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Societe Generale SA history, profile and corporate video

Societe Generale SA is engaged in the povision of international banking services. It operates through the following segments: French Networks, International Retail Banking, Specialized Financial Services and Insurance, Global Investment Management and Services, and Corporate and Investment Banking. The French Networks segment offers domestic retail banking services under Societe Generale, Credit du Nord, and Boursorama. The International Retail Banking segment covers retail banking services abroad. The Specializes Financial Services and Insurance segment offers equipment and vendor financing, operational vehicle leasing, fleet management, consumer financing, and life and non-life insurance services. The Global Investment Management and Services segment includes brokerage, securities, and employee savings services. The Corporate and Investment Banking segment consists of the following businesses: global markets, financing and advisory, and legacy assets. The global markets business encompasses all market activities related to equities, fixed income, currencies, and commodities. The financing and advisory business covers all strategy, capital raising, and structures financing advisory services. The legacy assets business manages financial assets that have become illiquid in the wake of financial crisis. The company was founded on May 4, 1864 and is headquartered in Paris, France.

“Societe Generale History

1864–1893

The bank was founded by a group of industrialists and financiers during the second empire, on May 4, 1864, to support the development of commerce and industry in France. The bank’s first chairman was the prominent industrialist Eugène Schneider (1805–1875) followed by Edward Blount, a Scotsman.

The company started to hire employees and establish offices. Coverage of France went ahead at a steady rate. By 1870, the bank had 15 branches in Paris and 32 in the rest of France. It set up a permanent office in London in 1871.

At the beginning, the bank used its own resources almost entirely for both financial and banking operations. In 1871, Société Générale moved into the public French issues market with a national debenture loan launched to cover the war indemnity stipulated in the Treaty of Frankfurt.

From 1871 to 1893, France went through a period of economic gloom marked by the failure of several banking establishments. The company continued to grow at a more moderate pace; in 1889, there were 148 banking outlets, demonstrating the group’s capacity to withstand unfavourable economic conditions.

1894–1930

Starting in 1894, the bank set up the structures characterising a large, modern credit institution. As well as collecting company and private deposits, its branches started to provide short-term operating credits for industrialists and traders. It also moved into placing shares with the general public, issuing private debenture loans in France and also in Russia. Acquisition of equity stakes became a more secondary activity. The company’s excellent financial health allowed it to expand its shareholding structure.

In 1895, Société Générale had 14,000 shareholders; in 1913, they numbered 122,000. The war years were difficult and had serious consequences with the loss of Russian business. However, during the 1920s Société Générale became France’s leading bank: its network had grown sharply since the 1890s, with a huge number of branches and seasonal offices allowing in-depth penetration of the provincial market (260 seasonal offices in 1910 and 864 in 1930).

The number of sales outlets rose from 1,005 in 1913 to 1,457 in 1933 (including those operated by Sogenal (fr)). Thanks also to the dynamism of supervisory and management staff at head office and in the branch offices it moved ahead of Crédit Lyonnais (in terms of deposits collected and loans distributed) between 1921 and 1928. To satisfy the requirements of investing companies, Société Générale created a subsidiary, Calif, specialised in medium-term credit in 1928.

1931–1945

The 1930s were another difficult period. Given the decline in international and French business, the bank was forced to nationalise its network by closing down local branches. On the eve of World War II, the number of sales outlets was not much greater than in 1922. However, Société Générale was active in placing numerous public loans launched during this period by the State or the colonies. The war and the German Occupation interrupted its advance, but the bank moved into Africa and the United States.

From nationalisation to privatisation: 1945–1990

1945–1964

Société Générale was nationalised in 1945. It now had a single shareholder: the State. The period from 1945 to 1958 was characterised in France by rapid economic recovery but also a greater disequilibrium in the balance of payments, calling for continued exchange controls and virtually permanent credit control measures. It was not until 1959 that the economy really recovered, but credit controls were reinforced due to persistent inflationary pressures. Sharp growth in production and foreign trade opened up new areas of business for the banks.

The industry underwent some quite radical changes, one of the most striking of which was much greater specialisation of credit. The range of banking services on offer expanded uninterruptedly. Thanks to its presence in New York, Société Générale was able to take advantage of the flow of business generated by the Marshall Plan.

