A brief history of responsible credit 2/3 : the organisation of consumer credit


Cetelem Stand at Furniture Fair, 1995 - BNP Paribas Historical Archives

The use of credit in France has gradually grown since the 1920s and is now widely accepted. Consumer credit was introduced in the 1950s and marked a genuine turning point for French society. BNP Paribas’ subsidiary Cetelem is a long-standing player in this development.

Addressing consumer needs : the organisation of consumer credit

It was not until the 1920s that credit enabled private individuals to make larger-scale purchases. The change originated in the car industry. Inspired by the example of General Motors in the United States, André Citroën decided to create a banking subsidiary in 1920. The Automobile consumer finance company (SOVAC) acted as an intermediary between the manufacturer and the customer. Renault (with DIAC) and Peugeot soon followed in their footsteps.


Salon de l'automobile, Paris, dans les années 1980

Paris Auto Show, 1980s – BNP Paribas Historical Archives

After World War II, the French government initially restricted credit for individuals, preferring to direct savings towards reconstruction and industrial equipment. But faced with French people’s need for equipment after years of hardship, and worried about the possible development of a parallel black market for lending, they organised consumer credit in the mid-1950s.

French households then invested heavily in domestic appliances: Arthur Martin and Moulinex relied on consumer credit to boost their sales. Borrowing enabled many families to buy a fridge, a washing machine or a gas cooker, items which had previously been beyond the reach of those on middle-class salaries.

In 1951, the Fédération de l’ameublement (French furniture federation) and the Banque générale industrielle-La Hénin established Sofinco, an industrial and commercial financing organisation which acquired the status of finance company in 1953. This same year saw Jacques de Fouchier launch Cetelem, which financed the purchase of domestic appliances and was the first company in France to provide consumer credit.

First Cetelem stand opened by French President René Coty, “Salon des arts ménagers” (Household arts trade fair), 1954 – BNP Paribas Historical Archives


Specimen of Cetelem credit card, 1999 – BNP Paribas Historical Archives

In 1965, this company, which is now a subsidiary of BNP Paribas Group, entered into collaboration with Galeries Lafayette. Revolving credit cards, a great novelty at the time, enabled customers to make in-store purchases up to the limit of the funds available on the card—a system still in use today.

By the end of the decade, one in every two cars and television sets was bought on credit, a percentage that would continue to rise in the case of cars. Traditional banks also understood the advantages of offering their customers personal loans that would allow them to make purchases without having to justify their use.


To know more about consumer credit, do not miss our articles on the origins of consumer credit and the organisation of responsible credit.


Contact us / Send us a document

    This website has a cultural and historical purpose; it is not intended to deal with trade and banking relationship issues which will not be processed. See moreless

    If you have a document, a photo, a story about BNP Paribas history and want to share it, please do not hesitate to share it there.

    In transmitting this document, you certify to own it and to hold the property rights needed for their use. You authorize BNP Paribas to use it on the website Source of History.

    Thank you for indicate the origin of the documents and give us any information you consider relevant to its understanding.

    The personal data collected on this form is processed by BNP Paribas SA for processing. It allows us to provide a personalised answer to your requests (access to archives, research, information requests. Please note that fields identified by an asterisk (*) are mandatory.

    For more information on the processing of your personal data, you can access our Data Protection Notice.


    Suscribe to Well of History's newsletter

    The personal data collected from the Site are subject to data processing by BNP Paribas to enable access to and use of the functionalities offered by the Site www.histoire.bnpparibas.
    Pursuant to the French Data Protection Law No. 78-17 of 6 January 1978, you are entitled to access the data collected by BNP Paribas and to have it amended, updated or deleted, where such information is incorrect, incomplete or outdated. You can exercise this right by contacting: BNP Paribas – APAC TDC Val de Marne, TSA 30233- 94729 FONTENAY SOUS BOIS Cedex.


    Files download

    I undertake to make private use of the contents downloaded from the website


    You have added an item to your selection.

    You can find your saved contents in the “My space” section, which can be accessed at the top right of any page of the website.

    My space English A+ A-

    To find this content on your next visit, you need to create an account from this section, by clicking on:

    Fermer Welcome to

    Well of History

    Since 1822, history has made us a key player and a witness of transformations taking place in society and economy in Europe and around the world. We invite you to share in our story and explore our archives to learn more about our constantly changing world.
    Jean Lemierre Jean Lemierre,
    of BNP Paribas