More than a century of development for the benefit of our customers.
In late 2007, the Group was named “Global Bank of the Year” by The Banker magazine for its socially and environmentally responsible policies.
In early 2008, Crédit Agricole S.A. gave a further practical demonstration of its commitment to responsible banking by signing the Diversity Charter, along with eight subsidiaries - following the lead of its Sofinco and Finaref units - and making a commitment to fighting poverty alongside Professor Yunus by setting up the Grameen Crédit Agricole foundation.
Increasing scale: the 2000s
Crédit Agricole’s business diversification started in the late 1980s. In insurance, the Predica life insurance subsidiary was set up in 1986 and became France’s number one in 1994, while property & casualty unit Pacifica was created in 1990. Outside France, the Group acquired stakes in Banco Ambrosiano Veneto (Italy) in 1989 and Banco Espirito Santo (Portugal) in 1991. However, the acquisition of Banque Indosuez in 1996 took Crédit Agricole into a new league in terms of corporate and investment banking and international exposure.
In 1999, diversification continued as the Group took a stake in the newly privatised Crédit Lyonnais, and acquired leading consumer finance company Sofinco (followed by the acquisition of Finaref in 2003).
The Group took a huge step forward in June 2003, when it acquired Crédit Lyonnais in the face of competition from many other banks. The transaction was triggered by the government auctioning its remaining stake in Crédit Lyonnais in December 2002. The combination between the two banks took place in 2003 and 2004, resulting in the various business lines being grouped into subsidiaries. This resulted in the creation of Calyon in 2004, from the combination of Crédit Lyonnais and Crédit Agricole Indosuez’s corporate and investment banking activities. Crédit Lyonnais focused on retail banking and rebranded as LCL in August 2005.
Crédit Agricole S.A. embarked on an ambitious development plan in 2005, aimed at increasing the Group’s international reach. In 2004, the Regional Banks adopted a strategy of focusing on sustainable relationships and bolstering their leading positions in France by gaining a greater presence in major cities. The 2006-2008 development plan was implemented with record speed, with retail banking acquisitions in Egypt, Ukraine, Greece and Italy, and expansion in bancassurance in Portugal.
Major changes in the group’s institutions, 1988-2001
A major phase in Crédit Agricole’s history began when the government passed an act to privatise CNCA on 18 January 1988. CNCA was transformed into a public limited company, with a 90% stake sold to the Regional Banks and 10% to staff. Crédit Agricole became fully independent of the government, and among other things this put an end to the government’s practice of skimming off its surplus funds. In 1993, Lucien Douroux, who led the plan to privatise FNCA with Chairman Yves Barsalou, became CNCA’s first Chief Executive Officer, having been appointed by Crédit Agricole from existing staff.
CNCA was listed on the stockmarket in 2001 under the name Crédit Agricole S.A.. This gave its majority owner, the Regional Banks, a listed vehicle through which to carry out major acquisitions.
Consolidation among the Regional Banks began officially in 1990, with the aim of reducing costs. The aim was to halve the number of Regional Banks, which then numbered 89. The target was exceeded by 2000. In 1990, Crédit Agricole lost the monopoly for granting low-interest loans to farmers, and in 1991 the "normalisation" process was completed as it gained access to the financing of large corporations.
Adoption of the all-purpose banking model, 1966-1988
In 1966, as part of major financial reforms carried out by the government to boost savings and remove Crédit Agricole from its budget, the government gave Caisse Nationale de Crédit Agricole financial autonomy. Savings inflows no longer passed through the Treasury, and CNCA was now responsible for balancing the surpluses and deficits of the Regional Banks.
The 1971 "Rurality Act" extended Crédit Agricole’s potential financing sources to rural zones and to new types of customers, such as tradesmen and food producers.
Further reforms extended Crédit Agricole’s range of activity, through a broader definition of rural zones and an authorisation to grant loans to SMEs, as well as reducing its tax advantages. To meet specific needs and to work around the rigidity of the Rural Code, CNCA set up subsidiaries: Union d’études et d’investissements (UI) was created in 1967 to make equity investments, Segespar in 1968 to carry out asset management and Unicrédit in 1971 to grant loans to food producers.
Crédit Agricole strengthened its position as a provider of mortgages and services to households by distributing home purchase savings products from 1967, government-regulated mortgages from 1972 and first-time-buyer loans in 1977. In 1966, a department was set up to manage the Crédit Agricole brand, and a marketing strategy was gradually put in place. In 1976, the Group adopted the slogan "le bon sens près de chez vous" ("common sense close to home").
Outside France, Crédit Agricole opened its first branch in Chicago in 1979. In 1979, The Banker magazine ranked Crédit Agricole among the world’s leading banks. This showed the group’s financial power and demonstrated that it formed an integral part of the banking community. France’s 1984 Banking Act confirmed this integral status, since the Act, while recognising the Group’s special organisation, applied to Crédit Agricole, which had previously only been subject to the Rural Code. The signature of an interbank agreement in 1984, which made Crédit Agricole bank card part of the "carte bleue" system used by other banks, was another step forward in the integration process.
1945-1966: major savings inflows
To enable it to finance the post-war reconstruction effort and the mechanisation of agriculture, Crédit Agricole stepped up efforts to attract savings, in order to complement government resources. The Regional Banks opened large numbers of new offices (1,000 in 1947, 2,259 in 1967), and salespeople sold 5-year certificates and long-term bonds created in 1950. Increased savings inflows made Crédit Agricole self-financing from 1963 onwards.
