up in Shanghai in 1860 and in India the same year in order to finance cotton imports into France. Branches also opened in Australia in 1881, in response to demand from wool industrialists in the north of France and in Mazamet, in southern France.

Banking at this time was still a fragile industry, suffering frequent crises. CNEP itself went through a serious crisis in 1889. It commenced doing business again under the prudent management of Alexis Rostand. The strong risk culture he inculcated at that time has been passed down to the group today.

From 1870 to 1914, France saw high levels of surplus savings in France, and Paris rivalled London as a global financial centre. CNEP built up a reputation in the financial markets for the management and placement of both sovereign and corporate bond issues and the issuance of company stocks and shares.

When banking syndicates were put together to raise the capital necessary to finance large projects, CNEP often found itself in the company of a major French merchant bank, the Banque de Paris et des Pays-Bas (which translates as Bank of Paris and the Netherlands ), usually known by its abbreviation, Paribas. By an interesting twist of fate, the two finance houses found themselves in 1899, together with the Belgian bank Société Générale de Belgique, embarking on a project to finance the construction of the Peking-Hankow railway, covering a distance of more than 1200 kilometres between modern-day Beijing and Hankou. The three banks were to form the foundations of the BNP Paribas Group a century later.

Paribas, A bank with strong European foundations

Paribas was founded in 1872, from the merger of a Parisian bank (Banque de Paris) with an international finance house, which was established in the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland and France. The founders included several noted French bankers, such as Adrien Delahante and Alphonse Pinard, in addition to members of the Bischoffsheim family from Germany and the Hentsch family from Switzerland. It was a quintessentially European bank, inheriting the traditions of high finance, based on old banking families, and involving large-scale transactions requiring technical skills. The bankers were brought together by a desire to create a powerful financial institution capable of competing with the Rothschild s for the mandate to organise the second national liberation loan issue, a public subscription raised to pay France s indemnity following defeat in the Franco-Prussian War.

In contrast to CNEP s approach, Paribas did not have a branch network, instead working out of four offices in France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Switzerland basing its business on alliances, associate banks and companies it had helped to set up. By steadily building its assets, Paribas became, by the early twentieth century, France s top merchant bank.

During World War I, the BNP Paribas forerunners in France mobilised, alongside other financial institutions, to encourage ordinary citizens to channel their savings into the war

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