Still present in Russia, Societe Generale increasingly isolated

Leaving Russia would be tricky for Societe Generale: losing Rosbank would cost it around 1.8 billion euros and it would have to find a solution for its 12,000 employees.

A month after the start of the war in Ukraine, the French bank Société Générale has so far not resolved to leave Russia, while its competitors are withdrawing one by one from the country.

Societe Generale is nevertheless very involved in Russia, as the majority shareholder of a heavyweight in the Russian banking sector, Rosbank.

It indicated at the beginning of March that it was exposed to Russia to the tune of 18.6 billion euros (about 19 billion francs), including 15.4 billion only for Rosbank.

Other French banks have already decided: at the beginning of the week, Crédit Agricole and BNP Paribas, certainly much less exposed and therefore having less to lose, announced the cessation of their activities in the country.

Above all, other major international banks with a greater presence in Russia are also withdrawing.

Cascading departures

The American Citigroup announced in mid-March that it was stopping operating in Russia and evaluating the extent of its activities in the country, even if it “takes time to implement”, she said. precise.

At the same time, the Italian bank UniCredit, present in Russia for 30 years, indicated that it was “considering leaving” the country. It could cost up to 7.5 billion euros, in the worst-case scenario.

Above all, the bank must “take into account the interests of [ses] employed in Russia, [ses] customers operating in Russia, many of whom are European, and general health ”of the group, detailed its CEO Andrea Orcel.

UniCredit had already given up at the end of January to apply for the takeover of its Russian competitor Otkrytié because of the tensions linked to the crisis between Russia and Ukraine.

The Austrian Raiffeisen, which has been operating in Russia for 25 years and has some 4.5 million customers there, for its part declared on March 17 “to assess all the strategic options” for the future of its subsidiary in Russia, “including including a withdrawal” from the country.

Societe Generale thus seems quite isolated. And “it is quite possible that it will end up giving in”, underlines to AFP Eric Dor, director of economic studies at the IESEG School of Management in Paris and Lille.

In political discourse, the situation of Societe Generale does not seem to be at the heart of the concerns for the time being. In France, the pressure is more focused on companies like TotalEnergies, attacked in particular by presidential candidates Yannick Jadot and Anne Hidalgo.

Before French parliamentarians on Wednesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky also asked French companies to leave Russia, citing Auchan, Renault and Leroy Merlin, but not the French bank.

Reassure investors

Societe Generale was one of the first to be penalized by the markets for its involvement in Russia. Upon the announcement of the invasion of Ukraine on February 24, the title lost 12.15% on the Paris Stock Exchange. It then tumbled until early March before rising again, without regaining its pre-war level.

For now, the French bank wants to be reassuring. She said at the beginning of March that she was “fully able” to withstand a possible loss of control of Rosbank, with an exposure to Russia of 18.6 billion euros, including 15.4 billion just for Rosbank.

Its managing director Frédéric Oudéa insisted last week on the independent management of the subsidiary. “Rosbank was organized and managed autonomously after the events in Crimea” in 2014, he explained during a conference organized by the American bank Morgan Stanley.

Leaving Russia would be tricky for Societe Generale: losing Rosbank would cost it around 1.8 billion euros, she estimated, and it would have to find a solution for its 12,000 employees.

It would be “to make them pay for Putin’s policy when they are not necessarily in favor of war”, explains Eric Dor.

The best thing for the bank would be “to find a buyer or, failing that, to be expropriated. It would be technically easier” vis-à-vis its employees, believes a financial analyst who wishes to remain anonymous.

Without a buyer, a withdrawal could have significant consequences: Rosbank being considered a systemic institution by the Russian central bank, a bankruptcy would therefore have an impact on the entire Russian economy.

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