The Banque de Paris et des Pays-Bas (Paribas) – 1872-2000

Erection of the archives building of rue Laugier, Feb.1929-August 1930 – BNP Paribas Historical Archives


  • Date range: 1865-2002
  • Physical description: Paper, posters, photos, plans, prints, videos
  • Volume: 14,677 in UA
  • Physical location: mainly Dinan. A tiny portion is located at the BNP Paribas History Association.


In 1929, the bank decided to build an archives centre in rue Laugier, in the heart of Paris. But the site quickly proved to be too small and other buildings were put into operation, in Rueil in 1951, then Lognes in 1988. The Lognes site was closed in 2006 and the archives were outsourced to Iron Mountain.

At around the year 2000, all the historical archives, including those of Paribas, were brought together on the Combs-la-Ville site, created in 1982 by Compagnie Bancaire on the site of a former Lalique factory.

Conditions for access and use

  • Access condition: communicable with authorisation
  • Material characteristics and technical constraints:

In addition to the paper archives, we keep: posters, which make up the AF series, divided into four sub-series according to the poster size; a collection of photos, from several collections that have been reorganised. The photographs are marked “Fi” and reorganised in several sub-series within the Fi series; maps and plans that make up the PL series. The series are created according to format; a library, made up of monographs and serial   publications; a collection of periodicals; audiovisual documents subdivided into two sub-series depending on whether the original medium is digital or analogue; prints that make up the IMP series; oral archives, kept by the BNP Paribas History Association; objects, classified under the OB series.


Banque de Paris et des Pays-Bas, which became Paribas in 1982, is the second French branch of the ancestral banks of the BNP Paribas Group.

The creation of Banque de Paris et des Pays-Bas was the result of a succession of alliances between “European high banking” groups and a group of 19th century French banks and capitalists. The bank primarily operated as an investment bank. Its foundation was part of the banking concentration process launched in the middle of the 19th century[1]. It was the result of the merger between Banque de Crédit et de Dépôt des Pays-Bas and Banque de Paris.

  • Banque de Crédit et de Dépôt des Pays-Bas:

In the early 1820s, Louis-Raphaël Bischoffsheim founded a bank in Amsterdam bearing his name, while his brother Jonathan Raphaël created an agency in Antwerp in 1827, then moved to Brussels in 1836. Having married the daughter of Frankfurt banker Hayum-Salomon Goldschmidt, Louis-Raphaël Bischoffsheim founded Bischoffsheim-Goldschmidt in Paris in 1846, then in London in 1860, before merging it in 1863 into Banque de Crédit et de Dépôt des Pays- Bas, which he also created in Amsterdam with other European financiers[2]. These included Édouard Hentsch, future chairman of Comptoir d’Escompte de Paris (CEP), and Alphonse Pinard, director of the Comptoir d’Escompte de Paris (CEP). These two men also helped found Société Générale in 1864.

  • Banque de Paris:

Banque de Paris was created in Paris in 1869. It brought together a group of private bankers including Eugène Goüin (Tours), Édouard Fould, E. and A. Schnapper Stern (Paris), Brugmann (Brussels), Tietgen (Copenhagen), and capitalists such as Adrien Delahante, Edmond Joubert and Henri Cernuschi.

Founded in Paris on 27 January 1872, the company’s capital was set at 125 million francs (vs. 25 for Crédit Lyonnais). This new player in finance became the prototype of French-style investment banking.  The bank operated under the authority of seven managers (Henri Bamberger, Édouard Fould, Eugène Goüin, Édouard Hentsch, Edmond Joubert, Antoine Schnapper and Jacques Stern) and a director, Charles Sautter[3].

Both in its practices and in its spirit, the new institution, located in the Banque de Paris building at 3 rue d’Antin, was part of the European high bank tradition from which it came. Banque de Paris et des Pays-Bas (BPPB) relied not on a network of agencies, but rather on alliances between banks, and unlike deposit banks, its business consisted of planning and running the operations of borrowing and issuing international securities (governments, communities, public utilities, businesses), taking equity positions and helping to establish or restructure businesses[4]. It was also created in order to combat the domination of the Rothschilds in government bond issues, and with a view to the issuing of the second French bond intended to cover the payment of the war indemnity owed by France to the German Empire following the war of 1870[5]. To do this, in addition to its Parisian location, the banking institution benefits from the support of its branches in Geneva, Brussels and Amsterdam.