Société Générale continued to expand in France and elsewhere. It moved into Italy and Mexico and altered the status of its establishments in Africa after decolonisation, in accordance with the laws passed by these newly independent countries.

1965–1990

Société Générale gave new impetus to its French network, with an acceleration in growth after 1966 following elimination of prior authorisation for opening branch offices. International expansion was just as vigorous. It was no longer limited, as before, to the main financial centres (London, New York), neighbouring countries (Belgium, Spain) and the former colonies, with the primary aim of facilitating the business of French firms, but was also aimed at guaranteeing the bank’s presence where new markets were developing, either to export the technical expertise it had acquired in certain fields, or to keep up its contact with the multi-nationals.

1966 and 1967 represented a fundamental turning point in banking regulations, the main development being attenuation of the distinction between deposit and investment banking, and creation of the home mortgage market. Société Générale took advantage of this and acquired leading positions in some new financing techniques designed primarily for companies, such as finance leasing, setting up specialised credit subsidiaries for this purpose. The 1970s were characterised by two major developments: expansion of the international network and across-the-board introduction of IT facilities to cope with extension of the customer base and the development of deposit money. In 1971, the appearance of automatic cash machines crowned the success and development of the credit card. In 1973, Société Générale opened its representative office in the Soviet Union.

In 1975, Société Générale introduced Agrifan, a food-products trading company to connect French suppliers with foreign food buyers. The following year during the Bastille Dayholiday, a meticulously planned robbery was carried out against Société Générale’s most heavily fortified vault in France by ex-paratrooper and wedding photographer Albert Spaggiari. The robbery which involved secretly tunneling underground and compromising the walls of the bank vault netted Spaggiari over 12 million in cash, jewellery, and bullion.

From the beginning of the 1980s, against a backdrop of deregulation and technological change, internationalisation of the markets and the emergence of new financial instruments, Société Générale set itself two commercial objectives. It focused increasingly on private customers via its network of branches and by acquiring specialised subsidiaries. It pursued and expanded its activities in the capital markets in France, and then, on a selective basis, in the different international financial centres. On 29 July 1987, Société Générale was privatised. It had been chosen from among the three leading French commercial banks nationalised in 1945 for its excellent risk-coverage, equity and productivity ratios. George Soros was a share-holder in 1988.

1990s – 2011

In recent years, the Société Générale Group has focused on developing its activities around three core businesses through a combination of organic growth and acquisitions.

Retail Banking was strengthened in 1997 through the acquisition of Crédit du Nord, highlighting the Group’s determination to capitalise on the restructuring of the French banking system. At the same time, Société Générale looked to secure the long-term loyalty of its customers (launch of “one account number for life” and introduction of Jazz, a package of service offers). In 1999 it entered into a merger agreement with rival bank Paribas, but this was scuppered by a competitor, the Banque Nationale de Paris (BNP).

In 1998, Société Générale set up Retail Banking outside France as a separate division, underscoring the Group’s resolve to make this business one of its strategic development axes. This activity was also strengthened in 1999 through the acquisitions made in Romania (BRD – Groupe Société Générale), Bulgaria (Société Générale Expresbank) andMadagascar. This external growth strategy has been manifested through acquisitions in Central Europe (Komerční Banka in the Czech Republic and SKB Banka (sl) in Slovenia) in 2001. Investment banking at Societe Generale in Russia was run by Jacques Der Megreditchian until 2000.  At that time, Société Générale became officially concerned withmoney laundering scandal and underground economy.

In 2001, Société Générale acquired a controlling interest in the TCW Group. The TCW Group, which was founded in 1971, was originally known as Trust Company of the Westand is the parent of TCW/Crescent Mezzanine one of the leading mezzanine capital firms in the US. The TCW Group operated as a subsidiary of Société Générale Asset Management until it was sold to Carlyle Group.

Africa is also a major area of interest for the bank, with the 2002 purchase of Eqdom in Morocco (the market leader in consumer lending) and Union Internationale de Banques (fr) in Tunisia. In addition, 51 percent of SSB Bank in Ghana in 2003 and 50 percent of Geniki Bank in Greece in 2004 were acquired . In terms of specialized financial services, a department created in mid-2001, the purchase of two Deutsche Bank subsidiaries, ALD Automotive (fr) for multi-brand auto leasing and financing and GEFA for corporate sales financing enabled Société Générale to increase its European presence in these sectors. In 2002, it continued to pursue its external growth strategy by purchasing Hertz Lease, a European subsidiary specializing in long-term leasing and fleet management for Ford Motor Company vehicles.

