It is not every day that a bank is at the helm of the financial products offered to its customers … This bank is BNP Paribas Personal Finance, a branch of BNP Paribas. He is on trial for home loans whose rate indexed to the Swiss franc has soared, putting more than 2,200 people who have joined as plaintiffs in difficulty.
“It is catastrophic, we are very anxious”
These are mainly middle-income families, including many civil servants who wanted to make a rental investment to secure their retirement or bequeath a nest egg to their children, and who therefore took out this loan in Swiss francs repayable in euros. But with the 2010 crisis their debt exploded. Cédric and Magali Aumont, firefighter and CNRS employee respectively, borrowed € 169,000 ten years ago. They have since repaid € 100,000 but still owe € 192,000, more than the initial loan. With their two children, they have had to move from a house to a small apartment in Essonne, and find themselves in an inextricable situation when they think they have taken out a classic fixed-rate loan.
“Whenever we had a statement, we called the bank. We didn’t have to worry, with credit, with our monthly payments, that things would return to normal, that we had to wait and that we need to be patient,” says Magali. “It is written in black and white that it is a fixed rate. A fixed rate is a fixed rate! Nobody said there was a risk due to the exchange rate. Never. It is not marked absolutely anywhere in the contract. Or if it is marked. , it is absolutely not understandable for a private individual who does not work in the world of finance, we have deceived ourselves, very clearly, about the risks we ran by taking on this type of credit.
And for the couple, the consequences are dire. “Here, it is catastrophic. We are very anxious, we wonder how we will repay this loan. We do not know at all how we will get out of it”, continues Magali. “We are both in our 50s and can no longer hope to take out a loan to buy a primary residence. Our plans have stopped working. It may be ridiculous, but even going on vacation gets complicated because of this credit problem.”
“The speech addressed to consumers was ‘total absence of risk’ and ‘best offer on the market'”
And the whole question is whether the risk was actually announced. “Everything was clear, everything was understandable for all subscribers”, assures Me Ludovic Malgrain, lawyer of BNP Personal Finance. “We respect the duty of information in accordance with civil law and banking law”, he continues. The bank recognizes the existence of “worrying situations” and claims to try to find “solutions on a case-by-case basis”, underlines Me Malgrain, who points out that a mortgage is a long path, from exchanges with the business supplier to the notary. No operations were carried out, but almost 60% of the over 4,600 signed files were converted into euros, according to an option provided for in the loan agreement, which can be activated after five years.
But the damage is done, for Me Constantin Vallet, who assists 1,200 civil parties, and according to whom the investigation showed that the bank had done everything to hide the risk. “The speech addressed to consumers was ‘total absence of risk’ and ‘best offer on the market'”, says the lawyer. “There were also counter-narratives to be given to clients when the client asked the question, ‘isn’t a Swiss franc loan too complicated for me?’ It says this in the marketing material. The marketer had to answer: the Swiss franc is for the bank. But it doesn’t change anything for you, as you pay back in euros. “
The testimony of a Bnp PF executive is particularly awaited, who explained to the judges that he had tried to alert his superiors of the danger of the loan, with crash tests supplied.