From 23 through 25 September 1993 about 300 scientists, bankers, consumer and labour activists as well as politicians gathered in Bergamo, Italy following the invitation of the Italian banking trade unions, the Birmingham Settlement - Money Advice and the Hamburg Institute for Financial Services as well as many other national organisations.
The conference had been thoroughly prepared by trade unions and consumer organisations in nearly all European countries addressing issues of bank safety and soundness. The EU-sponsored conference was motivated by the increasing importance of financial services for ordinary citizens on the one hand, and by the weakness of the banking system on the other hand, as it had been experienced in bank failures and bail outs in Scandinavia, as well as by the events surrounding the failure of the BCCI-Bank in London.
In Bergamo the questions of bank failures seemed to be far away and only concerning the North of Europe and the American participants with their Savings & Loan crisis. However, in the meantime the important subsidies of major Italian and French banks which they received from their respective states to prevent them from failure, gives the issue of the conference an unforeseen actuality.
But similar to the preceding conferences in Hamburg and Birmingham the technical aspect of bank failures was only the area of interest and not the interest itself. Bank safety was seen in the light of our common concern that banks and other financial services industries are too important for society and especially European unification, as to leave its problems and prospects to experts alone. We therefore tried to broaden the issue including all aspects of a safe, sane and secure social environment into the questions on how banks contribute to public and social life in society.
We also took up some issues of the previous conferences on unemployment and consumer debts, as well as on consumer bankruptcy schemes in order to evaluate the progress made in this field.
It is perhaps one of the most important results of this conference that communication between experts, bankers, social workers, consumer advocates and trade unionists was not only made possible, but also done in a constructive way.
In this respect we hope that the readers of these papers delivered at the conference will use them as a "dictionary" for future communication on social aspects of banking, and especially for the Strasbourg conference in 1996 which will deal with banks in their region.
The present publication is a selection from the papers presented in Bergamo. The responsibility of this selection lies solely with the editor. The restriction was due to the lack of funding for publication. Anyhow, we think that it gives a good overlook on what was discussed and presented by about 70 speakers from all over the world. The preparatory national reports have been summoned up in the introductory essay from the editor. The voluminous UK report has been separately published by the UK Social Investment Forum and is available with Birmingham Settlement.
Hamburg, August 1996