The known unknowns about Crédit Agricole
The French group seems both destined for dominance and predisposed to failure.
Big banks will always be criticised for their complexity, and French banks’ desire to be all things to all people makes them particularly prone to baffling complication.
Crédit Agricole is probably the least fathomable in France – not just because of its multifarious business model but also because of its French regional mutual bank ownership, overlapped by a listed hub, Crédit Agricole SA (CASA).
Whether they think it is successful or not, analysts and investors with experience of covering its equity and debt can trip up when trying to explain Crédit Agricole’s governance. They seem to revert to pre-formed opinions, sometimes about the fundamental validity of competition by such a big mutual group.
This is a real problem, at least for outsiders. It is sometimes hard to know the questions, never mind the answers, at Crédit Agricole.
For example, does mutual ownership make it well-positioned for European expansion or more predisposed to acquisition cock-ups – perhaps because the lack of dividend-hungry shareholders might mean it has more cash to burn?
Its 2006 acquisition of Greek bank Emporiki, in retrospect, gives support to the cock-up theory.