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after WWI, the government became a direct player in the banking sector by fast-tracking the creation of partly state-controlled banks. In addition, the war itself generated an incredible volume of banking transactions, particularly through the settlement of war damages, paid by cheque. Combined with the rising vo- lume of pensions (for war veterans, widows and orphans), also paid by cheque, and especially the opening of postal accounts, authorized by the Act of 1918, WWI clearly marked the begin- ning of the democratisation (or access for all) of banks in France and the use of banking services by every household: a transition completed in the1980s. From the standpoint of both the government and the indivi- duals, banks took on a vital role as of WWI. But what about the businesses ? For a long time, banks played a major role in fi- nancing the private sector. The war brought about two key changes: the acceleration of technical innovation and the col- lapse of the financial market. Banks, supported by the govern- ment, invented and developed new forms of credit, the so-called medium-term credit, and became the main capital providers for companies. In the immediate post-WWI period, several new bodies also emerged: Crédit National, UCINA (Crédit Lyonnais and Comptoir National d Escompte), AFCI and BNFCE in 1919, CALIF (Société Générale, CCF, Banque Nationale de Crédit) in 1928, UBRCI and OFINA in 1929, and so forth.

The transformation of banks

The entire financial system was deeply transformed by the war, with banks starting to take the place of a financial market in- creasingly focused on providing funding to the government. Initiated in 1914, this major change was to continue, with a few fluctuations, until the 1980s. Only then did the government give impetus to a reverse change, by rehabilitating the financial markets and their role in the financing of companies. In turn, the nature of banks evolved. Just before the outbreak of WWI, a specialisation trend was under way, stimulated by competition, which gradually brought the French system closer to the Bri- tish one with large and powerful deposit banks characterised by a high liquidity level and a dynamic financial market driven by international investment banks. The war caused internatio- nal economic relations to break down and foreign assets to be seized (particularly in Soviet Russia), leading to the weakening of large investment banks such as Paribas or BUP, a situation further accentuated by inflation, which reduced the real value

Brochure of the Caisse Nationale de Crédit Agricole relating to the Act of 5 August 1920 on agricultural mutual credit and cooperation, 1927.

The Act of 5 August 1920 gave greater independence to what was, at that time, a credit department that reported directly to the Ministry of Agriculture by creating a centralised clearing organisation for the Regional Banks: the Office National du Crédit Agricole. In 1926, this public institution was renamed Caisse Nationale de Crédit Agricole (CNCA).

Crédit Agricole S.A., Historical Archives Department, Crédit Lyonnais Collection