In June 1894, CNEP opened a branch in Tunis, a second in Soussa in 1895, another at Sfax in 1896 and a fourth at Gabès in 1897. In 1898, the Tunisian management suggested opening temporary offices at Monastir and Kairouan, but the CNEP Paris headquarters regarded this move as premature. From the very beginning the business generated by the branch network in Tunisia was judged to be satisfactory; and this continued to be the case until the crisis which struck the country in 1932. The Gabès branch was closed in 1907 but a branch was opened in Bizerta instead
Years of prosperity
The first decade of the 20th century was a period of prosperity for Tunisia, in which the CNEP branches played a large part. In 1918, the headquarters were moved to new premises at 3 avenue Jules Ferry in Tunis, just opposite the French Embassy.
CNEP’s business in Tunisia was closely linked to the agriculture and phosphate mining sectors, which were major local sources of wealth. From 1923 on, successive years of prosperity led to some very profitable business for CNEP and the bank opened new branches in Monastir (1924), Mateur (1925) and Beja (1930).
The 1930s were difficult years and the Tunisian economy was seriously affected by the fall in prices of the main agricultural crops, including durum wheat, barley, olive oil and wool. From 1927 to 1936, prices fell by close to 50%. The situation remained difficult until 1939 and the bank had to close three branches: Monastir and Beja in 1934, and Mateur in 1935.
The founding of BEIT
In 1963, CNEP established the Banque d’Escompte et de Crédit à l’Industrie en Tunisie (BEIT) with two partners: Banque Industrielle de l’Afrique du Nord (BIAN) and Morgan Guaranty Trust. The BIAN and CNEP branch networks were absorbed into the new bank.
BNCI also sets up in Tunisia via BNCIA
In 1927, some leading figures in Algeria founded the Banque de l’Union Nord-Africaine (BUNA), which then established a network of branches across Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia. In September 1940, Banque Nationale pour le Commerce et l’Industrie (BNCI) took a majority stake in BUNA, which then became BNCI-Afrique (BNCIA). When France was occupied by Germany, the Maghreb – the French-speaking region of North Africa – seemed to offer the potential for international expansion.
BNCIA opened a branch in Tunis in May 1941 and a sub-branch opened in Bizerta in June 1942. In 1948, the network in Tunisia had premises in twelve cities and was organised into three divisions. The branches and offices in Bizerta, Beja, Souk-el-Arba, Chardimou and Le Kef were directly under the management of the Tunis head office. The Soussa branch, together with the offices in Monastir and Mahdia, made up the Soussa division, while the Sfax division comprised the Sfax branch plus the Sarzis and Tozeur offices.
UBCI takes over BNCI’s Tunisian network
In 1955, BNCI set up a subsidiary under Tunisian law called Union Financière et Technique de Tunisie (UFITEC). In 1961, at a time when the Tunisian banking sector was undergoing a period of consolidation, UFITEC and BNCI’s Tunisian network were merged to form the Union Bancaire pour le Commerce et l’Industrie (UBCI). The new bank’s network comprised seven branches: Tunis-Mokhtar-Attia, Tunis-Es-Sadikia, Bizerta, Grombalia, Mateur, Sfax and Soussa.
BEIT-UBCI link-up completes the CNEP-BNCI merger
In 1966, the French government decided to merge CNEP and BNCI to form Banque Nationale de Paris (BNP). Three years later, in 1969, the BEIT network – which had taken over CNEP’s Tunisian branches in 1963 – was absorbed into UBCI, thus finalising the merger of the CNEP and BNCI branch networks in Tunis under the aegis of UBCI.