Eugène Goüin, Banker and financier during the Edwardian era

1818-1909

Portrait of Eugène Goüin (1818-1909) by Aimé Morot - BNP Paribas Historical Collections

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Alexandre Gouïn, Eugène Goüin's father, lithogr. by Patout

Alexandre Gouïn, Eugène Goüin’s father, lithogr. by Patout, handwritten signature © Archives of Indre-et-Loire.

This man with a great white moustache was Eugène Goüin, one of the founding fathers of the Banque de Paris et des Pays-Bas. Caricatured by the press as the epitome of a banker and upper class liberal, Eugène Goüin appeared in his writing and actions as a wise and sensible man, in the line of his father, Alexandre Goüin (1792-1872), a graduate of the Ecole Polytechnique engineering school, deputy for Indre-et-Loire (1831), Minister of Commerce in Thiers’ Cabinet (1840), Head of the Caisse Générale du Commerce et de l’Industrie after Jacques Laffitte (1844) and director of the Compagnie de Paris-Orléans.

 

A Tours celebrity

Shopkeepers, contractors or bankers, the Goüins were also politicians with strong personalities, integrated in the central and local administrations. Eugène Goüin enjoyed the reputation of a dynasty active in the sheet trade in Tours, France, from the end of the reign of Louis XIV. He joined the bank alongside his father when he was 21 years old and in 1845 took over management of the family bank founded in 1714.

Hôtel Gouïn

Gouïn’s town house at Tours, colored postcard © Archives of Indre-et-Loire

Originally called Goüin Frères de Tours, described by Louis Bergeron in Les Capitalistes en France (1780-1914) as a “false local bank”, this institution had close ties with the Parisian milieus to develop its business nationally and internationally.

Renowned for his love of learning and analytical mind, Eugène Goüin was marked like many men of his generation and his milieu by a providential vision of events. President of the Tours Chamber of Commerce, he gave his opinion on the causes of the monetary crisis of 1863-1864: the considerable increase in the volume of metal money following the discovery of the Californian and Australian mines would have been miraculously offset by the construction of immense railway networks. His conclusion called for speculators, contractors and other investors to be cautious:

We are convinced that the capital stocks need to be reconstituted and, to do this, the fever of works projects and big companies needs to be calmed, instead of over-exciting them. (1865)

During the 1870 war, Eugène Goüin, deputy for Indre-et-Loire and senator, stood out for his exemplary and dignified attitude, while the Prussian troops crossed the department. Appointed provisional Mayor of Tours, he was a member of the city’s Defence Committee.

 

… one of the founders of the Banque de Paris et des Pays-Bas

As early as 1869, Eugène Goüin partnered with rich individuals, Adrien Delahante, Edmond Joubert and Henri Cernuschi, who were involved like him in banking, to create a small merchant bank, the Banque de Paris, which merged a few years later in 1872 with the Banque de Crédit et de Dépôt des Pays-Bas, resulting in the Banque de Paris et des Pays-Bas, which was destined to finance the war indemnity imposed by Prussia and to support the country’s industrial development and modernisation.

Within the “college of seven,” Eugène Goüin supported the Batignolles construction company, founded in 1846 by his cousin Ernest Goüin to produce locomotives and then machines used in the textile industry. With the Comptoir National d’Escompte, the Banque de Paris et des Pays-Bas bought and placed the shares of the Bône-Guelma railway company, subsidiary of the Batignolles company founded in 1875.

Eugène Goüin, par AS, lithographie à la une du journal "Nos financiers en robe de chambre : revue biographique et critique", 3e année n°1, 6 janvier 1891 © Association pour l'histoire de BNP Paribas

Eugène Goüin, by AS, lithography frontpage of French newspaper: “Nos financiers en robe de chambre : revue biographique et critique”, year 3, n.1, January 6th 1891 © Association for the History of BNP Paribas

 

A wise president for the Banque de Paris et des Pays-Bas (1895-1909)

FRAD037_8Fi0009

Anonymous engraving [1890’s-1900’s] © Archives of Indre-et-Loire

The Banque de Paris et des Pays-Bas was administered collegially for a long time and it was only in 1876 that the Board appointed a chairman, Ernest Dutilleul. Eugène Goüin, appointed chairman in 1895, made this bank the country’s leading merchant bank and honoured the large State loans: Greece (1898), Morocco (1902), Russia and Uruguay (1905), even contributing his personal fortune.

Initiator of the Finaly mission to Japan

After two centuries of isolation, Japan opened to the Occident in the second half of the 19th century. The end of the Russo-Japanese war in 1905 and the signing of a Franco-Japanese treaty in 1907 brought the archipelago into the family of nations. In June 1907, Eugène Goüin decided to send on mission Horace Finaly, who was then sub-director of the bank, accompanied by his grandson André Goüin and an engineer from Ponts et Chaussées, Louis Godard. Their rich correspondence, kept in the archives, bears witness to Horace Finaly’s qualities as a diplomat, economist and strategist as well as the mutual esteem that united the two men:

Finaly studied everything, and the clear and logical way he presented his study has considerably interested all of us […] we see two things: 1. That for a few more years Japan will continue to have great need for French capital. 2. That nothing in principle would prevent France, the Banque de Paris in the lead, to do for Japan what it did for Bulgaria seven years ago, which worked out so well for the finances of this country and friend. (Letter from Eugène Goüin to his grandson André, Paris, October 5th 1907)

Perceptive adviser for his close relations

In the same letter, the old man confides his doubts, subject to the news in the letters without being able to make up his mind based on experience in the field:

When I write to you, I am obliged to always remain vague. I am like someone who advances in the night on a torrent he doesn’t know. He gropes before stepping somewhere. Little by little, he regains confidence. The obscurity dwindles and finally he ends up making do. I am in complete obscurity. Lets hope that in a little while you will see more clearly. (Ibid)

Be that as it may, his grandson will be his eyes and his ears. To become acquainted with Japanese banking practises, Eugène Goüin obtained a position for his grandson in the First Bank Ltd., one of the country’s most prosperous financial institutions, founded in September 1873 by Baron Shibusawa.

Letter from Eugène Goüin to Baron Shibusawa, President of First Bank, Tokyo

Letter from Eugène Goüin to Baron Shibusawa, President of First Bank, Tokyo, October 24th 1907 © BNP Paribas historical collections

But the investigation proved difficult:

Since the mindset of the Japanese is nothing like ours, the explanations they give suffer and it takes lots of tact and patience to successfully clarify certain points, which I can’t understand by myself since I don’t read or speak their language. (Letter from André Goüin to his grandfather Eugène Goüin, Tokyo, 8 December 1907)

André Goüin left Japan on 15 May 1908 eight months after Horace Finaly, who left on 30 December 1907. The goodwill of these first visitors and the hopes raised by the idea of a Franco-Japanese cooperation did not bear fruit. The Banque de Paris et des Pays-Bas did not establish a presence in the Country of the Rising Sun until 1976 (with a sales office in Tokyo). However, personally, this experience propelled Horace Finaly’s career. In 1909 the Board ratified his appointment as director by Eugène Goüin, who placed his grandson André under his orders. And so the bank remained in the family!

 

Eugène Goüin, the bank’s last living founder, died in his mansion on Rue de Lisbonne in Paris on 31 May 1909. He personified up to the brink of the First World War the heritage of a great family bank, with close ties to the Parisian political-financial milieus. What is less known, is that in 1918, faced with the German counter-attack, the securities of the Banque de Paris et des Pays-Bas were taken to a secure location in Touraine in one of the Goüin family’s properties.

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