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Banks in France: A Guide to the French System

Banks in France: A Guide to the French System

Are you planning to visit France on a long-stay holiday, on a working vacation visa, to study, or to expatriate? Opening a current account with a French bank will save you a lot of banking fees. But which bank should you choose? How solid is the French banking system?

In this article, we answer all your questions and give you our top 12 best French banks, including neo-banks and green banks!

Let’s start with banks in France!

French banks are structured on three main levels:

  1. The Banque de France implements the monetary policy decided by the European Central Bank via interest rates. Its aim is to maintain financial stability and economic growth and to ensure the smooth operation of the French banking system.
  1. The second tier is made up of commercial banks such as BNP Paribas, Crédit Agricole, and Société Générale. These are the banks that accept deposits, allow ATM withdrawals, offer bank cards, cheque books, and current accounts, and grant loans to individuals and businesses.
  1. The third tier comprises investment banks, finance companies, and specialized credit institutions.
Banque de France
Banque de France @Manakin

How Do I Open a Bank Account in France?

To open a bank account in France as an expatriate, you must provide the following documents to the bank:

  • Identity document (passport or ID card)
  • Your residence visa in France
  • Proof of address in France
  • Proof of income
  • An initial deposit

How Much Do Banks Charge in France?

French ATM
French ATM @petekarici

Bank charges in France in 2022 will average €219 per year. This amount may vary depending on the bank, the type of account, and the services used. The main bank charges are account management fees, bank transaction fees, bank card fees, and insurance fees.

In France, bank charges are on the rise, but they remain half as high as in the United States! This difference can be explained by the fact that regulations on bank charges have been tightened to reduce the fees charged to customers, and by the fact that the French overdraw less often than Americans!

How Solid is the French Banking System?

As the global banking system is highly interconnected, the collapse of several regional banks in the USA in 2023 has rekindled concerns about the security of the French banking system and fears of a collapse (“French bank collapse 2023”).

However, the French banking system is considered strong by most experts. In particular, it is regulated by the Banque de France, the Autorité de Contrôle Prudentiel et de Résolution (ACPR), and the European Union. The 2013 Banking Act strengthened banks’ capital and liquidity requirements, making them more resilient to financial crises.

Digital Banks in France

Looking for a low-cost, 100% digital bank that’s just right for enjoying life over a French aperitif? French neobanks may be just the solution you’re looking for!

What is a Neobank?

Neobanks are French banks that are entirely digital, offering banking services at much lower fees than traditional banks. Opening a bank account is just a few clicks away, with no minimum income required.

With companies such as Boursorama Banque, Nickel, or Ma French Bank, the landscape of the French banking market is undergoing a major transformation. Neobanks are attracting more and more French people, to whom they offer low-cost banking services and a simplified customer experience.

Wondering which French bank is the strongest, or which online bank to choose? Here’s our ranking of the best French banks, whether traditional or 100% digital (neobanks)!

  1. BNP Paribas

Although particularly exposed to market risks due to its investment banking activities, BNP Paribas is France’s leading bank and one of the world’s top 5. Founded in 1848, the bank’s total assets amounted to 2,851 billion euros in 2022.

  1. Crédit Agricole

Founded in 1894, Crédit Agricole is known for its strong roots in the local and rural economy. Comprising 39 Regional Banks and Caisse Nationale du Crédit Agricole, the bank is now France’s second-largest banking group, with total assets of 2,741 billion euros in 2022.

  1. Société Générale 

Founded in 1864, it is one of France’s oldest and most respected banks. France’s third-largest bank in terms of assets (2,231 billion euros in 2022), is renowned for its retail, corporate, and investment banking services. It owns the neobank Boursorama, which offers a free, practical card for travel abroad.

  1. Groupe BPCE

Comprising Banque Populaire and Caisse d’Épargne, BPCE is France’s fourth-largest banking group, with total assets of 1,820 billion euros in 2022. The advantage of these two banks is that they are owned and controlled by their customers, who are both shareholders and customers.

  1. AXA Banque

AXA Banque is France’s fifth-largest bank, with total assets of 1,240 billion euros in 2022. It is a subsidiary of AXA, an insurance company. Please note that the bank is online only, with no physical branches.

  1. Crédit Mutuel

Comprising 138 local Caisses, Crédit Mutuel is France’s sixth-largest banking group, with total assets of €1,060 billion in 2022. As a mutual bank, it is less exposed to market risks.

  1. HSBC France

HSBC France, a subsidiary of HSBC resulting from the takeover of CCF (Crédit Commercial Français), is the eighth-largest bank in France, with total assets of 850 billion euros in 2022. As a British multinational bank with the motto “votre banque partout dans le monde” (= your bank everywhere in the world), it’s ideal for expatriates!

  1. Crédit du Nord

This French banking group, founded in 1848, is made up of 8 Caisses régionales and Caisse nationale du Crédit du Nord. It has over 1,900 branches and more than 2 million individual and business customers, to whom it offers a wide range of banking products and services.

  1. BoursoBank (Ex-Boursorama Banque)

A French online bank (neobank) founded in 1998 by Société Générale, BoursoBank offers bank accounts, insurance products, and a full range of stock market investments (equities and derivatives). It is one of the most popular online banks in France, with over 2.5 million customers. It’s an excellent bank for travelers.

  1. Nickel 
Nickel bank
Nickel bank @Nickel

Nickel is a French online bank founded in 2014 by Frédéric Bazard. It offers bank accounts, bank cards, cash withdrawals, and deposits at tobacconists. It is the first bank in France to offer a bank account with no income or deposit requirements. It has over 2 million customers in France.

  1. Lydia
Lydia bank
Lydia bank @Lydia

Founded in 2013, this neobank is first and foremost an app that connects to an existing bank account. What’s in it for you? Having a free payment card online and in-store, sending and receiving money free of charge and instantly, managing your budget, paying bills… It has over 4 million users in France.

  1. Ma French Bank

Ma French Bank is a French online bank created by Caisse d’Epargne and Banque Postale. It offers a free current account, a free bank card, and a simple, intuitive mobile application.

In France, as in the USA, climate change and sustainable development are top of mind. And while the French are already at the heart of eco-friendly innovation with these 5 startups revolutionizing the food industry, green investment and sustainable finance are also on a roll!

What are ESG Criteria?

The criteria ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) are used to measure a company’s impact and the sustainability of its activities. Scored on a scale from 0 to 100, the score encompasses consideration of climate challenges, business ethics, economic and ecological investments, as well as respectful management.

Green Banks and Ethical Banks: What’s the Difference?

A little linguistic subtlety in the world of the green economy: while green banks focus on financing eco-responsible projects, ethical banks take a more global approach, integrating not only the environmental aspect (carbon footprint, renewable energy, etc.) but also the social responsibility of companies in terms of management.

Which Green Bank to Choose in France?

Here are a few options, not exhaustive, for a French bank aligned with your values:

  • La Nef: A 100% French bank, both green and ethical, La Nef is our favorite. Specialized in financing sustainable projects, it offers total transparency on the use of deposits. The only drawback is that individuals can only open a savings account, the current account being reserved for professionals.
  • Crédit Coopératif: Offering a full range of banking products (life insurance, savings, current account), this French bank finances projects with a strong social impact. However, its branch network is less extensive than that of the major traditional banks.
  • Banque Triodos (French subsidiary): A European leader renowned for its commitment to sustainability, Triodos finances exclusively green projects.

Et voilà! French banks no longer hold any secrets for you! Now all you have to do is make your choice! Traditional bank, online bank, or green bank?

Tell us in the comments what you prefer, and don’t hesitate to share your experience with us!

Translated into English by Sacha