Between 1872 and 1914, the BPPB experienced a relative period of prosperity, notably under the chairmanship of Eugène Goüin (1895-1909). Its history is dominated by participation in international financial operations: in Asia, in Europe, around the Mediterranean, as well as in the Americas. It increased its commercial surface through partnerships with large institutions such as Barings or Deutsche Bank, and also through the creation or acquisition of a stake in local establishments such as Banque Franco-Japonaise, Banca Commerciale Italiana and Banco Nacional de México. It invested in the private industrial sector (Norsk Hydro) and in public infrastructure. A major player in many countries in the placement of government bonds, BPPB contributed to the French war effort through its bond issuance in 1914-1918, but also by investing in the development of the armaments industry.[6]

But the bank was considerably weakened by the First World War, and in a Europe destabilised by war and plagued by inflation, it reoriented its activities: on the one hand, towards the financing of initiatives in central Europe which were to give France key positions in the region, and on the other hand, it defined and implemented an ambitious industrial policy in France and abroad.  This period was largely dominated by the figure of Horace Finaly (1871-1945), managing director of the banking institution between 1919 and 1937.

In the 1920s, it acquired positions in various European industrial groups, carefully orienting its policy on of industrial equity investments, as an extension of issuance operations, mainly in three areas considered strategic, namely chemicals, electrical engineering and steel:

  • in the chemicals field, with Norvégienne de l’Azote, it helped create the Compagnie nationale des Matières Colorantes et des Produits Chimiques, with a capital of 40 million francs[7];
  • in the electrical engineering sector, it is part of the grouping organised around France, the UK and Belgium, based on the joint exploitation of patents and the distribution of orders;
  • with regard to the steel industry, with the support of the bank, Forges et Aciéries du Nord embarked on an external growth policy with the takeover of several companies in north France[8]

Central Europe and the Balkans was a prime area for French investment abroad during the interwar period. Paribas played a leading role there, motivated by both political (at the request of the French State) and economic reasons. The aim was to prevent the break-up of Austria-Hungary from leading to a major economic crisis in the region. It was also about taking advantage of the defeat of the Reich to replace it with the economic interests and political influence of France.[9]

The return to international financial operations began in 1928, but because of the economic crisis of the 1930s and the Second World War, the bank’s positions were ruined in central Europe and were shaky in the rest of the world.[10]

World War II was a period of low activity, with the bank cut off from its affiliations and correspondents in allied countries. It also lost part of its foreign assets, particularly in Central Europe and Norway (Norsk Hydro), but remained active in overseas territories (Morocco). At the same time, it took an interest in the development of industrial patents, particularly in the energy sector, with a view to resuming economic activities once the war was over.

By opting for investment bank status, BPPB escaped the nationalisation established under the law of 2 December 1945. It directed its activities towards the restructuring of French industry, which had to deal with international competition in the very new fields of IT, with Bull, and electronics, with the Thomson, Brandt, CSF integration[11].

Under the leadership of Jean Reyre, managing director and then chairman from 1948 to 1969, the bank developed internationally, and grew in particular in the financing of goods exports, especially to developing countries, thanks to new medium-term export credit formulas: in the steel industry in Latin America (e.g. Paz del Rio in Colombia, Cosipa in Brazil), in electricity with the Cabora Bassa project in Mozambique, as well as in petrochemicals in Scandinavia. Continued until the 1970s and 1980s, this strategy enabled the development of large-scale projects such as the Caracas metro in Venezuela and in European aeronautics with Airbus[12]. It had a small presence all over the world: BPPB strengthened its presence in the Far East, Central Europe, the USSR and the Middle East, particularly in Iran where it became a shareholder of the Bank of Tehran in 1958, and in the early 1960s opened an investment bank in New York (1960), then subsidiaries in London and Luxembourg (1964), anticipating the reopening of the international capital market (1965)[13].

At the end of the 1960s, it took control of Crédit du Nord and Banque de Union Parisienne, institutions which were then merged before their common capital was opened to the National Westminster Bank and Bayerische Vereinsbank.[14]

Following the Debré laws of 1966, which allowed investment banks and deposit banks to merge, in 1968, Jean Reyre undertook a major structural and legal reorganisation of the institution: the group was then headed by a holding company, Compagnie Financière de Paris et des Pays-Bas, whose holdings were divided into four large specialised subsidiaries:

  • BPPB took over the old bank’s banking and financial activities,
  • OFPI, Omnium de Participations Financières et Industrielles, grouped all the group’s industrial holdings in France,
  • OPB, Omnium de Participations Bancaires, constituted the hub for French banking and financial shareholdings,
  • Paribas International took control of banking entities abroad and, more generally, of investments outside France[15].

