Credit Agricole and others have bid for the acquisition of Societe Generale’s Polish subsidiary Eurobank, according to a report, as one of Europe’s biggest lenders seeks an exit from a fast-growing but highly competitive eastern European market.
Reuters, which first reported on SocGen’s plan to divest the unit in June, quoted sources saying that Credit Agricole, Portugal’s Millennium and Poland’s Alior were potential buyers for Eurobank, while Santander’s had dropped plans for a bid.
SocGen has been retreating from some markets in eastern and central Europe due to competitive pressures in the region’s fast-growing retail and commercial banking markets.
Only last month, the group agreed the sale of its Albanian and Bulgarian subisidaries to Hungary’s OTP Bank. In Bulgaria, this included the sale of the SoGeLease and SoGeFactoring. In the case of other countries, a spokesman for Societe Generale told Leasing Life that any decision to pull out from retail markets would not imply an exit for Societe Generale Equipment Finance (SGEF).
“In Bulgaria, we were doing equipment finance only through our retail network,” spokesman Henry Corentin said in email correspondence. “But in other countries, we can provide our services through local vendors, through other distributors – if we don’t have a retail network – or even [take] a direct approach.”
All three of the reported bidders operate a leasing offer in Poland. SocGen’s leasing network in the country spans 16 branches, but does not operate under the Eurobank brand. The website for Credit Agricole’s EFL unit lists 95 between branches and representatives, while Alior’s and Millennium’s networks both number in the 50s.
The French group said it may keep providing services jointly with OTP in Bulgaria, without directly citing commercial banking as one of the areas of collaboration. The agreement may hint at a more sustainable way for SocGen to maintain a presence in the region, albeit not directly.
SocGen’s scaling-down runs counter to rivals’ appetite for the region’s commercial lending market. Last year, DLL and Austria’s Erste Group signed a memorandum of understanding to tap into what they said is a leasing market with business potential of €17bn (£15bn). Erste went to acquire Slovenia’s Aleasing.
SocGen and UniCredit have also been rumoured to be pursuing a possible merger, which could see the French group re-enter central and eastern Europe through the Italian bank’s well-established network.