French banks get heavy handed

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Forget the 35-hour week and jobs for life, French banks are showing signs of Anglo-Saxon-style ruthlessness. So far it's restricted to London, but it's reasonably certain that people will be manhandled in Paris very soon.

Calyon and Natixis are most likely to do the roughing up. Les Echos reported on Tuesday that Marc Litzler, head of Calyon investment bank, is leaving - which is bad news for the 900 or so staff Litzler hired since last summer.

It also emerged that Calyon's parent Credit Agricole plans to a) raise 4.7bn; b) do a UBS and pull back from investment banking; and c) cut costs by 10%.

Meanwhile, Natixis today also announced its intention to trim costs by 10% before 2009.

Predictably, jobs in the City will be first in the line of French fire. Headhunters say Calyon announced another wave of redundancies in its London structured credit team this week.

Parisian jobs are unscathed so far. "There haven't been any redundancies in Paris yet," says Guy De Brabois at Robert Walters. "London is more exposed at this point."

This will change. French bankers weren't left out of the hiring frenzy on the upturn, and will therefore be lucky to escape unscathed in the downturn. SocGen's 2007 annual report shows that headcount in its French corporate and investment banking operation increased a massive 20% in 2007.

"Paris is an epicentre for the derivatives business," says Simon Maughan, an analyst at MF Global. "It won't be the case that French banks can dump a few staff in London and leave it at that. They're going to have to act in La Défense too."

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