In addition, Jean Reyre tried to take control of Crédit Industriel et Commercial (CIC) to give Paribas a hub in retail banking with a branch network. He made no secret of his ambition to transform the institution into a German-style universal bank[16]. In June 1966, the operation was limited to a change of directors and a symbolic shareholding of 3% in the partner’s capital by reciprocal contribution of securities[17]. But in 1968, supported by the bank’s senior executives, he had to deal with a rebellion on his board of directors, in particular Jacques de Fouchier, who threatened to resign to protest against purchasing methods described as “savage”.[18]: Compagnie Bancaire, which he headed, traditionally maintained very good relations with CIC. The method used by Jean Reyre shocked Paribas managers, who forced his resignation at the end of 1969, when he handed over to Jacques de Fouchier[19]. Paribas abandoned CIC in 1971 and took over the smaller Banque de l’Union Parisienne, which it then merged with Crédit du Nord.        

From 1969, the bank developed, under the leadership of Jacques de Fouchier and then Pierre Moussa, a network of subsidiaries and branches worldwide, in the Middle and Near East, in the Far East and in North America, while continuing to expand in Europe; the bank was interested in mining investments, particularly in Africa through its subsidiary COFIMER. On the capital markets, it became one of the main players in the euro bond and swap sectors.

At the same time, from 1967, with a presence in Paris and Marseille, the bank developed a network of retail branches located in the Paris region and the main French cities. Thanks to Jacques de Fouchier, the bank forged ever closer ties with the Compagnie Bancaire group, which he founded.

During the years 1970-1980, Paribas also developed of its management activities on behalf of third parties, individuals and institutions, traditionally centred in Geneva since the 19th century, then expanded to Paris, Luxembourg, London, New York and Tokyo, with the creation of Paribas Asset Management. In 1973, the bank chose to join forces with similar institutions such as British merchant bank SG Warburg and the American AG Becker, to establish in the US investment bank Warburg Paribas Becker, which would be taken over by Merrill Lynch in 1984. Finally, from the end of the 1970s, Paribas took an interest in the financing of oil trading, a sector in which, operating from Geneva, New York, London and Paris in particular, it has established itself on a lasting basis as world leader[20]. This certainly explains the bank’s choice in financing the “Oil for food” programme to alleviate the Iraqi embargo decided by the UN in 1996, which actually took effect in October 1997.

The law of 13 February 1982, initiated by the Pierre Mauroy government under François Mitterrand, ruled on the nationalisation of five large industrial groups, 39 registered banks and two financial companies, Suez and Paribas. Pierre Moussa, then CEO, after having unsuccessfully tried to convince the government not to nationalise Paribas, decided to reduce the institution’s shareholding in two subsidiaries abroad (Compagnie belge de participations, Cobepa and Paribas Genève SA, Pargesa) by selling part of their capital to a new holding company. This subterfuge was exposed and traced back to the government, forcing Moussa to resign[21]. The bank was nationalised a few months later.

With this nationalisation, the name of Paribas (the bank’s cable address since the beginning of the century) became official: Compagnie financière de Paribas, Banque Paribas. For four years, however, Paribas continued to progress under the chairmanship of Jean-Yves Haberer, who also preserved the activity of Compagnie Bancaire.

In 1987, Michel François-Poncet, appointed CEO in July 1986, successfully carried out the privatisation established under the law of 2 July 1986. Paribas then had 3.8 million individual shareholders. With the arrival of André Lévy-Lang in 1990, a new structural organisation into global business lines was put in place: commercial banking, market activities, institutional and private management, consulting, while Paribas Affaires Industrielles managed industrial and commercial investments. At the same time, a new legal structure was set up in 1991 with a Supervisory Board and a Management Board, chaired respectively by Michel François-Poncet and André Lévy-Lang.

From 1996, Banque Paribas restructured: after selling the Ottoman Bank to the Turkish group Dogus, in 1997, it launched exchange offers on Cetelem and Compagnie Bancaire, of which it had been the main shareholder since 1969. At the same time, it sold off its retail banking activities, unloading Crédit du Nord in favour of Société Générale in 1997, and selling its branch network in Belgium and the Netherlands to Belgian group Bacob-Arco. A new group was created on 12 May 1998 under the sole name of Paribas: the General Shareholders’ Meeting ratified the merger of Compagnie Financière de Paribas, Banque Paribas and Compagnie Bancaire, as well as Compagnie de Navigation Mixte. This operation resulted in a new organisation into three business sectors: investment banking, asset management, savings and specialised financial services.[22]

At the end of 1998, the proposed merger with Société Générale did not come to fruition following the takeover bid launched by BNP at the beginning of 1999 on Paribas, leading to the merger of the two institutions on 23 May 2000, and the formation of the BNP Paribas group.

