Over the years

Societe Generale is one of the leading European financial services groups. Based on a diversified and integrated banking model, the Group has been an active in the real economy for over 150 years.
Below are some of the key dates that make up the Group’s history.

2017-2020Strategic plan:

Transform to Grow

2017 Strategic plan

On 28 November, Societe Generale presented its 2020 strategic and financial plan Transform to Grow.

Commenting on the plan, Societe Generale Chief Executive Officer, Frédéric Oudéa said: "Our 2020 strategic plan, Transform to Grow, is based on a long-term vision of Societe Generale group as a trusted partner for our clients, committed to the positive transformations of our societies and economies. Our ambition is therefore to generate superior, profitable and sustainable growth."

2009-2016A period of transformation

2016 Les Dunes

Societe Generale inaugurated Les Dunes - its new campus in eastern Paris - in 2016. Les Dunes is designed to foster collective intelligence and to serve as a technological crossroads open to the outside world while integrating the highest environmental standards. It boasts 5,500 workstations in a flexible office set-up, most of which are used by IT teams. Users enjoy a collaborative, modern, stimulating working environment.

2015 The first positive impact bond issue

Under the auspices of the United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative (UNEP-FI), Societe Generale successfully completed the first positive impact bond issue, raising €500 million for climate change projects. In line with its sustainable development commitments, the Bank is reducing the carbon footprint of its activities and supports the renewable energy sector.

2015 Worldwide Partner of the 2015 Rugby World Cup in the United Kingdom

As an official sponsor of the French rugby team, Societe Generale is a loyal partner of local rugby and an active supporter of over 450 amateur clubs, professional rugby and the French squad. Through its subsidiaries, it encourages the development of this sport in many countries, from Luxembourg to Hong Kong via Senegal and Turkey. Since 2001 it has supported rugby sevens, which became an Olympic sport at the Rio de Janeiro Games in 2016. It began by sponsoring the French under-17 championships before setting up the Societe Generale Sevens - a nationwide championship for student players.

2014 The digital transformation is upon us

Societe Generale is persuaded that digital can truly drive the transformation in banking relations and businesses and has made it a strategic priority with an active policy of accelerating its digital transformation. True to its tradition of innovation, Societe Generale welcomes these technological changes as opportunities to evolve and enhance its relationship with its customers and employees, working together to build the bank of the 21st century.

2010 Launch of the Societe Generale app

The Societe Generale app is underpinned by a strong innovation dynamic and ranks among the leaders in mobile banking services with an ever wider range of sophisticated functionalities. With more than 4 million downloads, it offers customers an easy and secure way of managing their accounts and contacting their adviser.

2010 The Société Marseillaise de Crédit joins the Crédit du Nord Group

Established in 1865, the Société Marseillaise was initially a commercial bank whose objective was to provide finance to the local economy and international commerce. In 1909 it extended its activity to accepting deposits and developed a network of branches in South East France then, after 1919, in North Africa. By this time it had become a large regional bank, very strongly rooted in its area. By joining the Crédit du Nord Group, the SMC will preserve its strengths: a strong regional brand and a close relationship with its customers.

1998-2009At the crossroads

2009 A great patron

On 11 February 2009, Societe Generale received France’s “Grand Mécène” (great patron) medal for its cultural sponsorship policy. Presented by Christine Albanel, the French Minister of Culture and Communication, this distinction recognises the bank’s commitment and contribution to the promotion of artistic and musical life in France and abroad.

Its collection of contemporary art, begun in 1995, is enriched every year by the acquisition of works by a wide range of artists - some young and relatively unknown, others world-renowned. Some works, selected by museum curators in France and abroad, are lent out for exhibitions that also benefit from Societe Generale’s patronage. The bank’s involvement also extends to purchasing works that are then donated to the museums when the exhibitions end.

