France’s banking system proves resilient to global uncertainty

While volatility continues to permeate the global banking system, France is showing the first steps towards real and lasting recovery

 
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Like so many before it, this year started with economic volatility. Globally, financial markets remain weak, particularly across the Middle East and China, as do commodity prices. Over in Europe, political uncertainty and the ongoing refugee crisis have preserved the need for austerity.

But in spite of the successive crises that have hit Europe’s financial industry, the French banking sector has shown remarkable resilience. In January, François Villeroy de Galhau, the Governor of the Bank of France, even confirmed recovery was underway in France: “Despite the uncertainties, all indicators point to higher growth.”

Against this increasingly positive landscape, World Finance had the opportunity to speak with Nicolas Théry, Chairman of Confédération Nationale du Crédit Mutuel, about how his institution continues to stand strong in the face of uncertainty.

Diversification of services
Crédit Mutuel brings together 19 federations and six federal banks to provide a broad range of services to a highly dynamic customer base. “We have consistently achieved good earnings growth and performance, even throughout the financial crisis and its aftermath”, said Théry. “The financial solidity of Crédit Mutuel is demonstrated further by our ratings and results of the stress tests we performed in July”.

The group’s measured expansion over the last century is a testament to the relevance and aptness of its organisational model. At its heart, the institution is (as its name suggests) a mutual bank, with a unique and dynamic network of regions that are united and respectful of one another’s diversity. Over the years, it has also demonstrated it is a responsible bank, which constantly adapts to stay as close as possible to the needs of its 30 million members and customers.

“By placing customer relationships and regional development at the core of our business activities, over time, we have developed formidable advantages that enable us to continually innovate in this evolving world”, Théry told World Finance. “First, we ensure efficient service and high quality advice. These attributes enable the group to anticipate and take decisions rapidly, while also responding to what our customers need, whether they are individuals, not-for-profit organisations, professionals or businesses. Providing them with high performance and security is key.”

Diversification is another advantage; it makes the group far more than just a bank. By offering insurance, telephony, remote surveillance and global solutions for car owners, Crédit Mutuel’s branches have become local service centres that offer various contact channels. This diversification is also compatible with the group’s targeted acquisition policy for insurance, electronic payments and consumer credit.

“Additionally, it goes hand-in-hand with Crédit Mutuel’s strong capacity for technological expertise”, added Théry. “Our offerings are regularly enhanced with innovative and secure new services, which complements our network with a full spectrum of remote banking channels.” The group also offers a fully integrated document management facility, which enables its customers to view statements online in a highly secure manner.

Crédit Mutuel is the French leader in remote surveillance services, with more than 400,000 customers and over 30 percent of the private individuals market. As such, the group has developed Monetico – a powerful name in electronic payments solutions – and alongside Total, Auchan Retail, Oney and Mastercard, it is developing the electronic wallet, Fivory – the first connected shopping social network.

Well-trained staff
“To keep abreast of technological and competitive challenges, we organise regular training for our employees”, Théry explained. “Training is a central focus of our human resources policy and represents five percent of total payroll costs.” Accordingly, highly trained and motivated staff members are best equipped to meet customers’ needs, while adapting to new forms of customer relationships and banking practices.

“Our staff are in a position to provide customers with clear solutions, a guarantee of trust and the assurance of fair pricing, while our focus on transparency is an essential characteristic of the group’s cooperative model, in the same way that participation and democracy are”, he continued. For example, any customer can subscribe to an A share, become a member shareholder and vote at general meetings based on the principle of “one man, one vote”.

Firmly rooted as a local and inalienable institution, Crédit Mutuel helps boost the employment and economic vitality of its territories, while its development model illustrates the power of individual initiative and cooperation. In a changing society, its strong identity is upheld by the quality of its brand names and the confidence these inspire, its attachment to its fundamental principles, and its dedication to developing the real economy.

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