Everyone knows that banks in London and on Wall Street like to hire from the same elite group of universities. Similarly, everyone knows that banks in France like to hire from the same elite group of Grandes Ecoles - and that when non-French banks hire French bankers, they hire from the Grandes Ecoles too.
What's less well known is that some of France's top bankers also attended the same elite 'prep school' in Versailles before they even reached their Grandes Ecoles. French elitism is super-charged.
The school in question is Sainte-Geneviève in Versailles. Charging between €1.9k and €6.2k a term depending upon family income, it prepares 18 and 19 year-old neophytes of the French elite for their application to the even more elite group of Grandes Ecoles. We have it on good authority that Jean-Pierre Mustier, CEO of Unicredit went there, as did Guy Laffineur, global head of markets at Unicredit, as did Luc Francois, head of capital markets at Natixis, Tidjane Thiam, CEO of Credit Suisse, and Marc Litzler, the former chief executive of Calyon.
"We all know each other from Sainte-Geneviève," explains one (now retired) banker and former alum. "We call each other up when we're in the same city."
Unicredit needs to hope its Versailles elitists come through. As Mark Gilbert notes at Bloomberg View, Mustier is due to make a big presentation on the Italian bank's future next week. So far, things at SocGen have been moving in the wrong direction: the share price is down 60% this year and Unicredit's total assets are rising rather than falling. Gilbert suggests Unicredit might want to take an axe to Bayerische HypoVereinsbank, the German bank known for its talented derivatives traders.
And if Mustier can't turn things around? Unicredit could always tap the elite French alumni of rival prep school Louis-le-Grand in Paris. "Most of the top French bankers either went there or to Sainte-Geneviève," says our source.