Italy: More Than a Touch of Honesty

Napoleon Bonaparte, something of a master at the game himself, once complained that "all Italians are plunderers." Italian bankers often seem to agree with this ungenerous assessment of their countrymen. "Every citizen," says an old banking maxim, "is a swindler until he produces documents to prove the contrary." Taking that attitude, Italian banks, including those owned by the state, have rarely opened their cash drawers for small personal loans.

They may soon change their ways. Moving boldly into a field that has belonged almost exclusively to pawnbrokers and loan sharks, who charge...

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