Société Générale: Digital For All

Uncertain times, subject to rapid changes, require responsive people. Société Générale has launched several initiatives that encourage a new mindset and behaviors, founded on the principles of effective communication, collaborative working, flexibility and mobility. These are moving people out of their comfort zones, addressing some of the shortcomings of corporate hierarchy, and enabling people to use the tools they need to get their work done in a way that is most effective for them. This case study was first published in “The Organization in the Digital Age” in December 2016.


Société Générale (SG) is one of France’s oldest banks, founded in 1864. Today it is a multinational organization with over 31 million customers in the banking and financial services sector. SG is learning how to adapt to volatility and uncertainty in an economic environment that encompasses retail, corporate, investment and private banking, as well as asset management and securities services.

A Workplace For Tomorrow

One very visible manifestation of organizational transformation has been the establishment of Les Dunes, a new physical workspace at Fontenay-sous-Bois, east of Paris. This has been designed to accommodate 5,000 people, all working flexibly, with no individually assigned desks. The first to move there were the IT and technology teams.

Regardless of location, whether at the Parisian head office in La Défense, at Les Dunes, at home or on the road, SG people need to be able to access the colleagues and information that are necessary to their work. This is not without security hurdles, given the regulatory constraints that surround the financial industry.

Enabling Mobility

A key initiative, centered on the notion of mobility and freeing personnel from a set location, involves the distribution of 60,000 tablets and the implementation of a WiFi network. BYOD practices are also encouraged. These initial steps are helping free staff from the limitations of the past.

Edouard Marteau D’Autry, Digital for All Program Director says, “The WiFi infrastructure is a big change. On a regular PC connected to the main network, the access to the internet is very controlled, and very limited. For historical, security and regulation reasons. We have opened up a different path to surf the internet. It is not the best user experience ever, but it is a very good way to give us full access to the internet.” He adds, “The more we open, the more we increase the security about how we can get to that information from the outside. Different layers of security are based on the kind of information being accessed.”

Digital workplace, moving with the user

These initiatives are part of an overarching Digital for All program. As Edouard frames it: “the digital workplace is moving with the user.”

Change Through Humor

Apparently small changes like this can result in significant behavioral shifts in the long term. Aymeril Hoang, Head of Innovation for the Group, observes that new practice will flow from how their colleagues, and the systems of which they form a part, are impacted.

A major activity of Aymeril and his team is to spend time with people throughout the organization helping them consider new ways of doing things.

“We are like the fou du roi, as we say in French, the court jester who calls attention to potentially important issues using humor.”

He jokingly adds that one of his success metrics is the number of phone calls he gets from managers saying his team should stop their nonsense.

The more he gets, the more successful they have been. “In reality, we are helping the culture at Société Générale evolve to more collective brainstorming about how they work today and how they could work tomorrow.” He insists that the legitimacy of his work does not come from him or his team: “It comes from what we see outside and are pushing into the organization—the legitimacy of others.”

The Power of Pull

An area of primary importance to Jean-Paul Chapon, Head of Digital Communications and e-Reputation, is the manner in which individuals access news and other information. He is keen that what is familiar in a personal context through the use of digital technologies can also be applied in the workplace. One initiative Jean-Paul has overseen is the development of the SG News app. This is one of over 50 bespoke apps available on the organization’s own app store.

Users receive an alert by 08:30 each morning, advising them to download the latest news to their mobile device. This can then be read offline, often while people are in transit. The emphasis, however, is on pull rather than push.

Smart content attracts and raises interest

Jean-Paul explains, “If you want to raise interest, the content has to be smart. That requires a very good picture to attract the interest, plus a title and a couple of lines of introduction. It needs to be concise so that people can quickly determine which business it relates to, which country, or which person. This is a real transformation in the way that writers are now working, writing for the mobile app.” Already, one small change is affecting how people work.

Longer term, there are plans to enable localization of news. This will allow people to access information that is relevant to the whole of SG as well as that which is more pertinent to their specific region or function. Other projects that will enhance the mobile digital workplace include work on search functionality, the development of external services for SG customers, and an initial foray into chat bots and artificial intelligence.

The power of pull lures people in. The effects are different with every individual. Inevitably, therefore, not everyone has yet adapted to the new ways of working at SG. To accommodate different temperaments, different rates of change, Jean-Paul has ensured that SG News is also available in a desktop version. But over time he aims to enable a new vision of the digital workplace in three significant ways: “The first is via the internet, the second is with the enterprise social network, and the third is with apps.”

Embracing the Unknown

Another evident change is the increasing number of unexpected projects, with uncertain results. “We don’t have a culture of failure,” explains Aymeril. “But we are seeing a change in mindset in that when colleagues are looking for inspiration, they turn to start-ups and new entrants for ideas as well as to the traditional big consultancies.”

A fast-evolving workplace in a highly regulated environment

Jean-Paul observes, “It is exciting to see how fast things are evolving. Given the regulatory environment of the financial sector, you would have said banks will never change. I remember my first day at Société Générale six years ago. It’s like night and day when I see the how things have changed, and it’s great!”

A gentle revolution is well underway, with thousands already using tablets, working collaboratively and, in the words of Edouard, “experimenting everyday with new ways of working”.