Navale Assicurazioni, Insurers to Ferrara

Written by  Armando Zimolo
The Italian insurance business, which developed last century, has its main centres in Trieste, Milan, Turin, Genoa and Rome.

A major cultural and artistic centre in the Nineteenth century, Ferrara underwent a period of economic development that gradually transformed it into an important commercial and industrial centre but one in which its traditional role as the capital of a predominantly agricultural province was not complemented by - neither in the last century nor in the first half of this one - the presence of locally based insurance companies. And yet today Ferrara is one of the few Italian cities with its own insurance company: Navale Assicurazioni, a firm whose name suggests maritime transport rather than river or road transport. What are the reasons underpinning this choice?

In post-war Ferrara, along with his brother and some local farmers, Giorgio Zanardi - a young university graduate and naval commander with five medals for military service and valour to his credit - set up the Compagnia di Assicurazioni dell'Agricoltura, of which he was the managing director. Ferrara was still a city deeply rooted in the agricultural tradition. The Compagnia dell'Agricoltura was authorized to ensure against risks involving hail, transportation, fire, theft, glass breakage and accident damage by a law passed on the 27th of August 1947. The following year, however, the little Ferrarese company was bought up by Assicurazioni Generali, which moved the firm's headquarters to Milan.

In the meantime, in 1970, Assicurazioni Generali acquired control of the Cassa Navale di Assicurazioni, a company established in Genoa on the 28th of January 1914 by Edoardo Canali, a shipping magnate of Venetian origins working out of Genoa and Turin who had sold out in his turn to the Ravano Group.

Giorgio Zanardi had worked his way up in the Assicurazioni Generali group and had become co-agent of that company in Ferrara. He became the firm's privileged intermediary with the Eni group, which had invested heavily in the Ferrara area and was planning to make Navale a joint venture controlled by Generali-Eni. Generali-Eni's projected entry into Navale did not get off the drawing board, but in 1970 Zanardi nevertheless managed to have Navale's head office moved to Ferrara. In October 1971 Giorgio Zanardi was nominated a member of the Navale board while keeping on his post as agent for Generali.

The following year, Cesare Merzagora promoted Zanardi to a top management post at Generali and the running of Navale was put in the hands of his son Manfredi. Only in 1976, when he returned to Ferrara, did Zanardi assume the chairmanship of Navale. Today Navale represents a safe haven for the Ferrarese economy as well as for customers in other parts of Italy and the firm's status as a medium-sized player in the Italian insurance business is now more solidly established than ever.