Africa, a continent of growth and opportunities

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3 questions for Alexandre Maymat, Head of the Africa/Asia/Mediterranean Basin & Overseas region, International Banking and Financial Services

In practical terms, can you tell us about the work the Group accomplished in the continent in 2015?

2015 has been a very intense year for all the teams working in Africa.

First of all, we continued to reinforce our presence on the continent. Even though French banks currently find themselves in more fragile positions in Africa, we continue to develop our set-up through the creation of Société Générale Togo last June, and by finalising the acquisition of most of MCB Mozambique's shares, to create Société Générale Mozambique.

The Group is now present in 18 countries, with about 1,000 branches, 11,000 employees, over 3.3m clients including 150,000 African companies. Societe Generale is therefore one of the Top 3 international banks in Africa.

Concerning the corporate business, we continued to focus our efforts on key subjects to help our development. Without going into detail, I will quickly mention the work accomplished in order to upgrade our cash management offer to international standards (this for instance allowed us to sign two important contracts with groups such as ZTE or Deutsche Post / DHL) ; we also worked on creating a regional cash pooling solution, we offer specific billing and leasing solutions for SMEs. 40% of our subsidiaries reinforced their set-up and trade finance offer thanks to the Trade joint-venture between the International Banking and Financial Services Division and the Global Transaction & Payment Services Division. We are also creating a regional trading floor in Abidjan, as well as regional structured financing platforms in Casablanca and Abidjan. We continue to develop business synergies between our African subsidiaries and SG China, as well as with GBIS's business teams.

These actions reflect our will to increase our contribution to the economies of the countries in which we are present, by taking part in the fundamental projects of these countries. I will repeat once again that 2015 has been a very busy year, including when it comes to the diversity of the projects financed through our local banks, which are always intent on making our local and international clients benefit from our financing expertise:

  • In the telecom area, Société Générale Cameroun helped finance MTN Cameroun and Orange Cameroun (debt raising) during the implementation of 3G and 4G connections,
  • Still in the same sector, Société Générale Maroc took part in an important transaction worth EUR 17m with WANA, a Moroccan telephone operator, to help Alcatel Lucent implement an underwater cable,
  • Last July in Algeria, the Bank, through its CIB Division, finalised the creation of a new cement plant with CILAS and the Lafarge Group, and acted as Lead Manager, Bookrunner and Credit and Guarantees Agent for the collection of a syndicated credit worth EUR 240m.

Let us not forget that Societe Generale also actively supported the development of SMEs by financing their projects in collaboration with international financial institutions (such as the French Development Agency AFD and its subsidiary Proparco, the World bank via IFC…). Here are some examples:

  • In December 2014, Société Générale Bénin signed the agreement with PAMESO, a Mesofinance Aid Plan coordinated by the AFD using EU funds to facilitate the financing of SMEs and very small businesses in Benin;
  • In January 2015, SGBS signed a financing agreement with the AFD in Senegal, amounting to FCFA 2bn, dedicated to efficient energy use and renewable energy;
  • In September 2015, SGBCI (Ivory Coast) signed a security agreement with the IFC to cover the short term outstandings of SMEs; we wish to extend this partnership to other African subsidiaries to improve our relations with local SMEs, whilst controlling our risks.

Moreover, Societe Generale, in order to demonstrate its commitment in Africa, named Cathia Lawson Senior Banker of the continent last September. Her work and influence have been recognised by the French economic daily La Tribune's Women's Awards.

The individual retail banking business in Africa is gradually developing a specific dynamic, characterised by a marked segmentation of customer needs with very contrasted and changing levels in the use of banking services. To support these changes, we continually reinforce our local marketing expertise and innovate to try to create new types of branches or payment methods. We are also starting new initiatives: such as the Pan-African mobile banking solution, allowing some of our subsidiaries to be the first banks on the market offering African individuals the opportunity to handle their banking operations through a mobile app. We are developing the Insurance banking business and extending our private banking offer to other countries, including Sub-Saharan Africa; we are developing new types of branches (mobile trunk branches, etc.).

2015 has been a busy year indeed! What was the impact of this activity and this diversity on your organisation? What are your main challenges?

We had, and still have, to multiply our challenges in order to achieve these results.

First, we launched global and specific programmes for the professionalisation of our local teams. In Africa, just like anywhere else, there are no good and bad banks, only good and bad bankers. Our success is based on the quality of our employees. This is why we initiated a project dedicated to Africa, aiming to empower African employees and continuously improve their skills, making them more involved in the satisfaction of our clients. For example, concerning the teams in charge of corporate clients, we created a programme called CAP Afrique, designed to bring all of our employees working for corporate customers (from Front office to Back office including risks) to a same standard of quality and expertise. By the end of 2016, all employees on that business line will have received this training course.
In terms of image and communications, to fulfil our commitment on the continent, we launched a corporate Societe Generale communications campaign aimed at African entrepreneurs last April. This Pan-African advertising campaign was designed to convey a unique and coherent image of the Group on the entire continent, also reinforcing our subsidiaries' different local campaigns. The spot was aired on Pan-African TV channels (France 24 and TV5 Monde), on the internet, in the press with the online African news journal Jeune Afrique, and in some airports such as Conakry and Abidjan's. Feedback was very encouraging, both from our clients and from our local teams who felt proud to endorse this campaign.

Also, in a double effort to homogenise our image and upgrade our commercial set-up, we launched a Marketing and Communications Hub based in Abidjan this summer to homogenise our offer on the continent and help small Sub-Saharan subsidiaries succeed.

There is one theme we have yet to evoke: what about innovation and digital in Africa?

Africa is an innovation territory and we are determined to be on the forefront of innovation in the continent! The market is not a mature one yet, we must establish ourselves as pioneers. This is why we are creating a structure in Dakar designed to boost and accelerate innovation in all our Sub-Saharan subsidiaries. To speed up the start of this structure, we are launching the first Pan-African Societe Generale hackathon, the winners will be rewarded in Dakar on the 10th February. Through this contest, we hope to uncover innovative ideas that we can prototype and implement in the entire zone.

When it comes to digital technology, Africa is by no means behind. Our role is to facilitate, and even anticipate, all the changes that will be  introduced in the way banking services are consumed, to provide now techniques and tools  that our clients will ask for tomorrow. We talked about mobile banking earlier. A cultural revolution has undoubtedly started in Africa, we are following it very closely, and not just from a banker's perspective!

What is your conclusion for 2015 and what hopes do you have for 2016?

Africa is a continent of growth and opportunities, it is more stable than it was a few decades ago and more resilient economically. It is a supply market: we must contribute to the development of new needs and new trends for our clients! It is therefore a territory fully suitable for us to show what Societe Generale's DNA is made up of in Africa: our strong local foothold which allows us to fully understand the market evolutions, based on our own markers, and to identify local players to work with ; our international expertise, developed over the last 150 years in more mature markets must, now more than ever, be used for economies in which banking needs are becoming more sophisticated; our innovation capabilities, around digital and new distribution models.

So we have a lot to do for 2016, with energy and enthusiasm!