Once upon a time… BNP Paribas in the American West

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Present in the United States since the end of the 19th century, BNP Paribas has continued to increase its presence. Established on the East Coast in 1919 with the French American Banking Corporation (FABC), the Group set out to conquer the western United States from the 1960s onwards. Back on a Californian adventure, from the Bank of California’s takeover to the acquisition of Bank of the West and its expansion.

BNP returns to the West

Comptoir National d’Escompte de Paris (CNEP) – the Group’s forerunner bank – had made a first attempt to set up in 1877, opening an office in San Francisco. But the permanent installation of the Group dates from 1919, with the creation of the FABC in New York. Starting in 1966, BNP decided to explore other avenues for setting up locations on American soil.

Telegram from the CNEP giving agreement for the constitution of the FABC, 1919 - BNP Paribas Historical Archives– Archives historiques BNP Paribas
Telegram from the CNEP giving agreement for the constitution of the FABC, 1919 – BNP Paribas Historical Archives

In the 1960s, California was the region of the United States experiencing the strongest economic development. San Francisco, the anchor of this dynamic, became the major financial centre of the west coast of the country. The bank’s goal was to become integrated in the economy of the western United States by fostering exchange between France and California as well as the States bordering the Pacific where it was already established. That is why BNP opened a branch in San Francisco in 1969.

BNP acquires a centenary institution: Bank of the West

Determined to expand further in the western portion of the United States, BNP created a subsidiary in June 1972, the French Bank of California (FBC) and opened a first branch in San Francisco. This was the first Californian universal bank of the Group. In 1977, it had 5 branches.

Inside the French Bank of California, 1972 - BNP Paribas Historical Archives
Inside the French Bank of California, 1972 – BNP Paribas Historical Archives

To strengthen its position, in 1979 BNP bought Bank of the West, a regional institution that already enjoyed a 100-year history (1874) whose headquarters are in San Jose in the heart of the future Silicon Valley. California’s 11th largest bank, it has a 45-office network and specialises in large West Coast businesses, international trade and the US money market. It is also well established in the agricultural and agri-food sector. In March 1980, in order to consolidate its position, BNP incorporated the French Bank of California’s business into Bank of the West, which enabled BNP to strengthen its presence in California with 50 additional branches.

Bureau de la Banque nationale de Paris (BNP) à San Francisco en 1979 – Archives historiques BNP Paribas
Banque Nationale de Paris (BNP) office, San Francisco, 1979 – BNP Paribas Historical Archives

At the same time, BNP’s own network is expanding elsewhere in the United States with new branch openings: Chicago, in 1974, which made it possible to establish contacts with large American companies in the region and to gain a foothold in this large market for agricultural commodities and financial derivatives; then Dallas in 1982 and Miami in 1984. In New York, it doubled the presence of the FABC by a BNP branch in 1976.

BNP office, Chicago, 1974 - BNP Paribas Historical Archives
BNP office, Chicago, 1974 – BNP Paribas Historical Archives

From Bank of the West to Bank of the West BNP Paribas

In 1988, California is the 6th largest economic power in the world and represents an opening to the western side of the Pacific Basin. BNP is the first French institution to develop the retail banking in the United States and to have such a network in the main financial centres: Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Bank of the West, 1986 - BNP Paribas Historical Archives
Bank of the West, 1986 – BNP Paribas Historical Archives

In 1998, the merger of Bank of the West and First Hawaiian Bank, the first Hawaiian bank founded in 1858, gave birth to BancWest Corporation, with each bank retaining its brand. Until 2001, the Group held 45% of the capital, then BancWest Corporation became a wholly owned subsidiary of BNP Paribas.

BNP Paribas Group purchased United California Bank (UCB) in December 2001 and incorporated it in the “Bank of the West” brand. As the main bank that maintained its head office in San Francisco, UCB expanded the group’s geographic coverage, adding a network of 300 branches to the 194 branches that Bank of the West already had in 6 States. It thus became the 4th largest general bank in California.

Logo BNP Paribas Etats Unis

The conquest of the West continues today, as Bank of the West is developing new business lines such as consumer credit and wealth management, based on the entire BNP Paribas system in the United States; it is more integrated into the Group, in particular for regulatory reasons. This is reflected in the adoption of the new brand Bank of the West BNP Paribas in 2017.


To learn more about BNP Paribas’ origins in San Francisco, click here

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