A MODERN BANK – 1966-1999

The birth of BNP marked a change of scale in the history of BNP Paribas and the French economy. It also paved the way for introduction of French society to banking products and services.

BNP: France’s number one bank

As part of a vast plan to revive the French economy, the Minister of the Economy and Finance, Michel Debré, wanted to stimulate competition between banks and thus create a “financial strike force”. He relaxed the distinction between merchant banks and deposit banks as well as the restrictions on opening new branches.

In 1966, he merged BNCI with CNEP to form Banque Nationale de Paris (BNP), which became the leading bank in France. The strong relationship between Henry Bizot, Chairman of CNEP, and Pierre Ledoux, Chief Executive Officer of BNCI, contributed to the successful merger of the two banks which, though highly complementary, had developed very different corporate cultures.

BNP was now operational and well-positioned to meet the financing needs of corporate and individual customers alike. The bank was helping introduce the general public to banking products and services by opening hundreds of local branches, was one of multiple banks to offer the “Carte Bleue” bank card, and was developing its international network. Its advertising campaign “Votre argent m’intéresse” (We want your money), launched in 1973 in keeping with the bold spirit of BNCI, broke the French taboo of talking about money and is still the most memorable slogan of all bank ads in France.

This was also the year in which the Group launched its sponsorship of the Roland Garros tennis tournament. This relationship has a bright future and over the years has expanded well beyond the Roland Garros stadium to become a partnership with all forms of tennis around the world.

Couverture d'une présentation de la BNP en 1966 - Archives historiques BNP Paribas
Cover of a BNP presentation in 1966 – BNP Paribas historical archives

Paribas and Compagnie Bancaire join forces

1966 was also the year Paribas and Compagnie Bancaire strengthened their ties. Created in 1959, Compagnie Bancaire brought together several specialised financial companies set up in 1946 by visionary and charismatic entrepreneur Jacques de Fouchier. These included Cetelem, a consumer credit company founded in 1953, UCB, specialising in property financing, and later, in 1973, Cardif, an insurance company that developed new types of products and distribution channels. Jacques de Fouchier would later become Chairman of Paribas, taking the bank even further in terms of innovation and enterprise. In 1968, Paribas took advantage of the new rules allowing mergers between investment banks and deposit banks to take over Crédit du Nord, after making an unsuccessful bid on Groupe Crédit Industriel et Commercial.

Entre nationalisations et privatisations

In 1982, the new socialist government completely nationalised BNP, whose staff had been able to purchase shares in the bank since 1973. Nevertheless, the 1980s proved to be a period of deregulation and financial innovation. Information technology began to play a major role in customer service, with the first remote consultation of account statements via the Minitel (the first Internet-type network invented in France), and BNP made considerable efforts to stay ahead of the competition in the field of technology.

BNP poster promoting its online account management services, 1994 – BNP Paribas Historical Archives

In 1989, BNP entered into a strategic alliance in insurance with UAP, which later became part of AXA Group. In the run-up to the European single market, BNP strengthened its ties with Dresdner Bank in the 1990s, acquiring stakes in each company and opening joint ventures, particularly in the former countries of Eastern Europe such as Poland. However, the bank became known mainly for its corporate and project finance activities. It made a name for itself in the aviation industry and helped finance two iconic European projects: Eurotunnel in 1986 and Euro Disney (now Disneyland Paris) in 1992. The bank was managed conservatively and was thus able to steer clear of the 1990s property market crash.

At the same time, Paribas opened a major trading floor in London in 1986, while Compagnie Bancaire continued to innovate. In 1984, it created Cortal, the first 100% branchless bank. In 1985, Cortal began offering interest-bearing accounts, and in 1994 it created a SICAV boutique. When government policy changed again, Paribas was re-privatised in 1987, attracting a record number of individual shareholders to its public offering. The bank adopted a business model based on international investment banking and specialised financing, spinning off its retail branch, Crédit du Nord, in 1997 as a result.

Campagne de communication de la Compagnie bancaire sur ses activités, vers 1990 - Archives historiques BNP Paribas
Communication campaign by the Compagnie Bancaire on its activities, around 1990 – BNP Paribas Historical Archives

In 1993, Michel Pébereau was appointed to the helm of BNP and tasked with privatising the bank. His efforts proved a great success. BNP was the first bank to serve as its own advisor for the public share offering. Michel Pébereau then embarked on a large-scale business plan. In 1992, the single European market was established. Pébereau set about creating a financial institution capable of facing up to this new competition. The branch network was modernised and the product range updated. From 1997, customers could access the bank’s products and services online. At the time, it also introduced a sophisticated risk control process.

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