Their names are Arsène, Anna, Victoria or Maria. They are Russian nationals, clients of Société Générale and BNP Paribas, two of the “Three old women”, the pillars of the French banking industry. They are neither oligarchs nor close to Russian power and they have chosen France, sometimes for many years, to work or study there. Two weeks ago, towards the end of March, their daily life became particularly complicated.
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Anna is 33 years old and lives in Puteaux (Hauts-de-Seine), she is a consultant in the digital field. A Russian national but a French resident for ten years, she has been a client of Société Générale for the same period. At the end of March 2022, without notice, she noticed malfunctions in her bank account.
War in Ukraine: Russians in France denounce the excessive zeal of certain banks. The report by Ludovic Pauchant
“My daily life is a little precarious at the moment: I can spend what was on my account using my bank card, which has not been blocked, but all credit transactions, such as my salary, or those of my mutual or health insurance are blocked”, she laments at franceinfo.
His adviser first evokes a “embargo”, then the economic sanctions decided against Russia in the context of the war in Ukraine, then a new control requirement for Russian customers. And to specify that he now had to validate one by one, manually, each of the operations that are carried out on his account. Anna does not hide her bitterness: “I could never have imagined being able to experience this in France”, she sighs, disgusted.
“One day, just because you are Russian, in France, where you reside legally, where you work, where you pay your taxes, you can have your account blocked, just like that.”
Anna is not the only one to testify to these new setbacks: a petition on the change.org site collected more than 2,600 signatures on April 6 and on Telegram, a “loop” (a group that brings together users who exchange between them on a private channel) brings together more than a thousand of their compatriots in trouble with their financial institution. Among them is Victoria, 25. She has been living in France for four years and works for a French startup. She is also a client of Société Générale.
“About two weeks ago, at the end of March, my salary arrived in my bank account, she remembers. On Saturday, I received a call from my bank adviser, who asked me to provide proof of the origin of my income. I then send him all the documents requested, such as payslips”details Victoria.
A little later, while consulting her accounts, she discovers with amazement that the transfer from her employer has disappeared. “There, I started to panic and then I sent my residence permit. My salary finally came back to my account the following Monday, but my Livret A had been blocked in the meantime: I could no longer receive or send money between the two accounts.
She continues: “I went to my bank physically. There, the person in charge of welcoming clients tells me that it’s strange what is happening to me and goes to ask an adviser in an office. When she comes back, ten minutes later, she tells me that it is because of the geopolitical situation that my Livret A was blocked.
“When I asked her when this problem will be solved, the receptionist replied: ‘Only Putin knows…’ That shocked me a bit…”
Maria, for her part, was born in Moscow and settled in France four years ago to study there. She finally stayed there, and became self-employed. Ten days ago, she was unable to deposit cash into her account. “It started on March 24, she indicates. Sometimes, when my clients pay me cash, I have to deposit cash at my bank. That day I had to deposit 100 euros and they were normally credited. On Friday morning, I received a debit notification from Société Générale: it was incomprehensible, since I hadn’t spent anything.” She initially thinks of a technical error and goes to her bank. “The receptionist found it odd, reports Maria, and turned to the branch adviser, saying, ‘There’s a Russian lady who came, who has problems with her money.'”
“I found it very odd that people identify me, in a country like France, with my nationality, she sighs. They scanned my documents and sent them to my advisor. By repeating many times that my accounts were blocked because I was a Russian national, and that the bank advisers had to validate each of their operations one by one. The bank manager was much more polite: he tried to solve the problem with me, in vain. At the weekend, I barely had 30 euros in my pocket and my rent to pay…”
Arsène, also a Russian national and a Parisian for nearly ten years, was even refused the study of his mortgage application by the BNP Paribas agency, which has been receiving his salaries for many years. “Until recently, my bank was willing to give me a loan to buy my house, indicates the thirty-something. Then, two weeks ago, when I was put in touch with the loans department, I was informed that, given the context, these requests for financing went through a pre-validation. But I didn’t even have time to send them all the documents, including the sales agreement, my taxes, payslips, etc.” Arsène indeed received the following message, which franceinfo was able to consult (picture above): “I regret to inform you that, given the current situation in Ukraine and Russia, and following the latest measures taken by BNP Paribas, it is not appropriate for us to support you in your acquisition project.”
Contacted by franceinfo, Société Générale invokes the “tightening of regulations” and “international sanctions”: “Societe Generale strictly complies with the regulations in force and diligently implements the necessary measures to strictly apply, as soon as they are published, international sanctions.says a statement sent by the bank. The international situation has led to stricter regulations that our entire profession is required to apply. We are aware that the application of these measures and additional checks may be binding for our customers. This is why we try, in strict compliance with the law, to carry them out as quickly as possible. We invite our customers who may be affected to contact their advisor.
BNP Paribas responds for its part that it “continues to support Russian nationals in France as it should, for the opening of an account as well as in the management of day-to-day banking needs”and that it has, as such, “normally open accounts, in all our regions, since the beginning of the conflict”. “We also continue to exercise our duty of constant supervision, ensuring compliance with the regulatory obligations that apply to all banking institutions”the statement concludes.
“Banks are showing a zeal that is absolutely not required by European texts”, storm Me Alexandre Meyniel. A lawyer at the Paris and New York bars, specializing in arbitration and business litigation, he was contacted with his partner at Cartier Meyniel Schneller, Me Marie-Laure Cartier, by Russian nationals to help them in their procedures and, in the event of litigation, represent them.
“The only reason why these banks refuse to open an account for people who are Russian nationals, who have a job, who pay their taxes, is their nationality.”
“You have the right to have reasons for refusing to open an account or control banking operations, for example, but your reasons must be reasonable. Here we are at the beginning of April and some don’t have not received their salary for the month of March. That is to say that these are people who cannot pay their electricity bills”he says.
Tuesday, March 29, Maria finally made an appointment at an HSBC branch to open another bank account. She filled in a questionnaire, and we scanned her passport, her residence permit. Ten days later, Thursday April 7, no one had yet called her back.