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The History of Crédit Agricole
The Group’s Historical Archives
Crédit Agricole SA is making a wealth of historical documentation available to academic researchers. Its historical archives come from all of the entities that now make up the Group: Caisse Nationale de Crédit Agricole, Banque de l’Indochine, Banque de Suez et de l’Union des mines, Crédit Lyonnais, and more.
Crédit Agricole SA’s Historical Archives are open by appointment only, at 72-74 rue Gabriel Péri in Montrouge (Metro line 4, Mairie de Montrouge station).
Crédit Agricole ads through the years
In 2012, on the first anniversary of the “Common sense has a future” slogan, Crédit Agricole’s Client Relations and Sponsorship department teamed up with Culture Pub and the Group’s Historical Archives to take a look back at 50 years of advertising campaigns. The film they produced shows not only how the Group’s communication has evolved over time, but also how French society has changed, how the country has urbanised, and how banks have become a part of households’ daily life.
Credit in farming in the late 19th century
In the late 19th century, farmers had trouble finding credit suited to their needs. The Act of 1884 authorising professional associations legalised farming cooperatives and paved the way for the institutions that would do a better job: in 1885, a local initiative by Louis Milcent gave birth to the Société de Crédit Agricole de l’arrondissement de Poligny, the first of its kind, in the Jura region.
The offices of the Société de Crédit Agricole de l’arrondissement de Poligny in Salins (Jura), founded in 1885.
The building now houses the Fondation Maison de Salins, a foundation devoted to promoting cooperative endeavours.
A cartoon taken from the weekly “Lecture pour tous” (1899) shows an indebted farmer being fed into a grinder operated by a usurer, followed by his home and livestock. In the late 19th century, Crédit Agricole was an alternative to the “conventional” methods of financing agriculture.
The birth of Crédit Agricole, 1894
The Third Republic’s desire to attract farmers’ votes by supporting small family farms resulted in the Act of 5 November 1894, which allowed the creation of local Crédit Agricole banks by members of farm cooperatives. The members assumed responsibility for the banks according to cooperative principles. These local banks formed the foundation of the institutional “pyramid” created by Crédit Agricole.
This portrait of Jules Méline appeared in “Le Journal illustré” of 15 April 1888.
Over his 50-year career Méline served first as a deputy of the Vosges and then as a senator, holding several ministerial posts. He crafted the 1894 legislation creating farm credit institutions and the 1899 act creating the regional banks.
Government support and the creation of the Crédit Agricole regional banks
The Act of 1894 gave the local banks no financial advantages, and they quickly ran short on capital. In 1897, the State required the Banque de France to supply funds to Crédit Agricole in the form of a FRF40 million injection and an annual payment of FRF2 million. To distribute these advances, the Act of 31 March 1899 set up an Agriculture Ministry committee and instituted Crédit Agricole’s Regional Banks. These banks formed the second level in Crédit Agricole’s institutional pyramid.
The 1899 Act concerning Crédit Agricole’s Regional Banks.
The Regional Banks brought together the Local Banks in each region and encouraged the formation of new Local Banks.
Minutes of the 1904 general meeting founding the Dordogne Crédit Agricole Regional Bank.
The rise of Local and Regional banks, 1900-1919Through 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, 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 changed the way the institution operated and highlighted the need for a central bank to regulate the smaller banks. Crédit Agricole was called upon to finance the development of land left fallow during the war, and then to restore farms located in near the front lines.
Women took over the farm work for the men who left to fight. The war effort significantly disrupted Crédit Agricole’s organisation. However, several laws passed in 1917 and 1918 allowed it to finance the renewed cultivation of land left fallow during the war. In addition, disabled veterans and civilians were granted low-interest loans to buy, restore or rebuild small farms. A brochure entitled “Les Mutilés aux champs”, or The Wounded in the Fields, published in 1918 by the Farm Labour Department of the Agriculture Ministry. It showcases farm equipment adapted to the disabled veterans of the Great War and financing options from Crédit Agricole.
The Act of 5 August 1920 and the creation of the Office National du Crédit Agricole
Cover page of the Act of 5 August 1920.
To give greater autonomy to what was at the time merely a credit department of the Agriculture Ministry, and to create a central clearing organisation for the Regional Banks, the Act of 5 August 1920 created the Office National du Crédit Agricole. This entity, renamed Caisse Nationale de Crédit Agricole (CNCA) in 1926, is the pinnacle of the Crédit Agricole pyramid.
fLouis Tardy (1875-1961) was the first managing director of the newly created Office National du Crédit Agricole (1921-1937) and one of the institution’s founding fathers: he was the first director of the Ile-de-France Regional Bank (1901-1904), inspector of the Regional Banks for the Agriculture Ministry (1904-1918), and the Agriculture Ministry’s head of lending, cooperation and farm cooperatives (1918-1921). After the Great War, among other roles, he served as the Chairman of the Fédération Nationale du Crédit Agricole (1945-1961), board member of CNCA (1945-1961) and Chairman of the Deux-Sèvres Regional Bank (1946-1961).
