* French cross-border lending at $44.4 billion end-2011
* BNP, SocGen, Credit Agricole decline to comment
* All three banks have scaled back Greek exposure
* Credit Agricole exposure biggest, at 5.2 bln euros
* French seen as 'more reticent' in Greece planning
By Lionel Laurent and Christian Plumb
PARIS, May 25 French banks, which are among the
lenders most exposed to Greece, have stepped up their efforts on
contingency plans for the debt-laden country leaving the euro
zone, sources familiar with the situation said.
The heightened preparations by banks, including Credit
Agricole, BNP Paribas and Societe Generale
, come after euro zone sources told Reuters earlier
this week that each member of the common currency would have to
prepare a plan for a possible Greek exit.
"Every bank has a task force right now looking at the
potential consequences of a return to the drachma," a
Paris-based banker said.
At end-Dec 2011, total French cross-border lending to Greece
was $44.4 billion, higher than Germany's $13.4 billion,
according to preliminary Bank for International Settlements data
tracking consolidated foreign claims of reporting banks on an
ultimate risk basis.
"The banks are doing contingency planning concerning a Greek
exit, but you can understand why they wouldn't say so publicly,"
a consultant to French banks said.
An investment banker who advises European banks said French
lenders had all stepped up their contingency preparations for a
Greek pull-out at regulators' request over the past two weeks.
Such preparations would contradict some French regulatory
sources' contention that a Greek exit remained such a remote
possibility that there was no point in drawing up plans for it.
Bank of France Governor Christian Noyer said last week that
French regulators were not actively stress-testing banks for the
scenario of Greece leaving the single currency, although he said
none would be "put in a situation of difficulty" in the event
of a Greek exit.
Newly inaugurated French President Francois Hollande said
earlier this week that he viewed a Greek exit as out of the
question and that no contingency plans were being drawn up.
"Over in the UK, the financial sector began this kind of
contingency planning weeks, months ago," said Hubert de
Vauplane, a partner at Kramer Levin in Paris. "I find there is a
higher degree of preparation in London than in Paris. For
political reasons, the French banks have been more reticent."
French banking and insurance regulator ACP's head declined
to comment earlier on Friday on possible contingency planning.
The regulators "would be completely failing in their
fiduciary duties if they were not asking for it," the banker
BNP Paribas, SocGen and Credit Agricole declined to comment.
The loss risk of a Greek exit would be an estimated 5.2
billion euros for Credit Agricole, 2.9 billion for BNP Paribas
and 400 million euros for Societe Generale, according to Natixis
analyst Alex Koagne.
Credit Agricole, which has the biggest exposure to Greece of
any French lender via its Emporiki unit, said earlier this month
that it had a team working to prepare for possible outcomes from
a Greek exit even if it saw that as a less probably scenario.
BNP Paribas and Societe Generale have slashed their exposure
to Greek sovereign debt over the past year: at end-April, both
banks said their Greek bondholdings stood at 0.2 billion euros
in their banking books.
SocGen, unlike BNP, also owns local Greek bank Geniki, but
the French group's chief executive Frederic Oudea told
shareholders this was a "manageable" exposure at around 500
Credit Agricole has also managed to cut its exposure to
Emporiki by more than half, but that still leaves it at 5.2
billion euros. The bank recently renewed a request for access to
emergency funding which have helped prop up domestic Greek