Responsible Banking: Q&A With Societe Generale’s Laurent Goutard

Laurent Goutard, who leads the African retail banking at Societe Generale, shares the bank’s infrastructure plans and strategy for success.

Global Finance: Societe Generale swept up several country accolades in the 2022 Global Finance Best Bank Awards. What were the critical factors in the bank’s success across Africa in 2021?

Laurent Goutard: Societe Generale benefits from a unique position on the African continent, offering the expertise and know-how of an international bank, with the proximity of a local bank. The group spans 19 geographies—17 retail subsidiaries and two representative offices—serving nearly 4.1 million customers.

Societe Generale also constructed a robust platform to secure operations processing and establish decision-making centers as close as possible to customers. All these assets, combined with the creation of a pool of international executives we have built up over the years, allow us to live up to our commitment to being a leading responsible bank on the continent.

GF: Africa rebounded well from Covid-19’s challenges in 2021. What is your assessment of the immediate priorities?

Goutard: Countries on the African continent will have to address major infrastructure challenges in the years to come, of which energy emerges among the most urgent—first, as the continent looks to achieve universal access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy services by 2030; and second, in the need to harness the power of renewable energies available on the continent. Renewable energy has become a technologically viable and economically attractive alternative to fossil fuels, reducing commercial dependence on them.

GF: Can you expand on Societe Generale’s plans for infrastructure financing in the region?

Goutard: The strength of our approach to infrastructure finance is various interlocking levels of expertise to drive the execution of deal flows. Local teams in our subsidiaries possess deep client knowledge through regular contact, backed by the group’s experts on the one hand, and by regional specialists on the other. We position this combined expertise in structured finance platforms in Abidjan, Casablanca and Algiers—as close as possible to the needs of our clients.

We have extensive experience in multisource financing, combining a foreign currency loan and a local currency tranche, at competitive interest rates and with an extended tenor. These solutions are attractive for clients because they help reduce currency risk and offer advantageous repayment deferrals that reduce their cash flow needs. In addition, we ensure that all the projects we finance integrate environmental, social and climate-change criteria.

We also contribute to strengthening the technical capacity of public actors to structure public-private partnerships. Our collaboration with the Africa Infrastructure Fellowship Program allows us to secure significant roles in important transactions, such as our recent participation in the renovation of the Eastern Road [the main east-west transport corridor in West Africa] and the construction of four bridges in Côte d’Ivoire. As you know, access to clean energy is key to infrastructure finance plans in Africa. In general, the share of financing devoted to infrastructure development in Africa increases significantly annually.

Societe Generale works with major partners, including AFD Proparco, to amplify its impact in both the private and public sectors. In 2020, for instance, the group participated in the €16 million [about $16 million] financing of the largest solar power plant in Madagascar for GreenYellow and Axian, alongside GuarantCo and the African Guarantee Fund. This project is set to expand access to renewable energy in Madagascar and provide a stable energy supply. In mid-2021, the group also participated in the very first sustainable bond in Africa, issued by the Republic of Benin. This first-of-a-kind obligation in Africa was aimed at financing impact projects, including access to clean energy.

GF: What strategic developments will ensure the bank’s continued regional success?

Goutard: The group intends to continue the transformation of its banking model, strengthen the expertise of its subsidiaries and platforms in Africa and intensify synergies in the corporate market with other business units. In a rapidly changing world that demands accountability and responsibility, we are driven to place corporate social responsibility at the heart of our operations and leverage our collective expertise to support the entire continent in its shift toward clean energies and sustainable development.

Our ambitious initiative, Grow with Africa, demonstrates our continued commitment to positive transformation on the continent. Launched in 2018, the initiative is structured around four pillars: support for African SMEs, innovative financing [agribusiness and renewable energy], infrastructure financing and financial inclusio