Since 1987, Mécénat Musical Societe Generale (MMSG) has contributed to the success and development of a large number of projects in the field of classical music, financing bursaries at national academies; supporting chamber, choral and symphonic music through competitions, festivals and courses; commissioning works from composers; buying instruments to lend to talented musicians, etc. Societe Generale has also been the principal patron of the Salle Pleyel since it reopened in 2006.

2009 Socially responsible

In 2009, Societe Generale Group was recognised by Capitalcom – Riskmetrics as leading the CAC 40 in terms of diversity, practices and the quality of information supplied.

Its initiatives include the Diversity Council, which is responsible for defining the Group’s policy and formalising its objectives; agreements signed in France on equality in the workplace and the integration of disabled people; social mobility; the internationalisation of teams etc.
In 2005, Societe Generale signed an agreement on gender equality in the workplace, and in 2007 it was awarded "Egalité professionnelle" (equality in the workplace) certification.
Mission Handicap plans to double its recruitment each year.
Recruitment processes developed to attract employees from outside the "normal" talent pools received the stamp of approval of the HALDE (France's antidiscrimation and pro-equality body) in 2007.
The Management Course, a unique scheme in the banking environment, helps technical staff in banking disciplines to access their first management positions. Societe Generale introduced this type of training for its employees in 1921.
The Group’s managerial culture has also changed to recognise and promote managers with talent internationally.

2008 Opening of the Tour Granite

The Tour Granite was officially inaugurated in the business district of La Défense on 15 December 2008. Standing at 184 metres, the tower was designed by architect Christian de Portzamparc. The Tour Granite is the first high-rise to be certified HQE (Haute Qualité Environnementale, or High Quality Environmental standard) in France.

Designed as part of our sustainable development strategy, the Tour Granite symbolises the Group’s commitment to carbon neutrality. Upon launching the programme, Societe Generale pledged to reduce its CO2 emissions by 11% per occupant by 2012 and make the fight against climate change the key pillar of its environmental policy. This objective was met (excluding Rosbank) through the purchase of carbon credits financed by revenues from an internal tax paid by business lines and functional divisions based on their carbon footprint. In order to improve the Group’s environmental efficiency, and in line with Societe Generale’s commitment to the Equator Principles, an even more ambitious programme has been adopted for the 2012-2015 period. It aims to reduce emissions by 26% per occupant.

2008 Fall of Lehman Brothers and beginning of the subprime crisis

On 15 September 2008, the American investment bank Lehman Brothers officially filed for bankruptcy following the so-called subprime crisis. This dragged down the US Stock Exchange and then stock exchanges around the world, aggravating still further the global financial crisis that had started a year earlier. Although affected by the Kerviel affair, Societe Generale managed to hold its course in this new storm. It was granted a loan by the French Government in December 2008, which it repaid in full less than one year later.

2008 The Kerviel case

On 24 January 2008 the Bank announced that one of its traders had taken and concealed unauthorised positions on futures contracts amounting to €50 billion. Alerted by its control systems on 18 January 2008, the Bank had to urgently and secretly, in accordance with the authorities’ instructions, unwind these massive positions, incurring a record loss of €4.9 billion. On 28 January 2008, Jérôme Kerviel was charged and placed under court supervision. On 31 August 2009, after an investigation lasting nearly eighteen months, Jérôme Kerviel was brought to trial before the first-level criminal court (Tribunal Correctionnel) in Paris. On 5 October 2010, the court found Jérôme Kerviel guilty of “breach of trust, fraudulent entry of data into an automated processing system, forgery and use of forged documents.” He was sentenced to five years in prison, including a two-year suspended sentence, and required to pay €4.9 billion in damages to Societe Generale. Jérôme Kerviel appealed this ruling, which was later upheld by the Paris Court of Appeal on 24 October 2012. He then appealed to the Court of Cassation (“Cour de cassation”) In a ruling dated 19 March 2014, the Court of Cassation upheld Jérôme Kerviel’s criminal conviction, but overruled the compensation award, abandoning the hundred year-old legal convention of granting the victim of a criminal offence whose assets have been affected compensation for the losses caused by the offence. It referred the issue of compensation to the Versailles Court of Appeal. On 23 September 2016, the court ordered Jérôme Kerviel to pay €1 million in damages to Societe Generale for the crimes committed - a realistic ruling in view of his financial situation. Other legal proceedings are also under way: Jérôme Kerviel has lodged several complaints that are under investigation, in response to which Societe Generale has also filed suits to challenge the mendacious and unfounded allegations, and a case is still ongoing relating to labour law. Jérôme Kerviel has also requested a review of his criminal trial.

