Hong Kong: the bridgehead into Asia Pacific region for BNP Paribas (3/3): the birth of a regional platform


Starting in 1862, Comptoir d’escompte de Paris (CEP), BNP Paribas forerunners, strove to carve out a position in Hong Kong at a time when the British dominated the Asian market. Société générale de Banque (Fortis), Banque nationale pour le commerce et l’industrie (BNCI) and Paribas did the same in the first half of the 20th century and constantly increased their presence on the continent. Let’s look at the group’s expansion in Hong Kong, Asia Pacific’s central economic market.


BNP and Fortis: powering up in the 1980s

China entered a phase of strong economic growth in the 1980s that naturally benefited Hong Kong. The territory was more than ever an attractive centre for banks. BNP was the first French bank in Hong Kong in 1980 and in that year opened a representation in Beijing to be more active in the phase of Hong Kong’s financial integration in China. BNP became the leading European bank in the territory in 1993 with six branches, 750 staff members and 17,500 clients, including 7,500 companies.


BNP branch in Hong Kong in 1985 - BNP Paribas Historical Archives

BNP branch in Hong Kong in 1985 – BNP Paribas Historical Archives


In 1998, it acquired a leading broker, Peregrine, with a strong presence in mainland China. The group was rebranded BNP Prime Peregrine the following year and was a leading share issuer for Chinese and Hong Kong institutional actors.

Banque Belge pour l’Etranger continued to have a strong presence in 1980, changing its name to Belgian Bank before adopting the official name of Générale de Banque Belge pour l’Etranger in 1985. By 1990 there were twenty agencies. In 1994, Générale de Banque opened an agency with a trading floor to develop its treasury business. A subsidiary was established a year later with Guangdong Development Bank as Générale Bank Asia Ltd., specialising in portfolio management and stock market operations. In 1996, Générale de Banque Belge pour l’Etranger generated 12% of the profits posted by Générale de Banque.

After the birth of Fortis Banque in 1998, Hong Kong operations were transferred to a new company, Fortis Bank Asia HK. In 2003, Fortis group forged an alliance with the Hong Kong subsidiary of China’s biggest bank, Commercial Bank of China Asia (ICBC Asia). Fortis acquired a 9% stake in ICBC Asia before selling its shares in 2007.

Siège de la Belgian Bank à Hong Kong en 1990 - Archives BNP Paribas Fortis

Siège de la Belgian Bank à Hong Kong en 1990 – Archives historiques BNP Paribas Fortis

BNP Paribas in Hong Kong today

Paribas also bolstered its position at the start of the 1980s. In 1981, it established the Paribas Asia Ltd. merchant bank.  However, the 1981 recession compelled it to focus on large corporations and public utilities and Chinese companies. The emphasis was on asset management, market products aimed at Asian clients and the industrial sector, which made its activities very complementary with those of BNP.

Salle des marchés de Paribas dans les années 1980

Vue de la salle des marchés de Paribas à Hong Kong dans les années 1980 – Archives historiques BNP Paribas


The BNP-Paribas merger in 2000 ushered in a powerful banking group. BNP Paribas Hong Kong is now what can only be described as a regional platform, boasting 2,000 employees and a broad range of financial activities. Its know-how, size and the scale of the market give it a special role within the group.


Read more :

First foothold with the CNEP

1920s to 1980: the BNCI, Paribas and Fortis acquire positions


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