Hong Kong, the bridgehead into Asia Pacific region for BNP Paribas (1/3): the CNEP a pioneer

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BNP Paribas Historical Archives

BNP Paribas Historical Archives

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Starting in 1862, Comptoir d’escompte de Paris (CEP), BNP Paribas forerunners, strove to carve out a position in Hong Kong at a time when the British dominated the Asian market. Société générale de Banque (Fortis), Banque nationale pour le commerce et l’industrie (BNCI) and Paribas did the same in the first half of the 20th century and constantly increased their presence on the continent. Let’s look at the group’s expansion in Hong Kong, Asia Pacific’s central economic market.

First foothold with the CNEP

Comptoir national d’escompte de Paris (CNEP) was established in 1848 and soon opened to international business to solidify its expansion. Hong Kong was dominated by British interests and was a key economic market for Asia Pacific region, ensuring access to southern territories.

In France, the Lyons silk industry prompted business interest in China starting in 1850, which is why the CNEP first opened a branch in Shanghai in 1860, followed by a second in Hong Kong in 1862. This was an unusual approach at the time, as banks generally teamed up outside their home territory with foreign institutions as “correspondents” (prompting the term ‘correspondent banking’).
The CNEP objective was to develop a real position on this significant market for French traders to facilitate import and export business, making it at the time the only bank to have a genuine strategy for Asia Pacific.

CNEP branch in Hong Kong, 1862- BNP Paribas Historical Archives
CNEP branch in Hong Kong, 1862- BNP Paribas Historical Archives

The Hong Kong branch was closed, however, in 1877 before a major branch was reopened in 1884. With France’s influence spreading to Tonkin (northern Vietnam), a relay was required in Hong Kong to serve the interests of French trading companies in the region. Even so, the branch again closed in 1894 owing to insufficient business. The CNEP handed over to Banque d’Indochine, a consortium bank established in 1875 in which the CNEP was an influential shareholder. It was Banque d’Indochine that was to represent French interests in the Far East.

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