Société Générale targets transaction banking


Kanika Saigal
Published on:

Will Société Générale’s ambitions to become a transaction banking frontrunner be cut short without a unified vision?


According to Benoît Desserre, head of global transaction banking at Société Générale, 2018 was a “remarkable year” for the business.

The bank’s net income in Western Europe (excluding France), Asia and the USA for transaction services rose by 16% – “outstanding given that we are seeing negative interest rates in markets in Europe,” he says.

France is not included in this data. Critics claim that this is because Société Générale’s performance in the country has come under pressure from competitors such as BNP Paribas and Crédit Agricole. Desserre explains, however, that it is because the bank is already a “global transaction banking (GTB) leader in its home country. As such, growth is particularly difficult to achieve there and would not reflect our growth in the business.”

Benoît Desserre,
Société Générale
The bank does not break down profits from its global transaction banking business but Desserre is adamant that it is well on its way to achieving its GTB target – publicly outlined in its five-year plan – to grow revenue from €1.9 billion in 2016 to €2.6 billion in 2022.

“We have every confidence that we will reach our goal,” he says. “Our market share in the business is only going to grow from here.”

Tough year

Société Générale has had a tough year in investment banking, so for Desserre, investing in GTB is a strategy that makes sense. The business is one of the key growth areas for the bank. “Our strategy now is that if we grow our GTB business, if we harness the success we have in cash, FX and trade and our investment banking business will strengthen as a result,” he says.

But some bankers with knowledge of the institution argue that Société Générale’s push to become a transaction services leader will suffer from the lack of a “unified vision” at the bank.

“There is no question that Société Générale has an impressive footprint in Europe, but one of the problems the bank has faced in the past is that there hasn’t been enough coordination and communication between the regions,” says one source.

“The bank doesn’t have a unified vision, and this may affect how its GTB business develops.”

This has also damaged Société Générale’s ability to hold on to new talent, claims the banker. “The bank has invested a lot in technology and people but rather than leverage the expertise they have gained, they see them as more of a trophy, a statement, which will mean that this new talent will eventually leave.”

There is no shortage of transaction banking talent around. Banks in the business have picked up people from Deutsche Bank, which has announcedmass layoffs in the last year, and RBS, which closed its international transaction banking business back in 2015, as well as others.

Société Générale has been active in hiring from this pool, and in half of the countries where it has a transaction banking presence in Europe the business is run by bankers hired from elsewhere. Claudia Serigado Antunes, who is now head of global transaction banking in Spain, was hired from RBS in 2016; Gabriele Schnell, who is head of cash management and payments for the bank in Germany, came from HSBC in 2016; and Peter Clemens, who is the head of the global transaction banking team in Belgium, was at RBS for ten years before joining Société Générale in 2017.

“Last year alone we hired 180 people into our transaction banking business,” says Desserre.

“People are now beginning to approach us – the sheer volume of recruitment into this business illustrates just how fast we are growing and few if any senior people we have in our GTB business have left since I became global head in 2016,” he says.

Moreover, he disputes the need for the “GTB unified vision” that others say is lacking. “We need to build strategies that are best suited to each region we are present in – having a unified vision, and as I understand it, a unified strategy to our development, won’t work because our banks, whether retail and/or wholesale, do differ by region.”

Euromoney will keenly monitor the bank’s progress in GTB.