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Inside View: Société Générale Private Banking

French bank looks to beef up its private banking operation with a focus on digital innovation and European markets.

Fri Jun 26 2015

As the private banking sector and particularly wealth management undergo growth in new markets, and a broad shift spurred by regulation and the rise of digital technology, private banks are drawing a larger pool of talent.

One of those banks is Société Générale, one of France’s largest lenders, which has a sprawling European private banking operation, Société Générale Private Banking Hambros (SGPB).

While there has been a flurry of private banking activity in Asia, Société Générale sold off its private bank businesses in Singapore and Hong Kong to Asian lender DBS. It has focused on European operations instead, with offices in the UK, Belgium, Luxembourg, Monaco and Switzerland among other locations.

Société Générale has also sought to innovate. Wealth managers have been slow to adopt digital technologies but the French bank has been ahead of the curve. Its three year tech transformation is in response to customer demand for more flexible private banking.

Personal relationships, however, remain king, as Jean François Mazaud, head of Société Générale’s private bank, alludes to in this interview with BusinessBecause.

Jean Francois was appointed Head of Société Générale Private Banking in 2012. He joined Société Générale in 1993 and has worked across divisions including as head of debt capital markets, and as deputy head of global finance during the financial crisis.

He holds a master’s degree in financial engineering from the Lyon Business Management School and is also a graduate of the Bordeaux Management School.

Société Générale is also the corporate program sponsor of the MSc in Corporate Finance & Banking at EDHEC Business School.

Is the rise of digital threatening the traditional private banking model?

With the rise of digital, clients have developed new habits and expectations. They want us to provide them easy access to all our products and services, anywhere, anytime, but still emphasize the importance of human interactions when necessary.

For private banks, the threat is thus to miss the boat and be outdistanced by competitors who would be more efficient at adapting their model to these new trends.

SGPB has launched a very ambitious three-year transformation program of its technological environment, which will be the backbone of tomorrow’s private bank. The goal of this strategic program is to give our clients the highest-performing solutions while ensuring they remain easy to use. We believe this program will help us cope with digital advances and the client expectations they imply, while also maintaining a proper quality of service.

How much value is placed on wealth managers' personal relationships?

Client relationship management is at the heart of SGPB’s business model, for we aim at being the reference for relationship private banking.

Wealth managers and private bankers, who are at the forefront of customer experience, have to embody the private bank’s standards and Société Générale’s values, which include professional elegance, team spirit, innovation, responsibility and commitment.

SGPB conducts multichannel satisfaction surveys leading to local action plans and transverse initiatives. 

Big banks have been pulling out of international markets. Are regional private banking players likely to benefit?

The regulatory and economic environment requires banks to focus their activities in their most profitable areas. Like many other global private banks, SGPB has continued to sell-off or consolidate its businesses in certain countries to gain a stronger foothold.

In Europe, SGPB has built a very strong network with offices in [the] UK, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Monaco, Switzerland, the Channel Islands and Gibraltar.

SGPB also has a presence in Croatia and the Czech Republic through a partnership with Société Générale International's retail network. This setup has already shown good results, as SGPB was named “Best Private Bank in Europe” by both Private Banker International and Wealthbriefing in 2015.

There has been a flurry of M&A activity among private banks in Asia. What is driving this?

The Asian market is both fragmented and specific, with many local players and distinct client needs. Achieving sustainable profitability therefore requires private banks to reach a critical size, as well as a high level of technicality to meet the local clients’ needs.

As a result, some private banks turn to M&A to strengthen their local setup and deliver better results. Other banks, such as Société Générale Private Banking, have signed commercial partnerships with local players (DBS) to ensure that their clients have the proper level of service in Asia. 

It is said that private banking offers better work-life balance than public markets roles. Is this a lure for business school students?

SGPB, as other business lines of the bank, is fully engaged to ensure a better work-life balance in alignment with the group’s strategic commitments. We believe that improving our teams’ quality of life at work is key to achieving our objectives in terms of performance.

With fees, potential earnings can be significant. Is this also a key selling point to students?

Our compensation policy is in line with marker practices in the private banking sector and is not just oriented to recognize business performance, but also behaviours representing our core values.