© Benoît Roland

2002 Arrival of the euro

Goodbye to francs, deutsche marks, lire and pesetas... at midnight on 1 January 2002, the euro became the single currency used by 300 million Europeans in the 12 countries of the eurozone (18 by 2014). Banks and other financial institutions have been issuing euro cheque books since 1 July 2001, and 1 January 2002 saw the entry into circulation of banknotes and coins. The prospect of exchanging 300 billion francs of cash posed a very real challenge for the banks. Not only did they have to store 27,000 metric tonnes of coins and banknotes, but they also have to step up security, provide retailers with the new currency, ensure continued operation of ATMs and vending machines (like coffee machines), and adapt payment terminals... all in just a few months!

Providing information to company and personal customers was also a key mission, and websites, brochures, guides and meetings all played their part in explaining the changeover and supporting staff and customers.

1999 Attempted raid by BNP

On 9 March, 1999, as Paribas and Societe Generale were in the midst of merger preparations, BNP launched public stock-for-stock tender offers (OPE in French) for both banks, offering 11 BNP shares for 8 Paribas and 15 for 7 Societe Generale. The Conseil des Marchés Financiers found this double offer to be acceptable, announcing its final verdict at the end of August. BNP took control of Paribas, but had to give up its bid to absorb Societe Generale, which remained independent. Alongside BNP and Paribas, the bank was a protagonist in an intense stock market battle for the creation of a French and international banking giant.

© Eric Tourneret

1998 Development of international retail banking

The creation in 1998 of Banque de Détail hors France Métropolitaine (BHFM) to look after retail banking outside mainland France reflected the Group's to further strengthening one of the major strategic aspects of its growth. This move consolidated Societe Generale's global positioning, particularly in Eastern Europe and Africa, through the acquisition of local banks.

After starting with 12 locations and 6,700 employees, International Retail Banking grows rapidly, and 15 years later its activities, including consumer credit, count 13.7 million customers, 3,900 branches in 37 countries and more than 63,000 employees. Its acquisitions include BRD in Romania, KB in the Czech Republic and Rosbank in Russia.

1973-1997Modern times... testing times

1997 Acquisition of Crédit du Nord

The contract for the acquisition of the Crédit du Nord Group by Societe Generale was signed on 10 March 1997. The transaction was valued at 2.2 billion francs (€340 million). Technological developments such as remote banking brought significant development costs. To offset those costs, Societe Generale needed a sufficiently large customer base, which is why the bank's attention was focused on external growth. Its target of choice was Crédit du Nord, a group comprising a number of regional banks with a healthy financial position and an ambitious sales policy.

The incorporation of this acquisition strengthened Societe Generale's retail banking sector, which was able to build on the expertise already in place at Crédit du Nord and its extensive branch network.

© Guy Nicolas

1995 Relocation of central services to Val-de-Fontenay and La Défense

Previously spread over approximately 50 different locations, central services were now brought together into two centres: one to the east of Paris and the other to the west. The definitive choice was La Défense, the financial powerhouse of the capital and well served by public transportation. A second centre was then created at Val-de-Fontenay, which was already home to a major business centre.

This concentration of central services encouraged cohesion between teams, as well as improving working conditions and reducing operating costs. The architectural master plan of La Défense, close to the Grande Arche, was one of the most ambitious of this period. To the east, the Niemeyer II building, the Les Olympiades building and the four Périval buildings together formed a coherent and functional whole.

© Benoît Mariotte

1990 A new logo

Having had no logo since 1986, Societe Generale decided it was time for a new visual identity.

