The Carte Bleue – a French success story

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Advertisement of the BNP for the French Carte bleue, circa 1980 - BNP Paribas Historical Collections

Advertisement of the BNP for the French Carte bleue, circa 1980 - BNP Paribas Historical Collections

The launch of the Carte Bleue was one of the banking sector’s greatest innovations in the past decades. The card, created in 1967, had many hurdles to cross before it became established in France. BNP Paribas took part in this adventure right from the start, with great conviction. And conviction was certainly needed.

The early stages of the blue card

The French Carte Bleue originated from an inspiration. It was sparked off by the Chase Manhattan Bank which developed the credit card system at the end of the 1950s. French commercial banks took an interest in this concept and in 1965 started to collaborate to issue a payment card. After two years of study and reflection, the Carte Bleue was introduced by 5 leading banks: Banque Nationale de Paris (BNP), Crédit Lyonnais, Société Générale, Crédit Commercial de France and Crédit Industriel et Commercial. The group adopted a logo made up of two letters “CB” which was created by the illustrator Chourgnoz. The colour blue was chosen because it conjured up celestial immensity. It also alluded to the shirts worn by French rugby players at international matches. Indeed, it was a French epic that started in 1967!

Press advertisement, 1970-1971 – Copyright Publicis, Drawing of Fortin
Press advertisement, 1970-1971 – Copyright Publicis, Drawing of Fortin

Greeted with suspicion

At this time, the French authorities wanted France to make up for lost time in terms of information technologies. This meant promoting French style IT. For all that, storekeepers greeted the carte bleue with suspicion. During the first year, only 12,000 of them adopted this mode of payment. Banks took a commission on each transaction and this was viewed very badly. The CB was very slow to develop. In 1970, 40,000 storekeepers had adopted it and there were 400,000 cardholders in France. With the creation of automated teller machines (ATMs) in 1968, first working with dedicaded and prepaid cards, it gradually became part of French peoples’ everyday lives. From 1971, ATMs were designed for magnectic stripe payment cards. Shopkeepers were essential allies in the development of the card so sales teams at card-issuing banks set about convincing them. Secure payment was underlined. On 1 April 1974, an international carte bleue was launched in addition to the national system. It allowed people to pay for their purchases and withdraw money abroad.

Customers of the BNP conducting financial transactions on an ATM, BNP Paribas Historical Collections
Customers of the BNP conducting financial transactions on an ATM, BNP Paribas Historical Collections

Inter-banking – a French tour de force

To reinforce the position of the blue card, an inter-banking system was necessary. Because at the end of the 1970s, there were three different cards in France: the Carte Bleue, the Carte Verte issued by Crédit Agricole and the Intercarte issued by the Banques Populaires Group. But the stores’ systems were not compatible because storekeepers were only connected to one of them. In 1984, after intense negotiations, the Banques Populaires and then Crédit Agricole joined the Groupement Carte Bleue. In the process, the card acquired a green colour, mixed in with the blue. A domestic card payment system (SNPC) was set up. This was a world first. Henceforth, it was possible for all the different card holders to make payments and withdraw money wherever they wished. The CB continued to develop and in 2003, it became the first means of payment in France. The smart card was adopted in 1985, reinforcing security. It was not until 2015 that its use become widespread in the USA.

Carte Bleue (Bank card) line of the BNP, 1987 – BNP Paribas Historical Collections
Carte Bleue (Bank card) line of the BNP, 1987 – BNP Paribas Historical Collections
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