(Corrects name of bank to Hello bank! in 13th paragraph)
By Maya Nikolaeva
PARIS Aug 12 French bank Societe Generale
has closed some of its branches for the summer lull
this year as part of an experiment with reduced opening hours as
Internet banking takes off.
Banks across Europe are reducing branch networks to improve
profitability in a weak economic environment and as the online
banking boom accelerates the shift away from a traditional
Societe Generale, France's second-biggest listed bank,
started a 6-to-8-months long experiment with opening hours in
the first half of this year. The summer closures are a part of
that, a spokeswoman at SocGen said.
The spokeswoman declined to give the number of branches
involved or further details of the summer closures, but added
that as part of the experiment, some may be closed for half days
or closed completely through the summer in order to regroup
forces at bigger sites.
Societe Generale's 3,161 branch network as of 2013 was
already 2 percent smaller than in 2010. The number of online
connections to its services has more than tripled over the last
The number of clients who visited a French bank branch
several times per month plummeted to 17 percent in 2013 from 52
percent in 2010, a survey by the country's banking association
showed in May.
The French travel most in the last month of summer,
according to studies by the Economy Ministry, and in Ile de
France, the area around and including Paris which accounts for a
third of the bank's retail revenue, drops sharply during August
as city dwellers leave for the coast and the countryside.
Grocery stores, bakeries and real estate agencies all close
for several weeks one after another as clients disappear.
The results of SocGen's experiments will be discussed with
the unions, the spokeswoman said.
"Societe Generale's management is doing some experiments to
see how the network may evolve in the future, rather than
waiting for the consequences of the changing customer behavior,"
said Philippe Fournil, CGT union representative.
Officials of other major French banks were unable to say
whether they had plans to copy SocGen's move.
BNP Paribas, which has a smaller retail network in
France, targets 210 million euros in investments over the next
three years to adapt its 2,139 branches in France to the
changing climate. BNP has cut the number of branches by 5
percent since 2010.
European lenders, like SocGen and BNP are boosting their own
online business to counter low-cost Internet-competitors. BNP
launched a Europe-wide online bank called Hello bank! last year
and SocGen bought out minority holders of its online bank brand
BPCE, the second-biggest retail bank, has launched two
online banking brands since 2010. Credit Agricole, the
largest retail lender in France, was not available for a
(Reporting Maya Nikolaeva; Editing by Erica Billingham)