The brief was to steer clear of symbols, retain the red colour and emphasise "Generale" more strongly than "Societe". Perhaps most importantly, it needed to be 100% consistent with the advertising concept based on the effective combination of human talent.

The result was the adoption of the red and black square. The pure form of the square seeks to express balance, strength, stability and precision. The concept of balance is underlined by the separation of the square into two equal sections. The invigorating bright red half opposes the precision and restraint of the black half. This stark contrast is softened by the white bar in the center, which acts as a point of focus and openness, like a breath between the two extremes. Lastly, the typography is extended in width to symbolise the bank's ability to be flexible and adaptable.

The new visual identity proved extremely successful. According to the findings of a survey conducted by CSA in 2007, 82% of those questioned recognised the red and black logo with no text. Better still, nearly 74% associated it with Societe Generale. This impressive result put the bank in third place for unprompted recall, behind the flagship public brands of France Telecom and Nike.

1988 The "Affaire de la Générale"

It all began in the stock market in 1988, when suspicions were aroused by unusual movements in the shares of Societe Generale, now France's largest private banking group. Concern peaked on 19-20 October, when over 5.4 million shares changed hands. On 24 October, the Head of Marceau Investissements Georges Pébereau revealed that he held 9.16% of Societe Generale equity.

The financial deal put together by the raiders was based on a succession of holding companies, which involved new partners at every stage. But the need to talk about it from time to time in order to convince new investors meant that the truth eventually leaked out. Speculators bought discreetly for their own accounts.

Suspicions of fraud first arose in 1989, and the Commission des Opérations de Bourse (the French independent financial market regulator) opened an enquiry on 1 February, revealing that some of the investments showed every sign of insider trading. What had already become known as the "Affaire de la Générale" now began to take on an air of scandal. These revelations and the fight put up by Societe Generale successfully torpedoed the plans of Georges Pébereau.

On 30 May 1990, the public prosecutor's office began preliminary proceedings for insider trading, and 11 people were indicted between 1990 and 1993.

© Archives historiques Société Générale

1987 Privatisation

1986 saw the first of several waves of privatisation in France. Societe Generale was selected for privatisation as early as 1987 because of the sound financial health reflected by its risk coverage ratios, equity capital and productivity. On 27 June 1987, 100% of the equity in the company (17.2 billion francs) was floated on the Paris stock exchange. Privatisation became effective on 29 July 1987.

© Archives historiques Société Générale

1980 The "Caisse Éclair"

The information revolution brought a transformation in the way administrative tasks were managed, and offered many opportunities to improve customer service. Societe Generale adapted rapidly to the fast-changing pace of technological progress. As well as setting up impressive data centers in Aix and Tigery, it offered new products like the Carte Bleue payment card, and extended its network of automatic teller machines (ATMs). The "Caisse Éclair" (Instant Banking) terminal was one such innovation. These internal ATMs could be used only by the bank's own customers, who could now withdraw cash whenever the bank was open without having to queue at a counter. The first of these machines came into service in September 1980. Five years later, Societe Generale was the first bank to offer its customers online banking, with the launch of the Minitel-based service Logitel.

1973 First oil crisis

1945-1972The "Guardian Angel" bank

1971 Incorporation of the Société Centrale de Banque

Between 1920 and 1940, the French-based Crédit Foncier d'Algérie et de Tunisie (CFAT) was one of the Top 10 banks in the country. Having developed an extensive branch network in North Africa, it now expanded towards the Eastern Mediterranean, taking control of the Bank of Salonika before moving on into the Levant. Following the success of the independence movements in the African colonies, in 1963 it changed its name to Société Centrale de Banque, before becoming a Societe Generale Group company eight years later.

© Jean-Marie Cras

1969 The Pasquier logo

Right from its beginnings, Societe Generale was often identified by its SG monogram. These two letters in a traditional typeface were what constituted the corporate identity that appeared on the entire bank's official documentation. In the 1950s, a multiplicity of different versions appeared, some using the full name, and others using the monogram, but it soon became clear that these visual representations of the bank would have to be standardised.

