Between the end of 2013 and the beginning of 2014, a radical reform of Banca d’Italia – the Italian central bank and banking supervisory authority – was enacted. It was the last chapter of an historical evolution, started in 1893 with its incorporation as a joint-stock-corporation under private law, whose result places the Italian system within the niche of countries that entail the participation of private investors to the ownership and governance of central banks. This article analyzes the relevant Italian regulation also by comparing it with other international experiences. While most of the debate on central banking independence focuses on independence from politics, this article explores another side of the problem, namely the risk of capture by the banking sector and of subsequent conflicts of interests.Said risk significantly increases when the central bank’s shareholders are private investors which elect some of its governing bodies and receive dividends out of its earnings. Since a central bank carries out monetary operations that generate seigniorage, the distribution of profits out of these earnings is a transfer of public value to the private sector. Such circumstances can create incentives for the owners to influence the central bank’s decisions, also according to the magnitude of the values at stake.
This paper was written before the economic landscape caused by the Covid-19 pandemic was even imaginable. After the peer-review process, some basic updates on the topic have been added where appropriate, although without altering the fundamental structure of the paper.
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