San Francisco: the origins of BNP Paribas’ history in the US


The New York Public Library Digital Collections

The Comptoir National d’Escompte de Paris (CNEP), the forerunner of BNP Paribas, took the decision to expand its role in international trade. So it needed a foothold in the United States. The American adventure started in 1877, in California.


Setting up in the United Sates

Founded in 1848, very quickly CNEP began to seek development opportunities abroad. Its first overseas branch was therefore opened in Shanghai in 1860. With the position of the United States as a crossroads for global trade, in the 1870s San Francisco was the leading global marketplace for precious metals trading. For CNEP, it was essential to be located as close as possible to this financial hub. So the first branch based in the United States opened its doors in San Francisco in 1877. A second branch was set up in Chicago in 1893, to ensure CNEP’s presence at the Universal Exhibition. A further branch opened in New Orleans in 1894.



Providing customer support

CNEP adopted an original strategy: its presence in the United States meant, above all, that it was able to provide its clients with the support they required, especially French companies conducting business on the other side of the Atlantic. In addition to its major role in the silver and metals market, San Francisco was a key channel for business relationships with China and played a central role in US grain exports. New Orleans was a leading centre in the cotton industry as the port of departure for exports to Europe. It was therefore essential to be located as close as possible to these markets.


Chinese Steamer in San Francisco Bay, 1870’s. The New York Public Library Digital Collections

Adapting to strengthen its presence

Less profitable in the late 1890s, the Chicago branch closed in 1899. The San Francisco branch was then closed in 1903, followed by New Orleans in 1904 due to unfavourable economic and regulatory situation. Yet CNEP was determined to maintain its presence on US soil: in 1903, a representative office opened in New York. Through perseverance, CNEP was able to reach its goal, founding a bank in partnership with the First National Bank of Boston and the National Bank of Commerce. The French American Banking Corporation (FABC) was founded in New York in 1919. CNEP had finally managed to establish a sustainable presence in the United States.


View of street in San Francisco. The New York Public Library Digital Collections


Read more
The French American Banking Corporation, a Frenc bank in America


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