History: two centuries of banking

The story of BNP Paribas dates back to the 19th century, when the banks that would eventually form the Group first opened and expanded. Fueled by Europe’s extraordinary industrial growth, the banks were able to set aside enough savings to finance crucial economic development. From its early beginnings to the present day, the Group’s evolution offers an opportunity to explore two centuries of banking history, in addition to that of Europe and the world as a whole.

“ Since 1822, history has made us a key player and a witness of transformations taking place in society and economy in Europe and around the world. We invite you to share in our story and explore our archives to learn more about our constantly changing world. ”

Jean Lemierre

Chairman of BNP Paribas

BNP Paribas Group's History

 Produced from our archives, the BNP Paribas documentary retraces our Bank’s history from 1822 through to the present day.

1822 -1913

Industrial expansion in the 19th century prompted the establishment of the forerunners of BNP Paribas

The banks that later constituted BNP Paribas were established and expanded during the extraordinary period of industrial growth in Europe in the 19th century. They were involved in the second banking revolution which tapped into the requisite savings to finance economic growth.

The pioneer was Société Générale de Belgique, the forerunner of BNP Paribas Fortis, which was established in Brussels in 1822. It invented mixed banking in combining retail banking and shareholdings in companies, and was later imitated by the Pereire brothers’ Crédit Mobilier.

France experienced a political revolution and an economic meltdown in 1848, but in that year public authorities combined with private interests to establish discounting houses (“comptoirs d’escompte”) intended to facilitate credit circuits. This led to the birth of two of the forerunners of BNP: Comptoir National d’Escompte de Paris (CNEP), which was supported by Parisian publishers and booksellers, and Comptoir National d’Escompte de Mulhouse, which received support from industry in Alsace. With the trade opening after the Franco-British treaty was signed in 1860, the Comptoir d’Escompte de Paris developed a solid international presence on leading markets, particularly in Asia, and became the “French Bank” abroad.

European bankers established Banque de Paris et des Pays-Bas (Paribas) in 1872 to raise funds to borrow to free up regions and, on a longer term, to acquire shareholdings in companies and acquire a stake on capital markets. This heralded the birth of a major investment bank à la française.

Banking is not a risk-free endeavour, especially not in the 19th century. After a stock market collapse that forced the discounting house to dissolve and be re-established in 1889, the Comptoir d’Escompte de Paris re-emerged as a leading bank and model for risk management. On the eve of the First World War, the Istituto nazionale di credito per la cooperazione, the forerunner of BNL, was established in Rome to facilitate the transformation of Italy’s rural economy.

Key dates

  • 1822

    Société Générale de Belgique established in Brussels

  • 1848

    Comptoir National d’Escompte de Paris (CNEP) and Comptoir National d’Escompte de Mulhouse established

  • 1872

    Banque de Paris et des Pays-Bas (Paribas) established

  • 1874

    Farmers National Gold Bank, the future Bank of the West, established in San Jose, California

  • 1913

    Istituto Nazionale di Credito per la Cooperazione, which later became BNL, established in Rome


Comptoir National d’Escompte de Paris opens branches in Shanghai and Calcutta. This was the first time a French bank set up a branch network abroad from nothing.
BNP Paribas is perpetuating the tradition today with a presence in over 80 countries.

14 Bergère

With business and staff numbers growing, the executives at CNEP asked architecture Edouard Corroyer to build a new head office.
The building boasted the latest technical innovations at the time.

From Peking to Hankow

In 1898, three banks that later made up BNP Paribas - Société Générale de Belgique, Banque de Paris et des Pays-Bas et Comptoir National d’Escompte de Paris – arranged financing for the largest public works construction sites at the time, the construction of the 1,200 km railway line from Peking to Hankow (as they were then known).


1914 - 1965

The forerunners of BNP Paribas expand and reinvent themselves despite crises

Central service employees from the BNCI’s ‘portfolio’ service work on either side of a conveyor belt carrying commercial papers – 1952. - Credits: Archives historiques BNP Paribas

The banks that later made up BNP Paribas supported the war effort during the First World War in assisting government bond issues and mobilising many of its employees. The proportion of women staff members rose considerably during this time.

With inflation and economic instability following the Great War, the interwar period was a time of strategic reorientation and above all of trials and tribulations culminating in the Depression of the 1930s. Banque Nationale de Crédit (BNC), emerging out of Comptoir d’escompte de Mulhouse in 1913, collapsed in 1932 as a result of excessive commitment to loans to vulnerable companies. It re-emerged as Banque Nationale pour le Commerce et l’Industrie (BNCI) in 1932 and under the impulse and leadership of Alfred Pose, the BNCI became the most dynamic banking institution in France.

Under Managing Director Horace Finaly, Paribas tapped into other avenues for development in the latest industries (electricity and oil) and new regions, central Europe in particular. After a period of economic listlessness during the Second World War, the CNEP and the BNCI were nationalised in 1945 and took part in the reconstruction of the French economy, whilst Paribas specialised in financing large-scale projects and helping major French companies abroad.

Banking innovations made their appearance in France: personal loans in 1959 and SICAV open-ended investment schemes in 1963. Jacques de Fouchier, a brilliant and imaginative financier, set up Cetelem, which financed the first consumer loans in 1953.

Key dates

  • 1919

    forerunners of the Polish bank Bank BGŻ BNP Paribas Spółka Akcyjna founded

  • 1927

    Kocaeli Halk Bankasi (KHB), later Türk Economi Bankasi (TEB), established

  • 1932

    Banque Nationale pour le Commerce et l’Industrie (BNCI) established

  • 1945

    leading French deposit banks, including the CNEP and the BNCI, nationalised

Information technology

in 1957 the CNEP ordered the biggest computer developed in Europe, the Bull Gamma 60, whilst the BNCI opted for an IBM 705 to manage the sales portfolio of its Paris branches.

