni Lupis was named Vice-President; whereas Carmelo Scribano had the honour of being the first Managing Director. The assets under administration grew rapidly, so that already in 1891 the capital stock amounted to 71,300 lire – the total assets under administration (average values) in the first years: 81,181 lire in 1889; 222,482 in 1891; 461,993 in the period 1892-1896; 561,507 between 1897 and 1901; 965,163 between 1902 and 1906.
Therefore, Banca Popolare Cooperativa di Ragusa became a reference point for the other important banks of the time: in 1893 it became qualified to re-discount with Banco di Sicilia and Banca Nazionale del Regno (National Bank of the Kingdom) – later called Banca d’Italia (Bank of Italy). In the first years of the Twentieth century, it became the representative in Ragusa for Banca di Sicilia and Banca Commerciale Italiana. In 1902, at last, it became part of Associazione Nazionale delle Banche Popolari (National Association of Cooperative Banks). The greater dynamism of the early 20th century (in 1910 the first branch was inaugurated in Ragusa Ibla) was due to the new Managing Director Luigi Cartia: the shareholders obtained greater dividends –in 1903 the peak of 14% was reached – thus reinforcing at the same time the reserve fund.
The first successes and the remarkable increase in dividends led to the birth of other rival banks: in 1902, Banca popolare Agricola cooperativa; in 1904, Banca cooperativa Agricola commerciale; and lastly, in 1910, Banca agricola commerciale la Popolare. Among these, the institute established in 1902 soon became the main competitor and it started overcoming Banca Agricola Popolare di Ragusa in terms of administered funds and deposits. At the time of Fascism, the link between the political framework, the territory and the development of the Bank became stronger than ever. The results were two: the institution of the province of Ragusa, and the recovery of the banking system started by the regime following the economic crisis of 1929. The first was of the highest importance for the future of the bank. The choice of Ragusa as capital of the province, instead of the “red” Vittoria and especially Modica (hub of the area since the early post-unity time), whose expectations were “certainly not unfounded” (also for its size: Modica counted about sixty thousand inhabitants whereas Ragusa had forty-eight thousand2), was due to the fact that Ragusa “home of Pennavaria (an Italian politician) was liked by fascists for the anti-proletarian reaction that spread successfully from it”3. The generous public works financed by the fascist regime made the economic crisis and the crash of the Banca italiana di Sconto (Italian Discounting Bank) have a less disruptive impact on the Ragusa area as compared to other areas of the country. The second result, that is to say the re-organisation of the banking system, created the right conditions for the merger of the four banks of the area: “considered from a national point of view, the merger was not exceptional. The fusion fitted in the process of simplification and recovery of the entire national banking system that the circumstances imposed”4 (indeed, the 4,328 banks present in 1927 became 1,424 by 1945. In particular, ‘Popolari’ – cooperative banks –decreased from 662 to 233). On 5 May 1935, indeed, the shareholders’ assemblies took place simultaneously and they decided on the merger into Banca Popolare Agricola Cooperativa that took the name of Banca Agricola Popolare di Ragusa. After the merger, the capital stock increased to 5,321, 400 lire divided in shares of one hundred lire each, a great part of which representing the two main banks: Banca Popolare Agricola Cooperativa – 75% - and Banca Popolare Cooperativa – 15%. The first President was Salvatore Ottaviano, representing the old Agricola Popolare, whereas Gianbattista Cartia, grandson of Luigi, member of Popolare Cooperativa, got the post of co-Managing Director together with two other members chosen in minor banks – Nicola Gulino and Giuseppe Licitra Salesio. Yet, because of the outbreak of World War Two, the positive effects of the merger could not fully deploy their potential. The post-war period was marked by the Cartia family that, with Giovanbattista, took the lead of BAPR. The recovery was noticeable, so much that already at the end of the 1940s, the capital stock had more than doubled as compared to 1945 and the investments had grown remarkably. New branches were opened in S. Croce in Camerina, Acate, Ispica, Vittoria and Marina di Ragusa. Later on, the BAPR managed to cross the borders of the province by opening more branches in Rosolini, Francofonte, Pachino and Carlentini. Finally, in 1977, the historical “landing” in Catania: "more than any other public and private bank, in those years, the BAPR developed the loan for craftsmen and farmers, by favouring small and very small enterprises – legitimately considered the skeleton of the economic system"5.
From the 1970s until today, the BAPR has experienced only little alternation at its top, as a sign of continuity, which represents one of its strengths: Giovanni Cartia was Chief Executive Officer from 1970 to 2001; Vincenzo Spata followed from 2001 to 2006; and lastly, Salvatore Inghilterra is CEO since 2006. Giovanbattista Cartia was President from 1970 to 1988; Mario Schininà from 1988 to 2002; since 2002, Giovanni Cartia, who was also Managing Director from 2001 to 2009, is President. Between the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s, the evolution of the European framework which matured from Berlin –fall of the Wall - and Maastricht –signing of the Treaty on European Union – passing by the European Single Market, had effects on the BAPR as well. The complex chain of mergers, acquisitions, assimilations and restructurings that took place in the Italian banking system, like those of other Member States of the European Union, concerned the institute of Ragusa as well, even if to a lesser degree than other cooperative banks.
