CEM, a bank with its roots in the textile and engineering industries

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Archives historiques BNP Paribas

Archives historiques BNP Paribas

Deeply rooted in the economy of north-eastern France, the Comptoir National d’Escompte de Mulhouse played a key role in the region’s industrial development.

At a time of economic and financial crisis aggravated by the political events surrounding the Revolution of 1848, the provisional government of the French Second Republic was looking for ways to re-launch the national economy. It hit upon the idea of setting up local credit institutions throughout France’s main industrial and commercial cities. This is how the Comptoir National d’Escompte de Mulhouse came to be established, on the initiative of a group of manufacturers in Alsace, mainly from the textile and engineering sectors. In 1854 the Comptoir, freed from State control, dropped the word ‘national’ from its name and became the Comptoir d’Escompte de Mulhouse (CEM).

Comptoir National d'Escompte de Mulhouse share certificate, 1848 - BNP Paribas Historical Archives
Comptoir National d’Escompte de Mulhouse share certificate, 1848 – BNP Paribas Historical Archives

From national bank…

The CEM directors were extremely energetic and, buoyed by the flourishing business activity in the Alsace region, pursued a policy of geographical expansion. They did this by taking over several finance houses not only in the north-east of France but also in Lyon, Marseilles, Le Havre and Paris. Under this growth policy, CEM extended its reach into a number of sectors including flour-milling, spinning, hosiery and raw materials trading.

…to regional division

In 1870, following France’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian war, the Alsace-Moselle region was ceded to Germany and CEM found itself in a rather peculiar situation. While its headquarters were in German Alsace, it was run by French capital. Faced with mounting political tensions, the Comptoir directors decided to split the bank into two in 1913, grouping the French branches into an independent subsidiary called the Banque Nationale de Crédit (BNC). Later on a business partnership was forged between the parent CEM and the subsidiary BNC.

After the First World War, CEM once again became a French bank, but the two financial institutions very soon became competitors. Having reached the limits of regional development, at a time when the banking sector was undergoing consolidation, there was no longer any point in CEM and BNC remaining separate. In May 1930 BNC, whose operations extended across the whole of France, quite logically absorbed its original parent bank and turned it into a division responsible for business in the eastern part of France. 

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