In 1969, the bank held a competition to design a new logo. The winner was visual artist Noël Pasquier, with a bold circular design of an inverse spiral in dark brown and beige. Inspired by kinetic art, this new logo seemed to be in constant movement and had overtones of a horn of plenty. The Pasquier logo served Societe Generale for over 15 years through four different evolutions. In 1983, the bank adopted the colours of "rose madder" red and ivory. When the Pasquier logo was officially retired in 1986, the two colours lived on in the visual identity of Societe Generale.

1966 The Debré banking law

Finance Minister Michel Debré introduced major reforms designed to modernise banking industry regulation.

The banking industry legislation of 16 June 1966 relaxed the distinction between depositary banks and corporate banks, and allowed branches to be opened all over the country. Societe Generale seized these opportunities immediately to set up a series of specialist credit companies, and established market leadership in areas like leasing.

© Archives historiques Société Générale

1964 A new product: the Sogévar SICAV

A new piece of legislation introduced on 20 September 1963 opened the way for the creation of open-ended collective investment schemes (Sociétés d'Investissement à Capital Variable or SICAVs). These companies are designed to share the risks and benefits of investing in stocks and shares, and on 14 February 1964, Societe Generale led the way with the creation of Société Générale d'Épargne et d'Investissement, or Sogévar. The company was one of the very first to receive approval from the French Finance Ministry. In 1991, it would become Sogé Europe Actions and focus on European equities. 11 years after that, it changed its name again to Sogéactions Europe. By 31 January 2008, it was managing €609 million on behalf of its 55,000 small investor clients.

© Archives historiques Société Générale - Photivoire

1962 Turning the African networks into subsidiaries

Tunisia in 1956, Guinea in 1958, the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa in 1960 and, finally, Algeria in 1962: it was decolonisation time for France's African colonies. In accordance with the legislation of these newly independent countries, Societe Generale changed the status of its African operations by turning its network of branches into a network of subsidiaries. This is what happened with the Société Générale de Banque in Côte d'Ivoire, which was founded in November 1962 in partnership with the country's government and other international banks. The same process was followed in Senegal, Cameroon and Morocco.

© Archives historiques Société Générale

1948 Summer camps

After being nationalised in 1945, Societe Generale opened its first summer camp for employees' children in 1948. The works council acquired the La Baticolière estate near Lyon in December 1947, after which its château and 5-hectare park provided holidays every summer for children aged from 6 to 14. Two sessions were organised for the over 8s: one for girls and one for boys. In 1969, a new, more modern, camp was opened in the village of Montcabrier in the Lot region of France.

1914-1945Operating in a world in crisis

© Archives historiques Société Générale

1940 - 1945 The throes of war

During the Second World War, a combination of Allied bombing and the military campaigns of 1940 and 1944 impacted 127 of the bank's buildings, leaving 32 severely damaged or totally destroyed. Branches in Normandy and Brittany were particularly badly hit. The aerial bombardment of Nantes in September 1943 was a particularly devastating blow for Societe Generale, killing the local manager and one of his staff.

24 October 1929 Black Thursday

On Thursday 24 October 1929, the New York stock exchange collapsed. As prices plummeted, speculators tried to sell all their stock as fast as possible. In just a few hours, 12 million shares were sold on the market. Prices took a 30% nosedive and by midday, the Dow Jones index was down 22.6%

Black Thursday proved to be the start of the Great Depression, the worst economic crisis of the 20th century. Faced with this intractable situation, banks started to rationalise their organisational structures. For Societe Generale, this meant restructuring its branch network, introducing new working practices and reducing its workforce throughout the 1930s.

© Archives historiques Société Générale

1928 The creation of CALIF

Societe Generale got together with a number of leading manufacturers to create Crédit à l'Industrie Française (CALIF). The aim of the new entity was to encourage exports by offering medium-term bank support in the form of credit discounts or advances. French manufacturers could then grant longer payment terms to their customers.

