NAPLES, ITALY - 18 JUNE 2020: Customers of the pawn branch of the Bank of Naples, which is owned by the financial giant Intesa Sanpaolo, wait for their names to be called off a list organized by the customers themselves to enter the Bank and pay interest on their paws, in Naples, Italy, on June 18th 2020.
The gold and jewelry-backed loans business of Gruppo Intesa Sanpaolo, which operated the Naples pawnshop, is in the process of being acquired by Banca Sistema. A company spokeswoman said its new pawnbroker policies went up 20 percent in March and April and that it looked forward to standing at the side of Italians, protecting them from loan sharks, and getting them much needed cash.
Pawn shops have been part of the Italian banking system for centuries. Lombard money changers worked with collateral in the Middle Ages and Catholic church in the 15th century sought to combat usury, and undercut Jewish money lenders, by pooling the resources of wealthy locals into a Mount of Piety, basically a pile of cash, to make no interest (and thus no-sin) loans to the poor. Papal intervention eventually allowed added payments, and pawn departments became central to the evolution of Italian banking, extending ready cash through plagues, sieges and other assorted catastrophes. Now, with Italy facing economic devastation from the coronavirus pawnshop industry leaders are confident there will be a surge in business.
In the days after the lifting of Italy’s lockdown in May, the collateral loan sector – the institutional name for Italy’s pawn brokers — saw a 20 to 30 percent increase in activity. And on lines outside the pawn units of banks in Rome, Milan and Naples, anxiety remained palpable.