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Banque Belge pour l'Étranger's overseas network during its heyday

Banque Belge pour l'Étranger's overseas network during its heyday
This cheque was originally printed for the bank's Paris branch. But as you can see, it was later imprinted with Wiener Bank Verein's Budapest branch and the back the cheque also has a Hungarian duty stamp. This is not surprising, as Banque Belge pour l'Etranger actually was a major financial backer that re-capitalized the Austrian bank Wiener Bank Verein in 1920.

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For anyone interested, this is a brief history of the Banque Belge pour l'Étranger:

Banque Belge pour l'Etranger is French for the "Belgian Foreign Bank" (or "Belgian Bank for Abroad" is a more direct translation).

Banque Belge pour l'Étranger was originally established as the Banque Sino-Belge (the Belgian-Chinese Bank) in 1902 in Shanghai, Beijing, Tianjin and Wuhan by Belgian banking group Société Générale de Belgique. The bank was set up specifically to receive and handle the reparations that China was required to pay to Belgium, plus ten other nations, following the Boxer Rebellion between 1897 and 1901, when anti-foreign factions attempted to eradicate Western imperialism and Christian missions in China. The launch of the Chinese branches marked the beginning of the bank's rapid international expansion. In 1909, the Banque du Congo Belge (Bank of Belgian Congo) and Banque Belge-Zaïroise (Belgian-Zairean Bank) were created in Belgian Congo, followed in 1911 by the creation of the Banque Brésilienne Italo-Belge (Italian-Belgian Brazilian Bank) in Brazil.

Offices were soon opened in London (1909), Sao Paolo (1911), Egypt and Montevideo (1912), Rio de Janeiro (1913) and Buenos Aires (1914). Meanwhile, in 1913, the bank's operations in London, Egypt, China and several other countries were re-organized into the Banque Belge pour l'Etranger. For a number of years, it, like many foreign banks operating in China at the time, issued part of China's banknotes.

Interestingly, Banque Belge pour l'Etranger's London office became a saviour to the Société Générale de Belgique group during World War I when it kept the operations going while Belgium was occupied by the German army.

Further expansion saw the Banque Belge pour l'Etranger opening offices in New York in 1917, and in Paris, Manchester and Cologne in 1919, Bucharest in 1920, Constantinople in 1924 and Hong Kong in 1935. Back in 1919, parent bank Société Générale de Belgique was a major backer in the creation of the Banque Générale du Luxembourg, which eventually became Luxembourg's largest commercial bank. In 1920, Société Générale de Belgique participated in the re-capitalization of Austria's Wiener Bankverein, which like many Austrian banks suffered heavy losses following the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the end of World War I.

An interesting fact about Banque Belge pour l'Etranger's New York office was that it eventually obtained a local state charter and built a network of retail branches in Long Island. It subsequently became known as Belgian American Bank and then European American Bank & Trust, and was first sold to Dutch bank ABN AMRO, then to Citigroup in 2001.

The start of World War II and the turmoil in China in the 1940s caused the disintegration of Banque Belge pour l'Etranger, as many markets fell into enemies' control. During World War II, with Belgium itself under Nazi occupation, Banque du Congo Belge, the Belgian Congo subsidiary, became the provisional head office co-ordinating whatever limited operations for parent firm Société Générale de Belgique.

Following the world-wide conflict, the only meaningful overseas operations of Banque Belge pour l'Etranger to resume were surprisingly in New York and Hong Kong, the latter of which remained part of the Belgian bank group until 2004, when it was sold to ICBC.

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