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Forty years in China: Side by side on a remarkable journey with our clients

15/11/2021

Forty years ago, Societe Generale was one of the first banks invited into China. In 1981, we opened a representative office in Beijing, just as this emerging market was embarking on the next step of its remarkable journey: transforming itself and opening up to the world.

Over the last four decades, China has become the globe’s second-largest economy and its undisputed manufacturing powerhouse: it produces nearly 50% of the world’s major industrial goods, including steel and cement; it is the world’s largest builder of ships, vehicles and high-speed trains, as well as robots, machine tools, computers and cellphones. Its annual industrial patent applications now exceed those of the United States by more than half.  

Along the way, this economic growth has improved the living conditions of hundreds of millions of its citizens and ended extreme poverty in the greatest act of wealth creation that the world has ever seen. During that time, Societe Generale has grown, side by side, with our Chinese and international clients, from early projects in funding to construct the infrastructure projects which have supported China’s development plans. And from one small rep office we have expanded into a nationwide network with hubs in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.  

With the deep local knowledge acquired through many years of experience, we have helped Chinese companies through each phase of their growth, matching our entrepreneurial mindset and pioneering spirit with theirs. In line with China’s national “Go Global” strategy, we connect these firms to customers and partners not only in the developed markets of Europe and the Americas but also to the potential of emerging markets and industries in Asia, Africa, Russia and the Middle East. With a global presence in more than 60 countries, we have been able to offer a global network that few financial institutions can match.  

At the same time, we continue to support multi-national corporations as they plan their business in the world’s largest industrial and consumer market, supporting them with insight and advice at every step. This applies to those in more traditional areas such as natural resources, energy and industrial goods as much as to younger companies in technology, environmental solutions and smart mobility.

The continuous innovation and deregulation of the past 40 years has spurred enormous growth but also occasionally led to unforeseen changes of direction in national economic policies. Helping clients to remain flexible and rapidly take advantage of new opportunities as they emerge has been one of the hallmarks of our success.  

China and the world are now focusing ever more on sustainability and this shift will see a new chapter of collaboration being written between us and our clients in China. Societe Generale is an acknowledged global leader when it comes to corporate and social responsibility and sustainable financing – and we launched China’s first ever green bond back in 2015. We will use our expertise to help our clients embrace clean energy solutions, transform their business models and embrace new opportunities in the coming years. 

Finally, we are not in business just to do business. We seek to be embedded in the societies in which we operate and to give back to the local communities where we are present. In China, that commitment has over many years been focused on supporting children and young people, helping with their education and development and in particular working with migrants and the underprivileged in rural areas. 

One example, among many, is our Shanghai Young Bakers programme, which has been running since 2008. Each year, Societe Generale provides free advanced baking training to 30 young people, who also learn English and life skills which will eventually give them practical employment opportunities to escape poverty and integrate into society.