This support for business also included funding for equipment purchases, the conversion or extension of existing factories and the reconstruction of damaged buildings.

1921 An innovative idea: professional training

Rising staff numbers encouraged the bank to develop an effective labour policy. The senior management team became gradually aware of the crucial challenge posed by providing technical training for its staff. The very future of the bank depended on it. It therefore hosted a series of conferences to address topics surrounding the skills and techniques of banking. At the same time, it introduced courses covering subjects like interpreting balance sheets and loan agreements, banking transactions and finance. These theoretical courses were supported by role-play exercises to encourage a more practical approach to professional training.

© Archives historiques Société Générale

1915 National Loan issues

On 11 August 1914, France declared war on Germany. By the autumn, both armies were almost out of ammunition and food. It became clear that the war would drag on longer than anyone had thought at the outset, and the issue of financial resources was becoming critical. Loans from the Banque de France and the British were no longer enough, and the French government turned to a national programme of war bonds. The first National Loan issue was made on 16 November 1915, with Societe Generale participating fully in the process and publishing many iconic advertising posters with slogans such as: "Make sure your children don't have to learn the horrors of war by buying Societe Generale National Loan bonds". Three million French people bought 15 billion francs' worth of bonds. Four other issues followed, including the 1919 issue, known as the "Peace Loan". In the end, these National loans would be found to have covered 52.7% of the cost of the war.

1894-1914The era of expansion

© Jean-Marie Cras

1912 A new central branch

In 1912, Societe Generale opened its central branch at 29 Boulevard Haussmann in the Paris business district of the Opéra. Architect Jacques Hermant decided to retain the existing facades and create a remarkable world behind them. The Art Nouveau interior of glass and metal feature a banking hall known as "le fromage" (the cheese) and a glazed dome to bring daylight right into the centre of the building. Many features of this branch, which is still in daily operation, are on the French list of historic monuments. It also opens its doors to the public on the French National Heritage days held every September, and is used as an exhibition venue.

© Guy Nicolas

1911 The Bonnot Gang robberies

1910 saw the beginning of a spate of bank robberies by the Bonnot Gang. Societe Generale did not escape the gang's attention, and in 1911 the Rue Ordener branch in Paris was targeted and its collecting clerk seriously injured. A few months later, on 25 March 1912, it was the turn of the Chantilly branch to be targeted by the criminals. This time, they killed two of the bank's employees, but it was to be their last bank robbery, since the gang members were all either killed or arrested just a few weeks later.

© Archives historiques Société Générale

1903 Founding of the CASG

Created to offer employees a route to physical fitness and to build team spirit within the bank, the Club Athlétique de la Société Générale (CASG) set itself apart from other company staff associations by adopting an ethos focused on performance. The bank's senior executives had every intention of making sure that the new club rivalled the best sports teams in France and the rest of Europe.

The CASG soon established itself as one of the best clubs in the world, with its athletes winning several Olympic medals, football tournaments, rugby tournaments and cycling events.

Societe Generale also played an important role in developing sports infrastructures in France by financing many facilities, including the Jean Bouin stadium in Paris.

© Archives historiques Société Générale

1901 Welcome to Russia!

Societe Generale had been looking towards Russia as early as the 1880s, but to begin with, the bank financed expansion of major industrial manufacturers rather than establishing a local presence itself. Then, in 1901, it set up its own subsidiary company in St Petersburg: the Banque du Nord. Before long, the new bank merged with the Banque Russo-Chinoise, which had a strong and established presence alongside the Trans-Siberian and Trans-Manchurian railroads. The result was the creation of the Banque Russo-Asiatique (BRA) in February 1910, giving Societe Generale the opportunity to open branches in both India and China.

Building on its commercial banking expertise, the bank's Paris head office begins to earn revenue from currency exchange deals, and assumes a key role in the funding of trade between the two countries.

