Société Générale, one of Europe’s biggest banks, said late Monday it plans to close around 15% of its branches and cut staff in its French retail banking network, while also selling assets as part of a three-year plan to boost returns.
Chief Executive Frédéric Oudéa, who took the top job following a rogue trader scandal in 2008, is under pressure to boost profitability in the face of disruption from new ‘fintech’ startups and new regulation – in particular, the European Union’s new Payment Services Directive, which aims to make it easier for startups to provide services to customers of established banks like SocGen.
France’s third-largest listed bank unveiled a 1.1 billion euro ($1.3 billion) savings plan that will cut 900 jobs in its French retail bank, close 300 branches and reduce the number of back office centers. It had already announced over 2,500 job cuts last year.
It is also seeking to increase revenue by more than 3 percent annually – with the slowest growth seen coming from French retail and the strongest from international retail banking and financial services.
The bank’s shares have underperformed peers so far this year amid fears that pending legal disputes could hurt dividends. While most European bank stocks have risen as an end to the easy money policy of the European Central Bank comes in sight, SocGen’s have fallen over 8%. It rose 0.9% on the news in early trading in Europe Tuesday.
SocGen said it was targeting progressive dividend growth, with a 50 percent payout ratio and 2.20 euro floor – matching what it paid on 2016 results – to apply from 2017. Some investors had been hoping for a payout ratio of 60 percent, according to the Financial Times.
The bank also said it could sell or close sub-scale businesses accounting for around 5 percent of its risk-weighted assets, which stood at 353 billion euros as of Sept 30. Shrinking the bank could help free up capital, allowing it to pay out more in dividends. Last week, SocGen was reaffirmed as one of the world’s global systemically important banks, which means it needs to keep its core capital ratios one percentage point higher than would otherwise be the case.