France's "Bank of the Poor" Forgives Debts

By Jack Palmer 01-25-2012

Given all that has happened in the last few years, it is understandable that the media hasn’t been jam-packed with good news stories about banks. I don’t know if you heard, but they’re sort of in the dog house.

But a story that was reported by earlier this week brought me a surprise and a smile to my face — it was a good news story about a bank! reports that some lucky customers of France’s oldest bank have had their loans forgiven, in a gesture that marked the Crédit Municipal de Paris’s 375th anniversary (or is that anniversaire?) The bank has a history of looking out for its customers and was in fact founded (in 1637) as a bank that would give “the needy access to fair banking” — something that was certainly not commonplace in the 17th Century.

According to

The 3,500 clients who benefitted from the bank’s largesse had debts of 150 euros or less (about $190) with the Crédit Municipal de Paris, also known as the "Mont-de-piété," the bank of the poor, which has for centuries allowed the needy to get loans against their valuables—a kind of ethical pawnshop, or the original microlender. The small kindness was welcome for many.

"I'm very happy, it's the first time I get something for nothing," said Geneviève, an elegant woman in her fifties who was at the bank to get back a gold coin and a small wedding band she had pawned three years ago. "There came a point when I needed money. They're not worth much but they're important to me."

The unexpected gift is a way for the bank to celebrate its 375th anniversary. The Crédit Municipal de Paris was created in 1637 by Théophraste Renaudot, a doctor, journalist and philanthropist who wanted to combat poverty by giving the needy access to fair banking.

By allowing people to pawn their possessions in exchange for low-interest loans, the bank has made a habit of helping its patrons battle through difficult financial times, a habit that has become commonplace once more in the wake of the financial crisis. Between 2010 and 2011, the number of people using the bank grew by nearly a third.

While it is troubling that so many people are forced to pawn their possessions to survive in these challenging times, the gesture made by the Crédit Municipal de Paris is something that should be celebrated. I am pretty sure the folks whose loans have been forgiven feteront ses heureux hasards. 

To read more about this good-news story, visit’s website.

Jack Palmer is a communications assistant at Sojourners. Follow Jack on Twitter @JackPalmer88.


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