In the 1920s, Crédit Agricole increased its geographical coverage in France and for the first time added new areas of expertise: it was authorised to grant loans to small rural tradesmen in 1920, financed the rural electrification programme from 1923 onwards, and granted the first low-interest loans for farmers in 1928.
The crisis years of the 1930s did not spare the Local and Regional Banks, and the most vulnerable were aided by the CNCA. The CNCA stepped up its control duties, and a joint deposit guarantee fund was set up in 1935.
Poster from the 1930s promoting Crédit Agricole products and services.
Although the Vichy regime led to increased State supervision during the Second World War, the institution was only temporarily affected. On the other hand, the period did bring about a major financial change: Crédit Agricole created the five-year note, which allowed it to funnel savings from the countryside to the Treasury.
Louise Tallerie (1890-1989) was the first female director of a Regional Bank, in the Ardennes, from 1927 to 1956. During the Second World War, she managed to save the Regional Bank’s archives by quickly moving them during the exodus. Her example of success and courage inspired the bank to create the Grand Prix Etudiantes Crédit Agricole Louis Tallerie. The award recognises female students to encourage women to enter senior management and careers in all sorts of fields.
1945-1966: major savings inflows
Crédit Agricole opened numerous offices to gradually expand its presence nationwide. This dense coverage allowed it to increase inflows using the five-year notes and long-term bonds. By mobilising household savings, Crédit Agricole managed to finance the post-war rebuilding effort and the advent of mechanised agriculture. As a result, it could finally manage without State backing and became self-financing in 1963.
Poster advertising a 6% CNCA bond issue in 1954.
Promotional fold-out. Since 1959, Crédit Agricole has been allowed to financing primary residences in rural areas.
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, giving it a growing role in training staff and expanding Crédit Agricole’s expertise.
Desktop ink blotter pad with an ad for the Fédération Nationale du Crédit Agricole.
The beginnings of the universal bank, 1966-1988
In 1966, the government gave Caisse Nationale de Crédit Agricole financial autonomy. Savings inflows no longer passed through the Treasury. In the 1970s, Crédit Agricole expanded its horizons both geographically, with the enlargement of rural areas, and financially, with lending to small businesses. CNCA set up specialised subsidiaries: Union d’études et d’investissements (UI) to make equity investments, Segespar to carry out asset management and Unicrédit to grant loans to food producers.
Crédit Agricole affirmed its position as a provider of mortgages and services to households by adopting the new slogan "Le bon sens près de chez vous" ("Common sense close to home") in 1976.
Poster from 1976. Crédit Agricole launched the slogan “Common sense” in 1976 and has used it in many forms over the years.
The Banker magazine ranked Crédit Agricole among the world’s leading banks in 1979, showing that the Group was now a financial force. The bank began to open its first offices abroad. And whereas it had previously been subject to France’s Rural Code, Crédit Agricole was brought under the Banking Act in 1984, allowing it to participate fully in the country’s banking system.
Ad appearing in the “Chicago Tribune” when the Group opened its Chicago office in 1979.
Crédit Agricole also diversified its activities into the insurance sector, creating Predica for life insurance in 1986 and Pacifica for property and casualty insurance in 1990.
Poster for the stock market IPO of Crédit Agricole SA, 2001.
Major changes in the Group’s institutions, the 1990s to the 2010s
The government passed legislation in 1988 allowing the Crédit Agricole Regional Banks to buy CNCA. Transformed into a limited company, the bank was now completely independent of the State. It was listed on the stock market in 2001 and rechristened itself Crédit Agricole SA.
Poster for the stock market IPO of Crédit Agricole SA, 2001.
These transitions enabled Crédit Agricole to diversify into corporate and investment banking by acquiring Banque Indosuez in 1996 and into consumer credit with its takeovers of Sofinco in 1999 and Finaref in 2003.
Following a 2003 merger with Crédit Lyonnais, a reorganisation along business lines gave birth to Crédit Agricole Corporate and Investment Bank (CA CIB) in 2006. Crédit Lyonnais refocused on retail banking and adopted the LCL brand in 2005.
In 2010, the Group created an asset management subsidiary, Amundi, which it listed on the stock market in 2015. Amundi was ranked number one in Europe and ninth worldwide in 2013.
As it has developed, Crédit Agricole has committed to being a responsible company, signing a diversity charter and in 2008 founding the Grameen Crédit Agricole Microfinance Foundation.