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Rumoured bank sale could prove costly for Orange

Orange is playing its cards pretty close to its chest on the future of its banking business, but new rumours coming out of France suggest it could be looking to sell up.

The operator group set tongues a-wagging this week with its reluctance to deny a French press report that it is working with investment bank Lazard on a possible sale or new partnership for Orange Bank.

“In a very strong competitive environment in the banking market, Orange is considering all opportunities to develop Orange Bank’s activities and to support its growth,” the telco told Les Echos, in a French language statement. The paper notes that it did not comment specifically on the alleged appointment of Lazard.

Les Echos quoted several unnamed sources as confirming the appointment, as well as naming French online bank Boursorama as a likely candidate to either buy Orange Bank or forge some sort of joint venture or technical partnership.

Interestingly, the sources also suggest that Orange might have to part with a fair wedge of cash to get a buyer to take the bank off its hands, as much as €500 million, to be precise. The paper points last year’s sale of HSBC’s retail banking operations in France to My Money Group – an outfit backed by private equity firm Cerberus –  a deal that it says saw HSBC transfer €1.6 billion to Cerberus to get it over the line.

The report also names BNP Paribas as a possible partner for Orange Bank. It, in addition to Societe Generale and Santander, looked at buying into the firm last year, but decided against it. However, BNP Paribas could be back in the frame, it predicts.

Orange has already made at least one failed attempt to bring new external investment into Orange Bank.

This time last year it was effectively forced into buying Groupama’s 21.7% stake in Orange Bank , having tried unsuccessfully for some months to secure a replacement investor. It did not disclose the financial details of that deal, but did share that it would provide the bank with a €230 million capital increase to fund its future development.

Back then it was pretty upbeat about its banking endeavours, publicly at least, but the bank was still loss-making and the best Orange could come up with on that score was to insist that it was moving towards breakeven faster than many of its peers in the neobanking space.

According to Les Echos, Orange Bank has lost €880 million over five years, which is a hefty sum. Customer numbers are on the up – the paper puts the bank’s customer base at 2.6 million, a million more than it had this time last year – but that growth is unlikely to be enough to offset losses of that magnitude any time soon.

All of which suggests that, irrespective of whether the latest sale rumours are true, Orange needs to do something with its banking ops.

 

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One comment

  1. Avatar Guillaume 14/10/2022 @ 12:51 pm

    Just pointing something obvious for many French people : Boursorama is owned by the Société Générale.

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