The Compagnie bancaire (1959-1997)

Archives in Combs-la-Ville, June1983 – BNP Paribas Historical Archives


  • Date range: 1946-2004
  • Physical description: Paper, posters, photos, videos
  • Volume: 1,829 in UA
  • Physical location: Dinan


Compagnie Bancaire, a financial holding company grouping credit and specialised financing institutions, was founded in 1959, but it was not until 1982 that it created its own archives centre in Combs-la-Ville, on the site of a former Lalique factory. On a concrete structure and a storage capacity of 105 kml, the building houses the archives of all Compagnie Bancaire subsidiaries (such as Cetelem, UCB, Arval, etc.). Between 2009 and 2014, this collection was gradually outsourced, before being reinstated. The Combs-la-Ville centre closed in 2020 and the collection was moved to the Taden site in Dinan in Côtes d’Armor. 

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; 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; oral archives, kept by the BNP Paribas History Association; objects, classified under the OB series.


In the aftermath of World War II in September 1946, Jacques de Fouchier, a former Inspector of Finances, founded Union Financière d’Entreprises Françaises et Étrangères (UFEFE), a financial institution that provided companies with short-term credit to finance the importing of raw materials into France for the benefit of exporting industries. Loans were repaid from the proceeds of subsequent exports.

In 1949, with the launch of the Marshall Plan, the UFEFE merged with the Banque française d’acceptation, and in 1950, Union française de banques (UFB) was formed. The initial shareholders were joined by Worms, Crédit du Nord and Union des Mines, Crédit Lyonnais, Société Générale, Banque de Paris et des Pays-Bas and Banque de l’Indochine, among others. From the following year, UFB specialised in equipment financing operations, then gradually provided finance for tools, then public works, agricultural and medical equipment.

UFB thus presided over the creation of new companies:

  • Union de crédit pour le bâtiment (UCB) in 1951, created from the shared will of building professionals and several banks, including Crédit Foncier de France, to develop housing finance and introduce new financing techniques.
  • Crédit à l’équipement des ménages (CETELEM) in 1953, on the back of a recognised need in the consumer credit market and contacts with household appliance professionals[1].
  • Compagnie française d’épargne et de crédit (CFEC) in 1954, formed with the Building and Insurance Company Federation to provide long-term mortgages.
  • Société d’études et de gestion des centres d’équipement (SEGECE), in 1956, created with the Paris Building Federation and banks, aims to carry out research into the changing world of commercial investment and distribution within the framework of town planning.

Four years after the merger with UFEFE and the creation of UFB, the companies formed an original and decentralised group with a capital of 2 billion francs.

To integrate their financing needs, in July 1959, these four companies created a holding company, Compagnie Bancaire, with a capital of 24 million francs. The new company, chaired by Jacques de Fouchier, was floated on the stock exchange in 1961[2].

Following the changes in banking regulations from 1965 to 1967, and in order for Compagnie Bancaire to gain greater autonomy, it was decided in 1966 to set up a group of shareholders, with Banque de Paris et des Pays-Bas (Paribas) becoming their leader, of which Crédit Lyonnais, Société Générale and Worms were asked to be part. Paribas increased its stake in Compagnie Bancaire, which itself became a shareholder of Paribas.

In 1970, Compagnie Bancaire took over COFICA (Compagnie pour le financement de l’industrie du commerce et de l’agriculture), which provided loans to individuals and small businesses, specialising in loans for cars, trucks and tractors.

In July 1973, the project to set up a capitalisation life insurance company led to the creation of Cardif, which offered new products such as capitalisation bonds. This represented a real revolution, and which was to prove very successful, culminating in its introduction to the Paris Stock Exchange secondary market in 1990. This “atypical insurer” is marked by two original features: a range of products that distinguishes between savings and pension policies, and distribution through Cetelem’s counters. Cardif then developed borrower insurance by multiplying distribution channels[3].

Then in 1984, on the initiative of André Lévy-Lang, Cortal was formed, a financial company aimed at helping the public to build up and manage their savings. The company based its development on innovation: like the American cash management accounts, it launched the first interest-bearing checking account, made up of money-market funds. In 1994, it set up the first SICAV supermarket in continental Europe: this “central SICAV” enabled its customers to buy all SICAVs and mutual funds governed by French law, regardless of the managing institution.[4].

With a socialist government coming to power in 1981, Paribas was nationalized by decision of 12 February 1982, while Compagnie Bancaire, whose deposits did not reach the threshold of one billion francs, escaped nationalisation. During the period 1982-1990, it expanded in Europe under the chairmanship of André Lévy-Lang.  In 1985, Cetelem took over Findomestic in Italy, forming the basis of the first European consumer credit group, and continued its development in Europe (Portugal, UK, Germany, Italy). 

Cortal, which had become a bank, made the concept of branchless bank a reality, remaining close to its customers through the media. In 1989, Arval Service Lease developed the concept of long-term rental and fleet management with companies.

Thus, having become a large group specialising in financial services, Compagnie Bancaire operated in seven major markets: equipment financing companies, the financing of consumer credit purchases, real estate financing, property development, life insurance and savings, IT and telematic services. Over the years, it has become Paribas’s leading profit-generating subsidiary, accounting for nearly 20% of its total profits.

Shortly after the death of its founder Jacques de Fouchier in December 1997, Banque Paribas launched a takeover bid for Compagnie Bancaire. The general meeting of 12 May 1998 ratified the merger of Compagnie Financière de Paribas, Banque Paribas and Compagnie Bancaire, to form the group called Paribas.

[1] S. EFFOSSE, “The creation of Cetelem and the development of consumer credit in France (1953-1966)”, in F. DESCAMPS, R. NOUGARET and L. QUENNOUELLE-CORRE, Banque et société XIX-XXe siècles. Identités croisées. Hommage à Pierre de Longuemar [Homage to Pierre de Longuemar], Brussels, Peter Lang, 2016, p. 117-145.

[2] J. de FOUCHIER, op. cit., Odile Jacob, 1989, Paris.

[3] Idem

[4] Idem

Additional sources


A. HIRSCH-LABOUESSE, P. de CHARNACE, Compagnie bancaire, 1946-1997, 2002

Chroniques et mémoires de nos maisons. 1946‐1996 [Chronicles and memories of our banks. 1946-1996], Paris, Amicale des Anciens de la Compagnie bancaire, 1996 

J. de FOUCHIER, La banque et la vie [Bank and Life], Paris, Odile Jacob, 1989

F. TORRES, Banquiers d’avenir. Des comptoirs d’escompte à la naissance de BNP Paribas [Bankers of the future. From comptoirs d’escompte to the birth of BNP Paribas], Paris, Albin Michel, 2000.