General Inspection: tradition alongside modernity

Since its founding in 1868, the General Inspection Department has constantly adapted its methods and positioning within the Group, while overseeing its primary task of control.
Overview of a body of expertise that is both steeped in tradition and forward-looking

Spring 1868. Four years after its foundation and at the express request of its board of directors, Societe Generale created a control department, the beginnings of a body that would subsequently become the General Inspection Department. The purpose of the entity was to establish closer links with the branches than would be possible by mere exchanges of correspondence, to allow the head office an accurate view of the operation of the branches and direct control of the network on the ground. Over the years, its tasks have broadened beyond accounting verification and transaction security. Acting under the powers of the General Management to guarantee legitimacy and independence, the General Inspection Department gradually integrated all aspects of the operation of the branches and corporate departments (property, human resources, financial position, etc. etc.). To fulfil this role, from the outset, it drew on young third-level graduates with a good general education, capable of rapidly assimilating banking expertise and taking initiative, while complying with their duty of objectivity. In 1901, the General Inspection competition was created, reflecting the management's goal of excellence in the provision of these services. This meant it could recruit based on tests rather than credentials. Very quickly, however, the bank's development and the diversification of services led to a glut of control activities, making it necessary to move auditors from certain tasks and second them around the Group. 1921 was a landmark year that saw the creation of a control body comprising young recruits selected for their potential, dynamism and motivation. This move proved particularly beneficial during the Liberation in July 1944 when the auditors were authorised to conduct a comprehensive inventory of the network. Indeed many members have used their career at the General Inspection as a springboard, one example being Louis Chaumeil who become vice-chairman of Societe Generale in 1959.

© Archives historiques Société Générale - photo Guy Nicolas

The General Inspection Department has a tradition of mentoring. Young auditors, during their first few years of experience in the group, are placed under the mentorship of an experienced colleague whose role is to initiate them into the work. This spirit of community, with a focus on assistance and solidarity, is one of the corner stones of a mobile profession. Hence traditions flourished within the department. Green ink may still be in use at the General Inspection Department today, but certain other practices and customs have petered out, such as the celibacy rule that applied at the beginning of the century and the famous travel diaries kept for each branch, bursting with written anecdotes... The changes seen in the General Inspection Department's role since the 1980s reflect a department constantly working to remain in tune with changes in the banking sphere. Constantly upgraded techniques and developments in market activities have led to more intensified mathematical training and a greater leaning towards auditors with an engineering profile. While remaining true to its traditional culture of rigour, the department now plays a broader auditing and consultancy role, steering review assignments at the various departments and on cross-departmental projects. At a time when Societe Generale recently celebrated its 150th birthday, the General Inspection Department continues to work in symbiosis with the Group's issues and transformation objectives. Proud of its past and resolutely forward-looking, it remains an original body within the bank. And who would be surprised given the closely entwined history of Societe Generale and its General Inspection Department.

© Archives historiques Société Générale - photo Guy Nicolas