Some advice if you’re working at a French bank and are fed up or desperate

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Gloom at SocGen

(photo: Technologix)

Employees of French banks are rumoured to be variously peeved or panicking.

BNP Paribas and SocGen are both struggling with dangerously elevated costs in their investment banking businesses, both are making redundancies – BNP has barely started yet and will be cutting mostly in London. SocGen is making an unprecedented 880 redundancies in France, supposedly voluntarily. And Credit Agricole is closing its equity derivatives and commodities businesses.

One equity derivatives headhunter says SocGen’s French bankers seem particularly desperate. “There are a lot of people working at SG who are massively distressed. I’m getting calls from people who would never previously have leftFranceand who are suddenly happy to take jobs anywhere in the world,” he says. “MDs who would have been my dream placements in the bull years are emailing me and saying they’ll do anything from asset management to consultancy, but I can’t help them.”

It doesn’t help that French bankers haven’t been particularly well paid. There has, we understand, been a little clawback at BNP. And zeroes are widespread everywhere.

Nevertheless, there is some hope if you’re disaffected at a French institution. Headhunters in London recommend that you:

1.  Try Credit Agricole

Bizarrely, and despite cutting its equity derivatives and commodities businesses, Credit Agricole has also been hiring for its government bonds business. Headhunters say it’s recruited from Deutsche, BarCap and RBS, including people who were actually in employment – suggesting it’s been buying them out.

2.   Emphasise your cost effectiveness

Compared to US houses, people at French banks are not well paid. However, this could work to your advantage.

“In sales and trading, the quality of people working at French banks is usually very high,” says one fixed income headhunter. “They are less able to rely upon the franchise and are typically very focused.

“They are also very cheap,” he adds. “Other banks can typically hire cheap salespeople and traders from French houses and upgrade their existing staff with more cost effective replacements.”

Who is hiring cheap salespeople and traders? He points to Citi, Nomura, RBS, JPMorgan, VTB, Mizuho, or RBC.

Needless to say, if you’re working at a French bank and will only move for a big uplift in your pay, your competitive advantage will be eroded and you are unlikely to go anywhere.

3.  Go quietly, or go nowhere

SocGen is said to be offering comparatively generous redundancy payments (immediate cashing in of all stock etc) for people who go voluntarily (whereas it appears to be removing them entirely for people who don’t.) If you’re senior and you’ve got a bit of stock, maybe it’s easier to go quietly.

Alternatively, you could stick where you are. French banks are becoming more and more like corporate banks, observes one headhunter in London: fewer and fewer people are getting bonuses and salaries are typically 20% lower than elsewhere. On the plus side, you usually work shorter hours and have something resembling a life outside work.

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