* Italian savers shift deposits to state post office
* Poste Italiane's direct funding jumps 6.5 pct in H1
* Trend continued in Q3 - source
* BancoPosta has no banking licence; bail-in rules do not
By Francesca Landini and Maria Pia Quaglia
MILAN, Oct 18 Italians worried about the
stability of their banks have found a new place to put their
money: the state-controlled post office.
"Nobody knows where your money is safe today," says Leonardo
Galli, a 58-year-old accountant who has resolved to move all his
savings out of his bank to a current account with Poste Italiane
, one of many who are deserting the banking sector.
"Poste Italiane is state controlled, this is a safeguard,"
he explains. He already channels his salary into a Poste
Italiane account and pays his bills through a standing order
made at a post office branch a few steps away from his office.
The 154-year-old Poste Italiane is winning deposits as fast
as some traditional lenders are losing them, attracting savers
disillusioned with a banking system that is straining under bad
debts and appears to be in permanent crisis.
Alarmed by daily media reports about faltering bank rescue
plans, savers have deposited about 3 billion euros ($3.4
billion) in the post office in the last six months alone.
Poste, owned 65 percent by the state and with a network of
13,000 branches, reported a 6.5 percent jump in deposits in the
first half of this year. They continued to grow in the third
quarter, a source at Poste Italiane said.
It is unclear how much of this money has been taken from the
banking sector, but troubled lenders such as Monte dei Paschi di
Siena and Banca Carige leaked deposits at a
similar rate, around 6 percent, in the same period.
For Galli, from the northern town of Como, Poste's
yellow-and-blue logo represents security and stability but it
has other advantages he could not find at his bank. In opening
an account two years ago, he was attracted by Poste's extensive
network, low costs and offices that opened on Saturday mornings.
He was also pleased with the return on some investments he
made recently through Poste.
"I have invested money in a fund and I earned a yield my
bank couldn't match," Galli said. He did not want to reveal the
name of the lender, but said it was one of Italy's major banks.
A HAVEN OR A RISK?
What many of Poste Italiane's savers do not know is that the
post office does not have a banking licence, even though it
takes deposits and offers loans under the brand-name BancoPosta.
And, in the event of a full-blown financial crisis, it may
not be the financial haven that some savers believe it to be.
BancoPosta does not subscribe to Italy's voluntary fund to
insure deposits, which guarantees savers for up to 100,000 euros
deposited into bank accounts. To protect its depositors, it says
it has ring-fenced capital equal to 1 billion euros and an extra
buffer of 400 million euros kept with the state treasury.
Under a presidential decree, BancoPosta can take deposits
provided they are invested in eurozone sovereign bonds, but the
post office's deposit-taking arm has chosen to invest almost
entirely in Italian debt, at roughly 40 billion euros.
In total, Poste Italiane has more than 60 percent of its
assets tied up in Italian government debt, including another
nearly 80 billion euros held under the group's insurance arm.
By contrast, Italy's best-capitalised major bank, Intesa
Sanpaolo, invests 12.8 percent of its assets in Italian
state debt, including bonds held by its insurance arm.
Some analysts say Poste Italiane's large exposure to the
state could increase if the group's bid to buy an Italian fund
manager, Pioneer Investments, is successful.
Pioneer, currently held by Italy's largest lender UniCredit
, has a sizeable exposure to Italian debt being one the
country's biggest asset managers. Pioneer does not disclose its
exact holdings of state debt.
"Poste is not a bank but it is exposed to the sovereign so
... who exactly is holding the bag in the worst-case scenario?"
asks economist Francesco Galietti, chief executive of Policy
Sonar, a political risk consultancy based in Rome.
Galietti questions the stability of Poste Italiane in the
event of a sovereign debt crisis, a scenario where Italian bonds
plunge, imperilling the group's balance sheet.
Many savers, though, worry more about the risk of a bank
failure than a sovereign financial crisis.
Last November, Italians watched as retail shareholders and
bondholders in four small, troubled banks were forced to suffer
losses under the terms of a government-orchestrated rescue. The
terms were designed to anticipate "bail-in" rules that were due
to be imposed by the European Union a few weeks later.
Thousands of clients lost savings of a lifetime, including a
pensioner who hanged himself in desperation last December.
BancoPosta, a non-bank financial institution, is not subject
the bail-in rules, which are designed to ensure investors share
the cost of a bank rescue along with taxpayers.
"Poste Italiane has greatly benefited from the enforcing of
the bail-in rules this year, and the crisis of four small banks
last year in Italy," said Gian Luca Ferrari, insurance and asset
management analyst at Mediobanca Securities.
The European Commission declined to comment when asked about
the impact of its bail-in rules on Italian bank deposits.
BancoPosta is the only major European state-controlled post
office to take deposits and make loans without a banking
licence, analysts said. France's state-controlled post office,
La Poste, has a financial arm with a banking licence that is
regulated by the European Central Bank, while Germany's Postbank
is now part of Deutsche Bank.
($1 = 0.8928 euros)
(Additional reporting by Francesco Guarascio in Brussels;
Editing by Mark Bendeich and Giles Elgood)