With a track record as leader in France for financial savings products (mutual funds, investment funds, company savings plans), the Group has developed its Asset Managementand Private Banking activities: in 1999, its subsidiary, Société Générale Asset Management, pursued the strategy of developing both its mutual fund management business in France and its activities aimed at major institutional investors at an international level. With the launch of Société Générale AM UK in London and the acquisition of Yamaichi inJapan, Société Générale Asset Management has taken a decisive step in establishing its international presence and is now able to offer its customers truly global fund management capabilities. Société Générale also has a worldwide presence in private banking activities. After pursuing a deliberate policy of acquisitions in 1998, Société Générale Private Banking consolidated and developed its franchise in 1999 against a backdrop of tougher competition.

During the 1st quarter 2004, the third branch of activity of the Société Générale Group, GIMS Global Investment Management and Services was created. In February 2004, Société Générale set up a new division named SG GSSI, Global Securities Services for Investors, which provides investor services on securities and derivatives, attached to the GIMS which regroups SG Asset Management, SG Private Banking and SG Global Securities Services for Investors. GIMS employed 7,600 people. As of 2009 this group is listed as Société Générale Securities Services or SG SS

Société Générale developed its Corporate and Investment Banking businesses under the SG CIB brand name, introduced in 1998, which as of 2014 is subsumed by SG SS. Bolstered by a sound client base and a recognised capacity for innovation borne out by the league tables, Société Générale was looking to develop its M&A, advisory and IPO activities through the acquisition of specialised firms (SG Hambros in the United Kingdom, Barr Devlin in the United States).

French reporter Denis Robert and former #3 of Cedel fr:Ernest Backes,a whistleblower of Clearstream have accused Société Générale of having non-published accounts in Clearstream, which was at the centre of a financial scandal in 2009. The bank denied those accusations.

2010-present

2008–2009, years of crises

January 2008: Trading loss incident (Kerviel Fraud)

On January 24, 2008, the bank announced that a single futures trader at the bank had fraudulently lost the bank €4.9 billion (an equivalent of US$7.2 billion), the largest such loss in history. The company did not name the trader, but other sources identified him as Jérôme Kerviel, a relatively junior futures trader who allegedly orchestrated a series of bogus transactions that spiraled out of control amid turbulent markets in 2007 and early 2008.

Partly due to the loss, that same day two credit rating agencies reduced the bank’s long term debt ratings: from AA to AA- by Fitch; and from Aa1/B to Aa2/B- by Moody’s (B and B- indicate the bank’s financial strength ratings).

Executives said the trader acted alone and that he may not have benefited directly from the fraudulent deals. The bank announced it will be immediately seeking 5.5 billion euros in financing. On the eve and afternoon of January 25, 2008, Police raided the Paris headquarters of Société Générale and Kerviel’s apartment in the western suburb of Neuilly, to seize his computer files. French presidential aide Raymond Soubie stated that Kerviel dealt with $73.3 billion (more than the bank’s market capitalization of $52.6 billion). Three union officials of Société Générale employees said Kerviel had family problems. On January 26, 2008, the Paris prosecutors’ office stated that Jerome Kerviel, 31, in Paris, “is not on the run. He will be questioned at the appropriate time, as soon as the police have analysed documents provided by Société Générale.” Spiegel Online stated that Kerviel may have lost 2.8 billion dollars on 140,000 contracts earlier negotiated due to DAX falling 600 points.

Société Générale SA says it had a net loss in the fourth quarter of 2007 after the French bank took a €4.9 billion ($7.18 billion) hit closing the unauthorized trading positions ofJérôme Kerviel.

March 2008: Missing consignment of gold by Goldaş

On March 21, 2008, Société Générale filed suit in Istanbul Commercial Court against Goldaş, a Turkish Jewelry firm, claiming the company had not paid for 15 tonnes(15,000 kg) of gold it had received through a consignment agreement. Goldaş stated that the consignment agreement was only for 3,250 kg of gold with a value of US$94 million. In June 2008, the court found Goldaş not guilty.