In 1945, the Fédération Nationale du Crédit Agricole (FNCA) was set up as an association representing the Regional Banks with respect to the public authorities and CNCA. CNCA was revamped in 1947, playing a growing role in training staff and increasing Crédit Agricole’s expertise, in order to offer depositors the loans and services they required in return for their deposits. 1959 was an important date in this respect, since Crédit Agricole was authorised by the government to finance customers’ primary residence in rural areas, whatever their status.
Crédit Agricole became the financial instrument for implementing France’s 1960 and 1962 farm acts, which aimed to put French farmers on an equal social and economic footing relative to other sectors of the economy, and to prepare them for competition within the Common Market. These measures were given their full effect by an implementing decree in 1965.
There was an influx of new managerial talent, both in the Regional Banks and at CNCA, including Paul Driant, the first Chairman to come from a farming background in 1960 and Jacques Mayoux, appointed CEO in 1963. This resulted in Crédit Agricole becoming a much more modern institution.
In the 1920s, Crédit Agricole increased its geographical coverage in France. It was authorised to grant loans to small rural tradesmen in 1920, and then financed the rural electrification programme from 1923 onwards. It granted the first low-interest loans for farmers in 1928. The Local and Regional Banks did not emerge from the 1930 crisis unharmed. Those most exposed were helped by CNCA, which stepped up its control duties. A joint deposit guarantee fund was then set up in 1935.
However, Crédit Agricole also played a major role in helping the agricultural sector overcome the crisis, financing wheat stocks through discounting when ONIC was set up 1936. The payment methods used led to wider usage of cheques and bank accounts in the countryside.
Although the Vichy regime led to increased state supervision during the Second World War, this was only a temporary institutional change. However, the war had a significant financial impact. Weak activity during the war led to an abundance of savings, and Crédit Agricole took advantage by issuing 5-year notes, a simple, safe savings product that was highly successful and set Crédit Agricole on the way to being self-funding. Financial flows between the government and Crédit Agricole went into reverse, with Crédit Agricole sending deposits to the Treasury.
The Act of 5 August 1920 and the creation of Office National de Crédit Agricole
To give greater autonomy to what was at the time merely a credit department of the Ministry of Agriculture, and to create a central clearing organisation for the Regional Banks, the Act of 5 August 1920 created the Office National de Crédit Agricole. This public-sector entity was renamed Caisse Nationale de Crédit Agricole (CNCA) in 1926, putting greater emphasis of its role as a bank.
Louis Tardy was appointed CEO of CNCA, and made a lasting impact. This completed Crédit Agricole’s institutional structure, bringing together public- and private-sector entities, until the 1988 Privatisation Act. The 1920 Act also provided the legal framework for Crédit Agricole’s operations in France.
The rise of the Local and Regional Banks, 1900-1919
Through determined effort, Local and Regional Banks became more numerous. By the time of the First World War, each French département had at least one Regional Bank. However, despite being authorised to grant long-term loans by the Acts of 29 December 1906 (loans to farm co-operatives) and 19 March 1910 (individual long-term loans), these banks mostly lent short-term. In addition, despite rising savings inflows, the government continued to provide three quarters of source funds.
The First World War emphasised these shortcomings, along with the benefits of the Crédit Agricole system. The isolation of certain regions showed the need for a central bank to regulate business. Crédit Agricole was also called upon to finance the development of land left fallow during the war, and then to restore farms located in battle areas. Crédit Agricole also gradually became a tool for supporting small rural farms.
Credit in farming at the end of the 19th century
The 1894 Act did not confer any financial advantages, and Local Banks quickly faced financial problems, such as a lack of capital and insufficient collateral from small farmers.
The government took partial measures, including the Act of 1898 concerning farm warrants, which helped to solve the collateral problem, along with more general measures. In 1897, the government required the Banque de France to accept discounted notes from farm unions and to provide resources to Crédit Agricole in the form of an injection of 40 million francs and an annual payment of 2 million francs.
To distribute these advances, the Act of 31 March 1899 set up an Agriculture Ministry committee and instituted Crédit Agricole’s Regional Banks, of which there were nine in the first year. These co-operative banks represented the second level in Crédit Agricole’s institutional pyramid. They brought together the Local Banks in each region and encouraged the formation of new Local Banks.
The birth of Crédit Agricole, 1894
The Third Republic’s desire to attract farmers’ votes by supporting small family farms, together with the efforts of Agriculture Minister Jules Méline, resulted in the Act of 5 November 1894, which created Crédit Agricole. The Act authorised the creation of Crédit Agricole’s Local Banks by members of farm unions. The banks would be owned by their members, according to the principle of mutuality.
This was a decentralising move, in opposition to other centralising projects. These Local Banks, which were private-sector co-operatives, formed the first level of Crédit Agricole’s institutional pyramid. Because farmers had traditionally been reluctant to borrow money, the first banks consisted of local elites consisting of agronomists, teachers and landowners, and farmers were in the minority.
Credit in farming at the end of the 19th century
In the late 19th century in France, agriculture was struggling to find suitable credit, i.e. long-term, flexible and cheap.
There were several failed attempts to set up agriculture banks, including one in 1861 supported by Crédit Foncier. The 1884 Act concerning professional freedom of association allowed the formation of farm unions, and together with the example of mutual banks in Germany and Italy, this created an environment conducive to the emergence of suitable banks. The first bank of this type was created in 1885 in the shape of Société de Crédit Agricole de l’arrondissement de Poligny (Jura), through a local initiative of Louis Milcent.