In the early 1990s, the BAPR still operated with only 28 branches, concentrated especially in the province of Ragusa, but present also in the province of Siracusa and Catania. Thanks to the liberalisation of sites allowed by the Supervision Authorities, a period of quick development started. In 1997, it became the leader of the homonymous Banking Group, by getting the control, by means of a public take-over bid, of Banca Popolare di Augusta. Between 1997 and 2003, it merged four times through the acquisitions of cooperative banks –BCC di Linera, BCC di Belpasso, BCC di Itala –and, lastly, of the very Banca Popolare di Augusta. In 2000, it acquired control of the company Concordia SIM S.p.A. (Ltd), re-named FinSud SIM S.p.A., and headquartered in Milan, where a branch was opened in 2001. In 2008, ten branches of Banco di Sicilia, located in the provinces of Messina and Catania, were acquired. In 2010, the branches were a total of 98, 97 of which in Sicily – in the provinces of Ragusa, Siracusa, Catania, Enna and Messina – and one in Milan.
The BAPR favoured a strong and constant policy of capitalisation throughout the years, thus infusing an image of solidity and trust in the future in the investors and costumers, a strong feeling of protection for savings, and a deep sense of respect for work, as the elective field of expression of human value. BAPR’s body of shareholders has a widespread structure and today it is composed of about 15,000 shareholders residing for almost the totality in the areas where the Bank operates, as they usually are also its costumers.
Meanwhile, the development undertaken required a new head office and registered seat. In 1991, a modern, rational and prestigious administrative centre was bought for this reason, and it was inaugurated in 1995. With regret, but aware of the necessity and of the new opportunities, the institutional management left the liberty-style building in the historical centre, which continued to host the branch number “zero”, the Seat of Ragusa.
The BAPR strengthened its tie with the territory also through widespread liberal disbursements and sponsorships, some of which were of remarkable visibility: for instance, in the field of sports, the male basketball team Virtus Ragusa, which, in the championship 1997-1998, played some good seasons in the A2 series; in the field of scientific research, the sponsorship in favour of the foundation San Raffaele del Monte Tabor in the framework of the project “Trapianto di cellule staminali neurali somatiche come nuovo approccio nel trattamento della sclerosi multipla” (“Transplant of somatic neural stem cells as a new approach in the treatment of multiple sclerosis”). In the cultural field, in 2010, the BAPR promoted the establishment of the foundation “Doris e Cesare Zipelli” in order to administer part of the valuable collections of prints and ancient ceramics belonging to the eclectic man of refined culture and sensitivity who animated Ragusa’s society at the end of the last century, and who had recently died.
Under the leadership of Giovanni Cartia (awarded in 2010 with the title of ‘Cavaliere del Lavoro’- that is to say decorated for his service to industry, TN), the BAPR showed dynamism and ability to evolve, by putting together the principles of cooperation inspired by Luzzatti and the innovative movements of globalisation: the values of Economic Democracy, Proximity and Solidarity kept characterising this local Bank, the only one among cooperative banks in Sicily to maintain its corporate independence and to represent with continuity the original economic and professional components, by interpreting the concept of “mutuality” as a feeling of “territorial solidarity”.
The orientation of investments in favour of families and enterprises of the area of reference, granted to reward hard-workers and meritocracy; the important support to employment; the services in support of local institutions; the frequent support to social initiatives, in particular to the weakest parts of the population and to non-profit associations; the will to preserve the precious artistic and cultural heritage represented by local artistic and artisan traditions and know-how as valuable resources for the development: they all testify the consistency of an engagement that lasts over time and wants to accompany its community in a real growth of civilisation.
The principles of Social Responsibility and Economic Ethics that Banca Agricola Popolare di Ragusa follows in its action are summed up in the message of its recent corporate communication, which is both a statement of purpose and an exhortation to rebirth: “Sicilia, Crescere nei Valori” (“Sicily, to grow into values”).

1Luigi Cartia, Giorgio Morana Gulino, Giovanni Lupis, Corrado Schifitto, Gaetano Nicita, Vincenzo Cannì, Filipponeri Criscione and the engineer Carmelo Scrivano.
2Vittorio A., Economia e società a Ragusa: 1930-1980, in Di Stefano M., Granozzi L., Micciché G. and A. Vittorio, La Banca Agricola Popolare di Ragusa. Frammenti di un secolo di storia (1889-1989), Palermo, Sellerio Editore, 1989, p. 210.
3Micciché G., Politici e banchieri nell’area degli Iblei, in Ibidem, cit., p. 144.
4Granozzi L., La formazione di un’azienda regionale di credito, in Ibidem, cit., p. 56.
5Vittorio A., Economia e società a Ragusa: 1930-1980, cit., p. 155.

Link: (in Italian only) www.bapr.it

Editor: Massimo PIERMATTEI


Contributors: vp