Emergency loans bank

by Annalisa Gerola

Until the 1960s, employees at Rovereto’s tobacco factory could take advantage of no-interest loans from a mutual “assistance bank”. The initiative came to life as the Zigherana (cigar rollers, all women) grew to nearly 1,400. In their brief breaks at work, the women discovered they had many issues in common. The first was reaching their daily target of cigars to get their full salary, but they also discovered that with life’s emergencies, the money they earned wasn’t always enough.

To help each other economically, the women decided to create a mutual assistance bank. Each "bank" had up to 25 members from the same town and neighborhood. The treasurer was an older woman chosen for wisdom and trustworthiness. The workers gave her two florins every month, the equivalent of about 50 euros today. The most needy member could ask the treasurer directly  for a no-interest loan. If, for example, the woman needed money for a daughter’s wedding chest, she could ask for the amount she would have to contribute in the course of the following year. She would then continue her normal contributions without being able to take out further loans.

The bank was called “Giuditta’s bank”, a choice that was hardly made by chance. “Giuditta” was the name of a woman from the town of Valbusa who had started a bank group. Regrettably, she disappeared with the money entrusted to her. The name was used as a warning to choose treasurers carefully, with an eye on honesty.