the country in subsequent years by Banca Nazionale del Lavoro and Disbank, which were both among the forebears of today s BNP Paribas.
Bahrain quickly became the main banking centre for the wider Middle East region, thanks to the vigilance exercised by the Bahrain Monetary Agency, which had given international credibility to banking activities carried out in the state. The agency, which functions as both central bank and banking supervisory authority, gave BNP and Paribas a clear early indication that it wished to see the banks set up in Bahrain, partly in order to develop its treasury operations market an area of strength particularly for BNP.
When BNP submitted a request for an offshore banking license, it received it within just a few days and business started up on 1 April 1976. The BNP Bahrain branch was mainly concerned with treasury operations but also undertook some traditional lending.
Meanwhile, Paribas was also working towards opening an offshore banking unit in Bahrain. Towards the end of 1977, Charles de Gaulle, grandson of France s former President and a manager at Paribas in Paris, wrote that there was a need to give the Bank the ability to participate more actively in the development of what is already the largest capital market in the Middle East.
The Trading Floor
BNP was active in corporate lending in Bahrain during the 1980s. But under the leadership of Maurice Blanchet in the 1990s, the Bank began to focus operations on market trading and private banking.
The office, which occupied two floors of the Bahrain Kuwait Insurance (BKIC) building in the diplomatic area of Manama s central business district, became a central part of the Bank s global proprietary trading operation.
Eric Josserand, who worked in Bahrain from 1994 to 2013, recalls his early days in Manama: BNP Bahrain was mainly a trading room which did a good deal of trading for its own account, he recalls. Interestingly a Danish trader, Thomas Johansen, and his team helped to develop BNP Bahrain as one of the two market leaders for the Forward Rate Agreement (FRA) market in short-term US dollars.
The business consisted of offering the narrowest possible spreads on these products to banks worldwide, while at the same time minimising our exposure to market risk. This activity was at its height in 1994 and 1995, before we ceased doing this business as it wasn t justified in terms of risk/return in such a small banking setup.
It was José Pita, Maurice Blanchet s successor, who made the decision to withdraw from the FRA market , he continued. It was then that the trading desk, which was where I worked,
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