The bank for a changing world

Well of History: a bygone job, the bank messenger

  • 05.10.2015

In the nineteenth century and until the 1960s, banking called upon certain jobs that no longer exist. An example of this is the collection man who was in charge of cashing paper assets. City-dwellers were used to seeing this uniformed figure going around the town.

When a craftsman or shopkeeper provided goods or services to a third party, he was often paid with bills that he could cash within 3 or 6 months. If he needed this money immediately, he could take this bill to his bank which would discount it and give him the proceeds minus a commission. On the due dates of the bills, the bank sent its collection men to the parties who had issued the bills to recover the sums and thus reimbursed itself for the advances it had granted to its customers. The Portfolio department organised this discount activity, checking the quality of bills, classifying them according to due dates and collecting the sums owed. The men who went around town collecting money had a huge responsibility – taking the proceeds from their rounds back to the branch like security guards.

Bank messenger from Comptoir national d'escompte de Paris (CNEP) about1910 - BNP Paribas Heritage and Historical Archives

People would immediately recognise the collection men because of their uniforms inspired by those worn by Banque de France employees – a small bag for the bills, a cocked hat, and a black morning coat with small buttons on which the bank’s badge shined.

This job performed by trusted, resistant individuals lasted until the 1960s when the conditions of short-term credit and discount changed radically.