Professions from the past: Branch personnel from 1864 to the start of the 1950s
Depending on their size, location and volume of business, Societe Generale branches employed varying numbers of staff with varying levels of qualifications. On the whole, however, their make-up was essentially the same. We look back on the positions and working methods that were part of Societe Generale Group’s success story for close to a century.
As a senior employee, as well as being in charge of his entity, a Societe Generale Branch Manager was responsible for signing the “official letter” or summary statement of correspondence sent to head office specifying the branch’s cash balance and outstandings. In the 1890s, his primary task was to sign the back or discharge for all items sent to the bank’s numerous correspondents.
Also a senior employee, the Office Manager carried out very few of the tasks of the different departments under his supervision. Rather, his duty was to tally the Societe Generale accounts, reconciling the branch account listing all entries (including any remittances from head office or other branches) with the account held by the general accounts department.
The Chief Cashier was in charge of the branch’s different departments. In the 1890s, he worked full time, handling notes and coins, verifying counter transactions and checking the conformity of documents for payments and deposits. Candidates had to be practiced, dexterous, calm and demonstrate excellent mental calculation skills. With gold and silver coins still in circulation at the end of the 19th century, a Chief Cashier had to be able to recognise those that were still valid as well as those that were out of date or even counterfeit, and would use his scales to weigh them.
Spread across various departments depending on each branch, Societe Generale clerks were responsible for recording the details of each cash, portfolio and market transaction, one-by-one. Their daily logs listed all payments, along with the details by depositing party of any detached coupons to be added up. The totals for each individual account were then reported each day in the “general ledger”.
- The Portfolio clerk was responsible for the small ledgers of customer and branch incomings and outgoings which he was required to tally in order to avoid any dual entries or overlapping.
When trading houses transferred their commercial drafts to the bank in order to obtain an advance on the amount owed before the due date, the portfolio clerks would record the summary of discounted items on risk sheets listing the commitments of each customer, and then calculate the interest to be deducted depending on the value and maturity of the discounted paper.
- The Securities clerk was responsible for keeping the books of all purchases and sales, liquidations and other miscellaneous securities transactions, as well as opening the popular “advance on securities” accounts (over three months payable in advance). His job was also to invest securities and the reclassification of Societe Generale shares. Investment or arbitrage transactions would always include the purchase of some of the bank’s shares.
- The Coupons clerk was in charge of reporting the numbers of all coupons paid as well as the multitude of rates on stripped coupons. He would stamp the coupons using a seal stamp.
- The Positions clerk was responsible for reporting entries for cheques in one ledger and entries for current accounts in another. He would then stamp the cheque with a rubber stamp or seal before it was cashed for payment. Operations carried out on behalf of customers (cash transfer, postage fees) were reported in the positions book and the customer’s account passbook. Debit transactions were noted in red and credit transactions in black.
- The Accounts department clerks were responsible for reporting ledger entries in the bank’s registers and for controlling all counter entries. As well as calculating the interest on each account, their work included tallying, reconciling and adjusting the Societe Generale accounts, balancing the account and calculating averages. At the end of the month, the balance was calculated and the balance sheet sent to head office within five days.
- The auditor or Audit clerk was also responsible for all of the position ledgers, for issuing cheques, and for verifying securities transactions on a special register. He was also qualified to draw up accounting documents and managed the department’s correspondence with the branch manager and other departments.
-The Porter, finally, was not only in charge of welcoming customers. His extremely versatile role also included stamping bills for discount or encashment, transporting the branch’s mail and carrying out various other tasks. In 1934, Societe Generale founded its first “school for porters” to give its young assistants of around 14 years of age the solid foundations needed to progress within the bank.
An indispensable branch employee, the remittance clerk or “brigadier” or “collector” was immediately identifiable by his distinctive blue coat with silver buttons, breast badge and cocked hat. The vast pockets of his heavy cloth coat were filled with the “coins” he would collect during his rounds. Full of items to deposit or bank notes and secured with a solid copper chain, his bag was attached under his jacket. Sometimes armed, in the mornings he would prepare his remittances, making note of the different items to be collected for each household before shrugging on his uniform and setting out across town. Come evening, he would tally up his accounts and deposit the money collected. Collection days were especially busy.
Keeping watch over an empty branch, the day and night guards or night-watchmen had different schedules. The first worked during the lunch hour and then again in the evening after the last employees had left up until 9pm, Sundays and holidays included. The second worked the night shift from 9pm to 8am every day. Employees trusted with this important role were often retired personnel. From time to time, a head office inspector would call at night to check that no one was asleep on duty. Guards were equipped with a type of “ticket meter” which they were required to punch every two hours.
© Archives Historiques Société Générale