[1] A. PLESSIS, “Histoire des banques en France” [History of Banks in France], Handbook on the History of European Banks, European Association for Banking History E. V., Edward Elgar Publishing Limited, 1994.

[2] B. van MARKEN et P. A. GELJON, “La banque de crédit et de dépôt des Pays-Bas (Nederlandsche Credit en Deposito Bank): aux origines de la Banque de Paris et des Pays-Bas, 1863-1872”, Histoire, Economie et Société, [“Banque de Crédit et de Dépôt des Pays-Bas (Nederlandsche Credit en Deposito Bank): the origins of Banque de Paris et des Pays-Bas, 1863-1872,  History, Economy and Society], 2013/1, pp. 19-43

[3] E. BUSSIERE, Paribas, l’Europe et le monde (1872-1992), Mercator, Anvers, 1992.

[4] H. CLAUDE, Histoire, réalité et destin d’un monopole. La BPPB et son groupe 1872-1968 [History, reality and destiny of a monopoly. BPPB and its group, 1872-1968], 1968

[5] Ibidem; E. BUSSIERE, op. cit.

[6] E. BUSSIERE, “Paribas ou l’impact de la guerre sur la stratégie d’une banque d’affaires”, Les banques françaises et la Grande Guerre [“Paribas or the impact of the war on the strategy of an investment”, French banks and the Great War], Committee for the Economic and Financial History of France, pp. 91-104

[7] Idem, p. 102-103; E. BUSSIERE, Horace Finaly, banquier 1871-1945, Fayard, p. 302-306

[8] E. BUSSIERE, op. cit., p. 103-104.

[9] P. MARGUERAT, Banques et grande industrie, France, Grande-Bretagne, Allemagne, 1880-1930 [Banks and large-scale industry, France, Great Britain, Germany, 1880-1930]. SciencesPo Les Presses, 2009; A. JEAN, La Banque de Paris et des Pays-Bas et la crise mondiale 1929-1934 [Banque de Paris et des Pays-Bas and the world crisis 1929-1934], 1997

[10] E. BUSSIERE, Idem, p. 105, 134-138.

[11] R. ARON, Banque de Paris et des Pays-Bas. 20 ans d’activité 1948-1968 [Banque de Paris et des Pays-Bas. 20 years of activity 1948-1968]

[12] Ibidem

[13] J. BAUMIER, La Galaxie Paribas [The Paribas Galaxy], 1988

[14] P. MOUSSA, La Roue de la fortune. Souvenirs d’un financier [The Wheel of fortune. Memories of a financier], 1989

[15] E. BUSSIERE, op. cit.

[16] P. MOUSSA, La Roue de la Fortune, Souvenirs d’un financier [The Wheel of Fortune, Memories of a financier], Paris, Fayard, 1989, p. 138.

[17] N. STOTSKOPF, Histoire du Crédit industriel et commercial (1859-2009) [History of industrial and commercial credit (1859-2009)], Editions La Branche, 2009, pp. 112-116.

[18] J. de FOUCHIER,  La Banque et la vie [The Bank and Life], Paris, Odile Jacob, 1989, p. 170

[19] J. de FOUCHIER, op. cit.; P. MOUSSA, op. cit.

[20] E. BUSSIERE, Op. Cit.

[21] J. de FOUCHIER, op. cit, p.

[22] J. de FOUCHIER, La Banque et la vie [The Bank and Life], 1989

Additional sources

Association pour l’histoire de BNP Paribas

E. BUSSIERE, Paribas, l’Europe et le monde, 1872-1992, Fonds Mercator, 1992.

E. BUSSIERE, « Paribas ou l’impact de la guerre sur la stratégie d’une banque d’affaires », Les banques françaises et la Grande Guerre, Comité pour l’histoire économique et financière de la France, pp. 91-104

B. van MARKEN et P. A. GELJON, « La banque de crédit et de dépôt des Pays-Bas (Nederlandsche Credit en Deposito Bank) : aux origines de la Banque de Paris et des Pays-Bas, 1863-1872 », Histoire, Economie et Société, 2013/1, pp. 19-43