World War One shook up the economic world by ushering back inflation and devaluation, trends that had virtually disappeared during the past century. France emerged from the conflict weakened and heavily in debt, while banks enjoyed a renewed legitimacy in public opinion thanks to their massive contribution to the war effort and their issuance of loans. Subsequently, banks were called upon to help with France s reconstruction. To meet this challenge, banks sought to reinvent themselves by expanding their regional presence and acquiring new customers. The rapid development of mechanical tabulating machines simplified and accelerated the processing of banking operations at an exponential rate. In a world with new borders and modified geopolitical realities, banks redefined their implementation strategies as well as their networks of international alliances. Reconstruction needs and current demands led to the establishment or strengthening, under the guidance of the French government, of new specialised institutions (either public or mutual) with a specific status. The Act of 17 March 1917 provided the Banques Populaires (cooperative banks) with a legal framework confirming their mandate to assist craftsmen and tradesmen. Postal cheques were created in 1918 and, in August 1920, the Caisses de Crédit Agricole (agricultural credit cooperatives) were organised around a new centralisation and coordination body: the Office National du Crédit Agricole. In parallel with the changes taking place in civil society, World War One thus opened a new chapter in banking history.
Re-engineering the banking system
A shaken banking sector
Artist, Bruno Chavannaz
To forge a powerful France. Subscribe to the loan , Crédit Commercial de France, 1920.
In the heart of the forge, a blacksmith strikes the metal with his hammer, symbolising the value of work and industrial renewal.
HSBC France, Historical Archives Department, Collection of Crédit Commercial de France.