The turn of the century also witnessed the entry into effect of the euro on 4 January 1999. On 1 January 2002, the euro replaced the national currencies of countries in the euro area. BNP and Paribas fielded extensive means over several years to prepare for the economic, electronic and commercial change.
Preparing people and systems for the advent of the euro
The euro became the official currency of the Eurozone’s member countries on 4 January 1999. The new currency could be used as “book money” i.e., for banking entries, although coins and notes would enter circulation only three years later on 1 January 2002. The change was a major step for all French and European banks that had to be addressed effectively.
At BNP, mobilisation began in 1996 with a budget of FRF 1.7 billion. By the end of 1997, nine hundred bank employees were working on the question of making the euro accessible to all customers in 1999. Managers, IT engineers, marketers and HR officers were all committed to the project. The challenge was above all an IT one, as 60,000 programs had to be updated to ensure that accounts were converted to euros. Five hundred specialists worked full-time to achieve this.
Assisting bank clients
Trans European Banking Services (TES) was established in 1997. The partnership between BNP and ten other European banking institutions was intended to facilitate trans-frontier transactions by centralising payments in and out from a single account. The purpose was to reassure both corporate and individual clients. A communication campaign therefore highlighted the BNP “Operation Euro”. From 25 November 1997 until 2002, the bank fielded a euro awareness area – the Eurokiosk – for clients in its 2000 branches. The kiosk, which was as broad as a “Morris” advertising column, featured instructional posters and brochures.
In 2001, the bank made use of students named “Euro angels” to help make clients’ day-to-day experience in the branch easier. The “Euro angels” helped permanent staff in answering clients’ questions and assisting them in this important change.
Paribas celebrated the birth of the euro on 4 January 1999 with an advert published in the Financial Times, The Economist, Forbes and The Wall Street Journal that stated “Get the Euro working for you with Paribas”.
The bank had to implement two simultaneous and major programs while preparing for the euro: the Y2K or “millennium bug” and merge the information systems of BNP and Paribas following the merger.
The bank’s IT experts began working on the millennium bug in 1996, a glitch that threatened networked computers and thousands of ATMs. This basically concerned every appliance equipped with a processor and an electronic clock. In the second half of 1999, emergency intervention systems were implemented and Y2K compatibility verifications were conducted with BNP clients and suppliers.
On 31 December 1999, the eve of the leap into the 21st century, banks closed and undertook massive data backups. IT engineers celebrated the New Year in front of their screens. In the end, the euro entered French life without the slightest glitch or bug.
2000 would be another challenge for the bank: the merger of BNP and Paribas IT data after the two groups merged. That operation was successfully completed in the dynamic of change.