PARIS Societe Generale is expanding its private bank unit for wealthy clients in Europe and is hiring in France, Britain and Luxembourg to boost growth and capture a cyclical recovery, executives at the French bank said on Tuesday.
The aim is to focus on markets where SocGen has sufficient market share in private banking - where banks charge a premium for personalised services in areas such as fund management - and potential for profitable growth, Jean-Francois Mazaud, head of private banking, said.
"We are concentrating on markets where there is critical mass," Mazaud told reporters at a media event, citing recruitment plans at SocGen's UK private bank Hambros, in Luxembourg and in France - where SocGen is to add 160 private bankers as part of its strategy.
This European push contrasts with SocGen's move to sell its private bank in Asia, which according to sources is at an advanced stage with DBS Group (DBSM.SI) as a preferred buyer.
SocGen's Mazaud declined to comment on Asia, describing sale talk as "market rumours".
SocGen, France's No. 2 listed bank, is due to report its annual 2013 results on February 12. The bank will also unveil a strategic plan in May as lenders across Europe overhaul their business models in response to tougher post-financial crisis rules on risk-taking and an uncertain economic recovery.
Private banking growth trends and profitability in western Europe have lagged Asia's since the financial crisis, according to consultancy McKinsey. However, margins in Asia are thin for the industry's smaller players, while big onshore banks in Europe have held up better than smaller boutiques.
After years of risk aversion among French clients, SocGen is "pretty positive" on the outlook for financial markets and the effects of a cyclical rebound, the bank's deputy head of private banking, Patrick Follea, said.
Taking into account a newly announced drop in the threshold of private-banking clients in France to 500,000 euros in investable assets, SocGen's French private bank now has a total of 50 billion euros in assets under management.
"We have strongly outperformed the (French) market over the past 10 years," said Follea. "I am very optimistic."
(Editing by David Holmes)