Equal pay for men and women, recruitment of work-study trainees from rural areas, investment of 3 billion euros in French companies… Crédit Mutuel Alliance Fédérale, the leading bank with a mission, recently gave a boost to its commitments social and environmental. The alliance bringing together 14 of the 19 federations of the Crédit Mutuel group has set itself a series of objectives to be achieved before the end of 2022. “Combining mutualism and business with a mission, we did not believe in it, recognized its president Nicolas Théry on January 19 by presenting his resolutions. But the pandemic has made us change our minds.” For this finance inspector, this status has become a vector for transforming the group around “the mutualism of proof”.
Read alsoTwo years after the Pacte law, 505 companies have adopted the status of company with a mission
These announcements take up already known commitments, including the shock measure of the abolition of the health questionnaire for the granting of a mortgage. This unprecedented policy then pissed off the other players in French finance: Crédit Mutuel put its cost at 70 million this year. “The cost of a good advertising campaign”, squeaked the general manager of Aéma (Macif, Aésio, l’Abeille), Adrien Couret. But, in the wake of Crédit Mutuel, Parliament voted to extend this measure to all French banks in early February.
Some of the bank’s promises command attention. On the social side, for example, Crédit Mutuel wants to hire 25% work-study students from priority areas of the city and rural areas. “It’s a clever strategy, especially since retail banks are struggling to recruit,” analyzes Guillaume Larmaraud, partner in charge of financial services and insurance at Colombus Consulting. The sector suffers from a lack of glamor and salaries are low.
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Exit gas and oil
In terms of the environment, Crédit Mutuel promises to no longer finance new gas and oil projects at the end of 2022. Apart from Crédit Coopératif, a small establishment attached to BPCE, which only supports renewable energy projects, French banks are far from the account. They have thus limited the financing of unconventional oil projects – shale gas, oil sands – while leaving themselves more room for maneuver for the rest.
Société Générale, for example, will continue to finance players who derive less than 30% of their income from hydrocarbon exploration, such as TotalEnergies and Saudi Aramco.
“Comparing mutual banks and so-called capitalist banks makes no sense,” complains a competitor of a listed bank. Mutualists have more freedom of action when we are limited in our ambitions by the requirements of dividends to be paid to our shareholders.” The CAC 40 keeps a frozen memory of the fate of the leader of a company with an emblematic mission. Emmanuel Faber, then president of Danone, had been brutally evacuated last year by shareholders demanding more profitability.
Other statements by Crédit Mutuel are in tune with the times without being particularly innovative or quantified. Thus, for example, the ambition relating to governance “to encourage young people and women to stand as candidates to bring them closer to parity on boards of directors”, or the project “to invest the earnings of productivity from artificial intelligence in employment and development”.
Still others report on a state of affairs, such as the promise to “guarantee the privacy of the data” of Crédit Mutuel customers by processing 99.9% of their information in infrastructures and systems located in France.
“Unlike fintechs, which are poorly regulated, banks are prohibited from transmitting their customers’ data as trusted intermediaries”, underlines Guillaume Larmaraud. As for locating this data on the territory, “this objective presents few difficulties for a Franco-French bank, he says. As a general rule, the data of a banking establishment are hosted on the territory of its customers.” Centralizing everything in France or Europe becomes complex for banks with a strong international presence, such as BNP Paribas, Société Générale or Crédit Agricole. But where Crédit Mutuel innovates is that customer data from its German bank Targobank is also stored on a French cloud.
More broadly, “the systemic banks (Societe Generale, BNP Paribas, Crédit Agricole and BPCE) do not have the same size and the same portfolio exposure as Crédit Mutuel, a more modest player, points out a competitor. We must compare which is comparable.”
Still, the approach taken by Nicolas Théry is relatively new in the financial landscape. “If all the banks have chosen a raison d’être, Crédit Mutuel, in addition to the small online players Boursorama (Societe Generale) and Helios, remains the only one to have statutorily defined itself as a company with a mission”, remarks Marine Laufer-Tourte, associate specialist in sustainable finance at Colombus Consulting.
And for good reason: this status, born of the Pacte law of 2019, involves a battery of constraints, such as creating a mission committee responsible for monitoring the execution of CSR ambitions, and calling on an external auditor who will control the results. But the mutualist has been able to make a strength of this constraint. He obtained that the former Minister of Culture Fleur Pellerin, who has become a star investor with her fund Korelya Capital, takes the chairmanship of the committee. A lookout that is both media and committed.
Nicolas Théry (top) and Fleur Pellerin (above) at the presentation of Crédit Mutuel’s CSR commitments on January 16 in Paris. For the leader of the group, the status of company with a mission has become a vector of transformation. Under the watchful eye of the committee chaired by the former minister. (Julien de Fontenay)
What are other banks doing?
Since the United Nations Climate Action Summit in 2019, financiers have multiplied public announcements to curb climate change, particularly around a proliferation of “Net Zero” alliances bringing together banks, insurers and asset managers. The big names in French finance – BNP Paribas, Société Générale, Crédit Agricole, Banque Postale, the BPCE group, Axa, Scor, Amundi, etc. – are included.
The common goal is to decarbonize their asset portfolios by 2050, an increasingly difficult ambition as demand for natural gas and oil increases. More specifically, Société Générale wants to reduce the CO2 emissions of the assets it owns in maritime transport by 40% by 2030. Mutual banks are committed to banking inclusion: BPCE, via Crédit Coopératif, has 50% of its clientele “legal entities” made up of associations and social landlords. The group is also the leading funder of the social and solidarity economy. As for the Postal Bank, it carries out a public mission of banking accessibility with services open to 1.5 million vulnerable customers. On the professional integration side, BNP Paribas has launched a recruitment procedure without using a CV, which determines the choices. Crédit Agricole has deployed a 25 million euro plan to facilitate the integration of young people. And Société Générale had more than 2,600 employees with disabilities in 2020.