The Vicenza-based Banca Cattolica del Veneto (BCV), which would merge in 1989 with Nuovo Banco Ambrosiano to create Banco Ambrosiano Veneto (BAV), first began to address the needs of émigré communities from Italy's Veneto region in the early twentieth century, making an agreement with the Vicenza Union of Emigrants (Unione Emigranti di Vicenza) with regard to «the receipt of deposits by expatriates in the small savings (4%) category», as shown in the minutes of the Board of Directors meeting held on 25 October 1906.
In 1924, the bank set up an Exchange Bureau (Ufficio Cambi) which, together with its handling of emigrant remittances, also engaged in securities and currency trading and provided a currency deposit service for its overseas customers. In order to better acquaint future émigrés with foreign regulations and opportunities for conducting commercial activities abroad, it also produced a booklet containing useful information on currency exchange and remittances.
In 1953 BCV was officially designated as a "banca minore" (minority bank) engaged in foreign exchange trading and Vicenza became the central headquarters of its International Services Bureau (Servizio Estero). Three years later, in 1957, it was made a "banca aggregata" and shortly thereafter, in 1960, an "banca agente" (agent bank), which allowed it to conduct transactions in foreign currencies, engage in foreign exchange trading, act through correspondent banks, extend lines of credit and support the import/export operations of its customers. Most of the activities were carried out on behalf of Veneto region natives who had emigrated to various parts of Europe, but also to Canada and Australia.
The first mention of Banco Ambrosiano (BA)'s working relations abroad is found in the minutes of a 12 November 1919 Board of Directors meeting, although it is probable that the Milan-based bank had already begun operating abroad in its earliest years of existence (it was founded in 1896) to assist silk merchants based in Italy's Lombardy region.
In order to do its part to foster international trade, on 6 March 1920 the bank amended its Statute to permit the establishment of foreign branches; however, it would only set up its first international offices, in the 1970s.
Although BA had requested the authorization of Italy's central bank, Banca d'Italia, to become an "agent bank" engaged in foreign currency exchange years earlier, it was designated as such only in 1952. The bank's overseas relations were handled by the Foreign Relations Bureau (Ufficio Relazioni Estero), based in its Central Management Division (Direzione Centrale).
Already partnering with a network of correspondent banks in various parts of the world by the end of 1965, the bank reached a major turning point in 1972, when it entered into cooperative agreements with several other European banks that led to the creation of the Inter-Alpha Group. The Group's first members were Banco Ambrosiano, Berliner Handels- und Frankfurter Bank (Frankfurt), Crédit Commercial de France (Paris), Kredietbank (Brussels), Nederlandsche Middenstandsbank (Amsterdam) and Williams & Glyn's Bank Ltd (London), and its objective was to provide worldwide financial and operational assistance to the customers of its member banks, although each would retain its individual characteristics and structural independence. Over time the banking group would set up several joint representative offices, first in Singapore and Tokyo and later in New York, Hong Kong, São Paulo and Tehran; it also operated through subsidiaries, including Inter-Alpha Asia S.A., which used its affiliates to cultivate financial and commercial dealings in Asian countries.
BA would remain a member of the Inter-Alpha Group even after Banco Ambrosiano Veneto (BAV) was created in 1989 through the aforementioned merger of Nuovo Banco Ambrosiano (BA's successor) and BCV. In the 1990s the new bank worked to expand its overseas presence, setting up branches and representative offices in Europe's main banking centers, including London, one of the world's top financial hubs, in 1991; Brussels, headquarters of the European Economic Community, in 1994; and Moscow in 1996. The bank also looked eastwards, attracted by growth in the Asia-Pacific economies, establishing offices in Peking (now Beijing) in 1994, Manila in 1997 (thereby becoming the first Italian bank to establish an outpost in the Philippines) and Bombay (now Mumbai) in 1998.
With the 1998 creation of Banca Intesa and subsequent merger of BAV and CARIPLO, the former took over the handling of the Banca Intesa Group's international financial and banking activities, while BAV's overseas activities were incorporated into it, helping create a new international network. It therefore became necessary to rework BAV's foreign network: while some of its offices were maintained and its license converted to Banca Intesa, others in areas where an operational presence was no longer deemed strategic were closed or unified.
Carlo Bellavite Pellegrini, Una storia italiana: dal Banco Ambrosiano a Intesa Sanpaolo: con i diari di Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, Il Mulino, Bologna, 2013
Carlo Bellavite Pellegrini, Storia del Banco Ambrosiano. Fondazione, ascesa, dissesto, 1896-1982, Laterza, Roma-Bari, 2001
Banca Cattolica del Veneto, Servizio Estero, La legge "Ossola" e le operazioni di finanziamento a medio termine all'esportazione, BCV, Vicenza, 1988