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By Christian Plumb
PARIS Dec 8 French bank BNP Paribas named a Flemish veteran of Belgium's 2008 banking crisis as its finance chief on Thursday, the latest move to strengthen its management in the face of new dangers now facing Europe's financial industry.
Lars Machenil, who holds a doctorate in nuclear science and has been with BNP's Belgian unit Fortis for 11 years, will succeed Philippe Bordenave as CFO in March, BNP said on Thursday. Bordenave was last week named group chief operating officer of France's biggest bank.
The appointment was the latest move in an executive reshuffle triggered by the elevation of long-time BNP banker Jean-Laurent Bonnafe in the chief executive post and the move of former CEO Baudouin Prot to the role of chairman.
Although not as immediately familiar a face to the investor community as Bordenave, Bonnafe and Prot, analysts said Machenil benefited from a management seal of approval as Bonnafe had undoubtedly worked with him during his time integrating BNP's acquisition of Fortis in 2009.
When the last financial crisis was its deepest at the end of 2008, Dutch-Belgian Fortis was broken apart and state funds were pumped into Franco-Belgian Dexia and Belgium's KBC.
The choice of a Belgian was politically astute, one London-based analyst said, given the importance of BNP's Belgian unit in terms of deposits and perceptions in Belgian media that excess deposits at Fortis were helping fund BNP's operations elsewhere.
Bonnafe's team faces the challenge of restoring investor confidence at a time when the eurozone currency bloc -- to which BNP is heavily exposed -- is struggling with a debt crisis that has toppled governments and drastically hit banks' ability to fund themselves.
Regulators were expected to say on Thursday that French banks need to find an extra 7 billion euros capital by mid-2012, according to French newspaper Le Monde, a story the regulator and banks did not comment on.
With a AA- rating from Standard & Poor's, BNP is seen as more robust than domestic rivals Credit Agricole and Societe Generale, which have weaker capital ratios and patchier histories of managing risk.
However S&P's potential downgrade of eurozone nations including France could lead to knock-on consequences for French banks including BNP, analysts say, including a likely but manageable hit to solvency ratios via increased risk-weighted assets.
BNP is also having to juggle a vast deleveraging programme to cut debt and wean itself off once-cheap wholesale funding.
One M&A banker said on Thursday that the market could not accommodate all the asset sales taking place across Europe as a result of the crisis and tougher requirements and said "he could not rule out" capital increases by French banks in future. (Reporting by Christian Plumb; Editing by Leila Abboud and Andrew Callus)