ATM Stories – Always Telling More by BNP Paribas, the podcast that goes behind the scenes to bring you some little-known stories about the bank.
Those moments that have shaped the character and culture of a 200-year-old group, to be enjoyed anywhere and at any time!
BNP and its ancestor banks: acculturating women in the banking world to support them in their independence
In this episode, we will delve back into the 20th century to discuss a major advance in the progress of women’s rights in France. In 1965, on 13 July – the day before Bastille Day – another fortress was brought down.
It was on that date that the law finally allowed married women to open a bank account without their husband’s consent.
Let’s take a closer look at these years of French women’s struggle for financial independence and how the ancestor banks of BNP Paribas supported this new group of customers.
At the very start of the 20th century, working married women were finally free to keep their wages. It was not until 1938, however, that the law recognised their civil rights. They were only granted the right to vote in 1944, particularly due to the massive influx of women into the labour market during the two world wars.
Did you know that that the debate on the emancipation of women didn’t resume until the presidential election year of 1965?
That renewed momentum followed the increase in the employment rate of women and the arrival of younger generations on the labour market.
At that time, only 40% of women were in work and those who were married had to obtain their husband’s permission to open a bank account in their name.
When you think about it, that means it is less than 60 years since a wife has been able to manage her income independently.
Banks, considered at the time as austere and closed, played a very special role in supporting women towards this independence.
As early as 1957, the Banque Nationale pour le Commerce et l’Industrie, the forerunner of BNP Paribas, launched a communication campaign aimed at female customers with a brochure entitled “The modern woman and questions of money”. Designed as an information booklet, it explains to female customers how to open an account, write a cheque and manage deposits and payments!
A few years later, in the wake of the May 68 movement and the societal changes taking place, women were becoming more active in demanding their rights.
Media and communication services to help women achieve financial independence
This therefore made them customers in their own right and led to banks offering them personalised services and advice.
Between 1968 and 1978, BNP launched advertising campaigns across a range of media, including television, radio and particularly the press and magazines aimed at women.
As so often in its communication, it displayed exceptional creativity in demystifying banking services and introducing women to the world of banking. It should be noted, however, that these campaigns adopted a stereotypical tone and aesthetic choices that have evolved a great deal since.
A key example from the period was the magazine La BNP et les Femmes (or “BNP and Women”), which was widely distributed to all the bank’s branches in 1968.
Featuring abundant illustrations, it adopted the conventions of women’s publications, with 20 colour pages providing advice and explanations on financial products and banking practices. As an example, let’s look at these few iconic pages of the magazine, presenting six profiles of women encountered in BNP branches – an opportunity to combine fashion tips with an introduction to the banking services they use. And that’s not all! To make the whole thing even more attractive, it also featured properties, how to purchase them and interior design ideas. As you can imagine, this was totally unprecedented at that time.
Suffice to say that BNP was the first French bank to carry out a campaign on this scale. Its success can be measured by the fact that letters were received from England asking for copies of the brochure to be sent!
In addition to communication campaigns, the bank sought to better understand women’s specific needs. It therefore organised round tables and meetings between women readers, in partnership with publications aimed at women.
In 1972, a debate was organised within the editorial staff of Mademoiselle magazine, in partnership with BNP, to survey young women under 25. Many responded, like Catherine:
“For me, the bank is the counter. I always talk to the same girl, she is nice and now that I know her, I prefer it to be her that looks after me. I have the impression that the others would laugh at me if I asked for their advice. I once wrote a cheque that bounced and I was very upset. I went to see her and she explained what I had to do.”
This quote reflects a fear among women of making mistakes when carrying out banking transactions and proves that having female counter staff in branches was reassuring for them.
In the same spirit, let’s look at an educational initiative launched by BNP.
The year was 1973. ELLE magazine and BNP were organising a round table with five young women without bank accounts, all aged between 19 and 25. They were invited to come into branches as spokespersons and reporters! They then passed on women’s questions about banking to the branch manager and his team. All responses were then shared with the magazine’s readers in the following issue.
BNP Paribas is strongly committed to gender equality
Interestingly, the bank even considered opening branches dedicated exclusively to female customers. Although this initiative ultimately didn’t come to pass, it showed BNP to be a bank where women count.
That was also the slogan used in 1978 for the new advertising campaign, “It’s me who counts”, which featured in TV ads, posters and press articles.
You may be wondering how these campaigns were received by women? To find out, let’s look at a few figures.
In 1982, BNP noted that 77% of women had bank accounts, up from just 27% 10 years previously. Women then represented half of the bank’s customers.
At BNP Paribas, women always count. The various brochures mentioned are all from collections in our archives, allowing us to trace the role they have played in the bank up until today.
In this same spirit, BNP Paribas has partnered with other French banks to highlight documents illustrating the progress in women’s rights, as employees and customers, through the “I am the one Who count” project.
Several years ago now, the Group also adopted an ambitious gender equality policy. Did you know that in 2021, women represent more than 52% of the company’s total workforce? The bank even aims to make 1000 more IT positions available to women by 2024.
As part of this movement, BNP Paribas and its Chief Executive Officer, Jean-Laurent Bonnafé, have been involved in the UN Women HeForShe programme since 2015. This initiative aims to promote gender equality across all Group entities worldwide!
How far we have come on the long road to financial independence for women. This first step is only the beginning, however, as many equality challenges still remain to be overcome!
Another fascinating story from ATM Stories – Always Telling More.
We will be back again very soon with more interesting stories from the history of BNP Paribas.