March 2009: Potential loss of $11 billion averted due to US government bailout of AIG

On March 15, 2009, AIG disclosed that, among its counterparties, Société Générale was to date the largest recipient of both credit default swap (CDS) collateral postings ($4.1 bn) and CDS payments ($6.9 bn), payments made possible in part by the 2008 U.S. government bailout of AIG.

2010, a year of recovery?

Following two years of crisis resulting from the revelation of the Kerviel fraud and then from the eruption of the global financial crisis, the bank appeared to have put things behind it in 2010.

Kerviel trial

The trial of Jérôme Kerviel  began on June 8, 2010 at the Paris Palais de Justice, and lasted until June 25. Société Générale filed the civil suit. The former Société Générale trader was represented by Olivier Metzner, and the Bank was represented by Jean Veil, Jean Reinhart and François Martineau. The trial aroused much media interest, with a record number of requests for accreditation from journalists. Following more than two weeks of highly technical debate with much focus on Jérôme Kerviel’s character, the State Prosecutor called for the former trader to be given a five-year prison sentence, two of them suspended, whilst Kerviel’s lawyer called for his client to be acquitted. The ruling was announced on October 5, 2010, at 11 am. Jérôme Kerviel was found guilty of the three charges filed against him: breach of trust, fraudulent inputting of data into an IT system and forgery and use of forged documents. He was found to be solely responsible for the record loss suffered by Société Générale in early 2008, and was sentenced to five years in prison, with two of those years suspended, and ordered to pay damages of 4.9 billion euros to the Bank.

Jérôme Kerviel immediately launched an appeal on the basis of an “unreasonable decision”, according to his lawyer Olivier Metzner. Kerviel’s sentence has therefore been suspended until the appeal, which is due to take place between June 4 and June 28, 2012, and he is presumed innocent until that time. The huge amount of damages Kerviel was ordered to pay gave rise to much emotion amongst the general public and online. The sentencing of one man to pay such a large sum of money was met with incomprehension and anger amongst Internet users. The Bank announced that the sum was “symbolic” and it had no expectation that the sum would be paid by Jérôme Kerviel.

An ongoing transformation plan

In business terms, Société Générale appeared intent on moving on and implementing an in-depth transformation in 2010. On June 15, the Bank presented its Ambition SG 2015 programme to investors, the aim of this programme being to “deliver growth with lower risk” by 2015, using the lessons learned from the crisis.

Positive financial results

In 2010, the company saw an upturn in its financial results. Over the first half, the Group recorded net income of 2.15 billion euros. These good figures were presented shortly after the publication of the results of the stress tests of 91 European banks, results that confirmed the financial solidity of the main four French banks, including Societe Generale.

A new communication campaign

In mid-March 2011, Société Générale unveiled its new communication campaign, based on a new slogan: “Building team spirit together” (“Développons ensemble l’Esprit d’équipe”). This campaign is in line with the Group’s Ambition SG 2015 transformation programme, the aim of which is to put customer relations at the heart of the Bank’s business. The press and television advertising campaign was developed by Paris-based communication agency Fred & Farid Group.

This new slogan replaces the previous one, “On est là pour vous aider” (“We stand by you”), which in turn replaced other slogans such as “Si on en parlait?” (Let’s talk) and “Conjuguons nos talents” (Let’s combine our expertise).

2011 financial crisis

During the summer of 2011, the financial markets, fearing the collapse of the euro zone associated with the European sovereign debt crisis, were severely shaken. European and French bank shares recorded substantial falls. It was within this context that Britain’s Mail on Sunday (Daily Mail) published, on Sunday August 7, an article in which it announced Société Générale’s imminent bankruptcy. The newspaper quickly published a retraction and its apologies but, despite that, the rumour gathered pace, notably on social networks, resulting in a spectacular fall in Société Générale’s share price and in bearish speculation.

Société Générale successfully filed a suit in the UK against Associated Press (the Mail on Sunday’s parent company) for “substantial damage to its reputation and prejudice to its trade”. Bearish pressure, influenced by speculation but also by investor suspicion, continued to affect Société Générale’s share price through to the end of 2011. Over the year, the share lost 57.22 percent of its value, the third-worst CAC 40 performance of 2011 (after Veolia and Peugeot).

2014 Innovation at Societe Generale: a long history
Societe Generale owes its 150 years of history in part to ceaseless innovation by its men and women and the teams on which they work.

*Information from Forbes.com and Wikipedia.org

**Video published on YouTube by “Societe Generale