Are Cooperative Banks Better Equipped to Weather Financial Crisis than their Commercial Counterparts? Evidence from the Italian Banking Sector before and during the Credit Crisis

Mitja Stefancic


Background and Purpose: The aim of this paper is to empirically investigate the performance of different types of Italian banks before and during the recent credit crisis with an emphasis on the behaviour of cooperative banks. It is well established in theory that cooperative banks follow more conservative business strategies and care more for stakeholders in comparison to commercial banks. On this background, the paper tries to show the empirical effects of those characteristics on the cooperative bank’s performance during financial distress compared to commercial banks. In fact, the paper can prove that Italian cooperative banks were less exposed to the shocks of the crisis and showed a better performance.
Methodology: In order to assess whether cooperative banks performed differently at all from commercial banks during the 2005–2012 period, return on average assets (ROAA), cost efficiency and loan quality have been investigat­ed by means of a sample of 594 Italian banks, pooled OLS and (when possible) a fixed effects estimator.
Results: Overall, Italian cooperative banks performed better than other Italian banks during the financial crisis. The quality of loans deteriorated less in these banks than in others, while no significant differences have been observed in terms of ROAA and cost efficiency between these and other banks.
Conclusion: My paper provides empirical evidence for a well established theoretically derived hypothesis: Italian cooperative banks operate differently than standard commercial banks which is especially noticeable during times of crisis. The fact empirically demonstrated that different banking models have shown different reactions to the financial crisis and economic downturn has important policy implications. Due to both characteristics of cooperative banks and severe limitations in the financial policies by the Italian government during the credit crisis an ironical pattern has emerged: While Italian cooperative banks were less exposed to the shocks of the crisis, they would have been less able to adjust to them since the financial rescue program was designed primarily for commercial banks.

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