1900 The Universal Exposition

Organised to celebrate modernity and progress, the Universal Exposition of 1900 showcased the pinnacle of the previous century's industrial, technical and social advances.

Societe Generale partnered the Exposition. The bank contributed to funding the event, and set up a "Branch Pavilion" on the Champ-de-Mars near the Eiffel Tower. The Exposition was a huge success, attracting over 50 million visitors.

1896 Introduction of a provident fund

Established on 28 July 1896, the Caisse de Prévoyance (Provident Fund) was funded by deductions from employees' salaries, supplemented by an allocation from the Board of Directors. The fund guaranteed that staff of all grades and their dependents received a lump sum on retirement or death, and was managed by a committee of eleven members, including one director, four branch managers or senior central services staff, three employees from Paris and a further three from elsewhere in France.

26 May 1896 Creation of the Dow Jones Industrial Average

1864-1893The birth of a bank

© Archives historiques Société Générale

1881 Founding of Sogénal

In 1871, Prussia annexed Alsace and the Moselle under the terms of the Frankfurt Treaty. Poorly represented in both areas at this time, Societe Generale saw an opportunity to develop its business, and set up the Société Générale Alsacienne de Banque (Sogénal) in 1881.

The new subsidiary then took over the branches opened by Societe Generale before 1870 in Strasbourg, Mulhouse and Colmar. Five years after its establishment, Sogénal opened a new branch in Frankfurt to strengthen the position of Societe Generale in Germany. Some decades later, this bank would absorb other Group subsidiaries, including the Banque Suisse de Dépôts and Francibank, to consolidate its presence in Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany and Switzerland. The entire Sogénal network was reabsorbed into Societe Generale in 2001.

1873 - 1896 The great stagnation

© Archives historiques Société Générale

1872 - 1893 Adventures in Peru

At a time when Europe and North America were in the grip of a severe economic crisis, Societe Generale decided to invest in South America. The Peruvian government appointed the bank to operate the port of Callao, which served the capital of Lima. But political instability in Peru, its war with Chile, the constant reviewing of financial and legal agreements by successive governments, the bankruptcy of a partner and even a tidal wave made this as much a challenge as an adventure.

At the same time, Societe Generale became involved in what was known as the "contract of the century", and later, "the Guano Affair". In 1869, a businessman called Auguste Dreyfus secured a monopoly on sales of Peruvian guano in Europe. Under the scheme, an investment of 365 million francs would buy guano with a resale value of 625 million. In order to raise the capital required for this substantial investment, Dreyfus got together with Societe Generale and other partners, but, once again, political and legal wrangling between the partners and with the Peruvian government ended in a loss rather than the hoped-for gain.


Après la défaite de 1870 et suite au traité de Francfort qui met fin à la guerre entre la France et l'Allemagne, la France doit verser à la Prusse cinq milliards de francs or en trois ans. L'État lance un emprunt national. À cette occasion, la Société Générale est admise dans le syndicat de banques autorisées à émettre des obligations. Elle contribue à garantir la souscription du second milliard de l'emprunt. La banque doit cette position à ses liens qu'elle entretient avec le groupe Rothschild, qui se place à l'époque sur toutes les opérations publiques. Le placement des titres est un succès puisque près de 43 milliards sont pré-souscrits.

© Archives nationales

1864 Société Générale established by Imperial decree on 4 May

Founded by a group of manufacturers and financiers, the Societe Generale "to support the growth of trade and industry in France" moved into its first head office at 66-68 Rue de Provence. Formerly the theatre of Madame de Montesson, the building was the work of architect Théodore Brongniart, who also gave Paris its stock exchange (the Palais Brongniart) and the famous Père-Lachaise cemetary. Even in its founding year, the bank found time to open its first branch in Bordeaux; the very first link in a nationwide chain that would grow continually to cover all of France. The bank opened its first Paris branch close to the capital's stock exchange in 1865. Five years later, Societe Generale would have 15 branches in Paris and 32 around the country. In 1871, the first international branch was opened in London, then the world's leading financial centre.