A bygone job – the bank messenger

1848-1960

Garçon de recettes du Comptoir national d'escompte de Paris (CNEP) vers 1910 - Archives historiques BNP Paribas


In the nineteenth century and until the 1960s, banking called upon certain jobs that no longer exist. An example of this is the bank messenger  who was in charge of cashing paper assets. City-dwellers were used to seeing this uniformed figure going around the town.

 

  • A position of responsibility

In the 1860s, more than 500 people worked for the Comptoir d’Escompte de Paris. In each branch, the “portfolio” department played an important role. Indeed, it was in charge of the branch’s short-term credit activity, via the discount of paper assets. When a craftsman or shopkeeper provided goods or services to a third party, he was often paid with bills that he could cash within 3 or 6 months. If he needed this money immediately, he could take this bill to his bank which would discount it and give him the proceeds minus a commission. On the due dates of the bills, the bank sent its bank messengers to the parties who had issued the bills to recover the sums and thus reimbursed itself for the advances it had granted to its customers. The Portfolio department organised this discount activity, checking the quality of bills, classifying them according to due dates and collecting the sums owed. The men who went around town collecting money had a huge responsibility – taking the proceeds from their rounds back to the branch like security guards. Older men were often hired for this job in which honesty and rigour were essential.

 

 

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Satirical postcard on the french politicians highlighting the bank messenger’s qualities, 1900 – BNP Paribas Heritage & Historical Archives

 

  • A striking uniform

People would immediately recognise the bank messengers because of their uniforms inspired by those worn by Banque de France employees – a small bag for the bills, a cocked hat, and a black morning coat with small buttons on which the bank’s badge shined. The whole attire was handsome but sometimes attracted thieves who were sure to come away with a generous booty. Disappearances and spectacular attacks were reported in the newspapers. The films Casque d’Or by Jacques Baker and Belle de Jour by Buñuel feature attacks on collection men. This job performed by trusted, resistant individuals lasted until the 1960s when the conditions of short-term credit and discount changed radically.

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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.

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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.
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