BNP Paribas was created in 2000 through the takeover of the major merchant bank Paribas by the number one bank in France, Banque Nationale de Paris (BNP). This makes BNP Paribas one of Europe s youngest banking conglomerates. The BNP Paribas Group has been steadily built up around this original French core, fusing together a number of financial institutions which are strongly rooted in European economic history.
Banque Nationale de Paris: a bank born of a dual revolution in 1848
A number of discount banks were set up in 1848 to remedy the credit freeze which France experienced as a result of the 1848 Revolution. Two of these institutions are direct forerunners of the Banque Nationale de Paris (BNP): Comptoir National d Escompte de Paris (CNEP) was set up through a joint initiative by the public authorities and a group of private partners. Among them were the foremost Parisian printers and publishers, including Louis Hachette, and entrepreneurs such as Alphonse Pinard. Comptoir d Escompte de Mulhouse was set up on the initiative of textile and manufac- turing entrepreneurs in Alsace, a region in the east of France.
Both establishments triggered the banking revolution which took place around the 1850s. This was the time when ordinary people gained access to general banking and borrowing services through the creation of the large deposit banks. These new institutions attracted dormant savings and recycled them into the economy, notably through bill discounting and short-term lending to businesses. A range of new services also became available to middle class individuals: cashier services, safe deposit boxes, cheques, securities depositories, letters of credit, and so on. What was new was that banks now worked face-to-face with their customers through networks of branches. The CNEP headquarters, construction of which began in 1878, was a highly visible symbol of the bank s presence in the city of Paris.
Following the 1860 Anglo-French Free Trade Treaty, CNEP was the first French bank to build an international network for the purpose of financing international trade. It set up in
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