Shhh - French banks have been adding staff

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While all around were vigorously divesting themselves of investment bankers in 2008, France's two most venerable institutions were vigorously adding them.

A belated look at the full year 08 reports of SocGen and BNP Paribas reveals that both banks ended their last fiscal years with more investment bankers than they began them with.

Headcount at BNP's corporate and investment bank rose 10% last year to 17,318. And SocGen added 1,214 investment bankers, an increase of nearly 17%.

It's not clear whether the headcount additions will now quietly continue or publicly shift into reverse.

In August last year SocGen declared its intention of adding 20,000 people across the bank. But when it released its results in February (and revealed a €2.2bn loss in its corporate and investment bank), it promised to trim managerial headcount in the division, while strengthening its presence in M&A. It's also been pruning in non-core markets like Australia.

In December, BNP Paribas said it would cut 800 people from its securities unit after reporting a loss that wiped out all its corporate and investment banking profits for the previous 12 months.

Both banks could clearly trim more heavily if they wanted to. Given that a high proportion of their investment bankers are protected by French labour laws, they may not.