In 1961, the Société Générale de Belgique, the forerunner of BNP Paribas Fortis, inaugurated an IBM 7070.

Consumer loans

the first consumer loan in France was implemented by Cetelem (1953), the company established by Jacques de Fouchier, founder of Compagnie bancaire.

Compagnie bancaire also developed other innovations for the future such as Cardif in insurance (1973), Cortal (1984) in direct brokerage and Arval for vehicle fleet leasing (1989).

Compagnie bancaire merged with Paribas in 1998.


Belgian legislation made it necessary to split up mixed banks. Société Générale de Belgique transferred its banking activities to a new subsidiary, the Société Générale de Belgique, which became Société Générale de Banque in 1965 and then Générale de Banque in 1985. The branches network has grown very rapidly. In 1998 the Fortis group acquired Générale de Banque.

International branches network

After the Second World War, an innovative policy to establish subsidiaries enabled the BNCI to extend its network outside its domestic market and open many branches, particularly in Africa.

1966 - 1999

Birth of BNP in 1966 and development of a Group with European ambitions in line with the modernisation of society

BNP Paribas The Banque Nationale de Paris introduces itself to the public in 1966, poster on Rue d’Hauteville in Paris – BNP Paribas historical archives.

As part of a program to stimulate the economy and banking sector, the French government merged the CNEP and the BNCI in 1966 to create a new bank, BNP (Banque nationale de Paris), the new French leader. This was a very dynamic period with banks very highly present in society, especially for women and young people. BNP opened many branches, was a participant in the launch of the carte bleue bank card in 1967 and became highly noticeable thanks to its very modern advertisements (for women in 1968) and bold ones (“Votre argent m’intéresse” – I want your money – in 1973). Growth in computing facilities accompanied business growth and the bank grew increasingly international.

Banque de Paris et des Pays-Bas merged in 1966 with the Compagnie bancaire of Jacques de Fouchier, who continued to establish innovative subsidiaries in insurance (Cardif, 1973) and brokerage (Cortal 1984).

After a short period of nationalisation in 1982 following the shift in politics in France, Paribas (which adopted the name in 1982) and then BNP were privatised in 1986 and 1993. BNP under the leadership of Michel Pébereau began to build a group intended to become the leader in Europe: stronger risk controls, new alliances and more modern banking tools. In 1999, following a memorable stock market battle and a takeover bid, BNP acquired a controlling stake in Paribas and thereby established the BNP Paribas group which transcended a merger of two banks to become the integrated foundation of new and dynamic movement, as reflected by its new logo “ the taking-flight symbol”. 

Key dates

  • 1966

    merger of the CNEP and BNCI to establish Banque Nationale de Paris (BNP)

  • 1979

    BNP acquires Bank of the West

  • 1986

    privatisation of Paribas (which had been nationalised in 1982)

  • 1993

    privatisation of BNP

  • 1997

    BNP Paribas.net website

Carte bleue bank card

BNP teamed up with five other banks in 1967 to create the carte bleue bank card, the first payment card in France.

The introduction of automated teller machines in 1981 offered clients a range of new services such as account viewing and a log of recent operations.


BNP became the official sponsor of the Roland-Garros tennis championship in 1973. The partnership has subsequently been extended to all of the sport and includes major events such as the Davis Cup.

2000 to the present

Emergence of an international leader to face the challenges of the digital revolution and a changing world

Grands Moulin de Pantin, a former flour mill near Paris, restored in 2009.

Starting in 2000, Michel Pébereau, followed by Baudouin Prot and then Jean-Laurent Bonnafé have substantiated the ambition to create a genuinely European banking group with a global vocation. Acquisitions have significantly enhanced its strong European presence: TEB in Turkey in 2005, BNL in Italy in 2006, Fortis in Belgium and BGL in Luxembourg in 2009, BGZ in Poland, Laser Cofinoga in consumer loans and Dab Bank in Germany in 2014.

During the global financial meltdown that began in 2007, BNP Paribas was one of the very few large banks to post profits uninterruptedly thanks to risk controls, carefully considered and balanced acquisitions and business drive. Regulatory constraints arising from the financial meltdown have imposed adaptations (significant increase in own funds, separate operations) in financing and investment banking which the Group can embrace whilst continuing to serve its clients.

The early years of the 21st century also heralded the digital challenge for banking. Although BNP, Paribas and Compagnie bancaire had pioneered the change into multi-channel banking, the increasing pace of digitisation worldwide, growing mobility in client usage and the emergence of new players all require an increasingly reactive bank. This was the reasoning behind the establishment of Hello bank! In 2013 as the first bank entirely developed for mobile usage on a European scale along with the adaptation of domestic bank networks to clients’ new needs.

Key dates

  • 2000

    BNP Paribas Group established

  • 2006 to 2009

    acquisition of BNL, Fortis, BGL and TEB

  • 2007

    start of the global financial meltdown

  • 2013

    launch of Hello bank!

Electronic payment

Currency dematerialisation can be seen in the introduction of Paylib (online payments competing with PayPal that has the benefit keeping bank details in the bank) and contactless payments.


Accelerated pace of on-line banking

Accelerated development of Internet offerings with the creation of NET Agence, the iPhone site from BNP Paribas and then the launch of Hello bank! to enable the Group to become one of the best on-line banks.

Serving new clients

BNP Paribas has been committed for several years to helping entrepreneurs (start-ups and “ETIs”) and has implemented measures to support them in their growth dynamic.

Well of History


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