The ritual is immutable. Every morning before the opening of the offices, the director of the central agency of Societe Generale borrows the marble staircase which leads to the basement of the bank, located boulevard Haussmann, in Paris.
He dials the code, deactivates the jammer and inserts the key to open the 16-ton circular door to the vault. It is a unique model in the world, manufactured by the French company Fichet. Inviolate to date, assures the bank, which hopes that it will remain so forever.
Behind this door, worthy of the greatest gangster movies with 40 centimeters of thick armor, there is a second 11-tonne door with two rectangular leaves, also locked, as well as a so-called “day” gate. , which gives access – finally – to the safe room.
time is frozen
Vast, majestic, it extends over four levels, with mosaic floor and integrated lift. 8,117 chests are housed in 399 cupboards, whose doors are covered with polished steel plates with copper and bronze reflections, just like the ceiling.
On the second level, a discreet room also contains 22 vaults, with a volume of 7 m3 each. The atmosphere is calm and silent, barely disturbed by the noise of the metro, which can be guessed behind the walls of the building.
Time seems frozen in this confidential place, in which only agents and holders of safes are authorized to enter. It is the oldest safe room in Europe, after that of a Swiss bank, ensures Societe Generale.
The central agency that houses it – and which has just completed major renovations – was built in 1912. It faces the Galeries Lafayette, which had wanted to buy the building a little over a hundred years ago. the bank doesn’t get their hands on it.
In the opposite street, it is the Opéra Garnier which acts as a neighbour. “During the Belle Epoque, it was not uncommon to see wealthy clients come and collect valuable jewelry and personal effects from the safe before attending the show and then going to the restaurant,” says Farid Ameur, historian at Societe Generale. The agency then remained open until late at night.
Five dedicated employees
Times have changed. Some chests can still house jewels, even gold bars. The agency is authorized to carry out gold transactions, a service that not all agencies can offer.
But most of the time, it is identity documents, property deeds and other administrative papers that are stored in these safes. Hence “traditionally increasing attendance at places as the holidays approach”, notes the director of the central agency, Bertrand Gilquart.
Five branch employees work full-time in the bank’s basements. At each level, offices are available to customers, with tinted windows and enough space between them to guarantee discretion to customers.
Two keys are required to open a safe: one is the property of the bank, the other of the customer. Customs or the police may nevertheless require the opening of certain safes, in the context of legal cases.
A special room contains the objects of dormant accounts. A veritable cave of Alibaba. After forty years, if no one claims them, these objects become the property of the bank.
No war effect
To date, only half of the vaults and about a third of the vaults are occupied; these are often used by gallery owners to house works of art. It takes an average of 125 euros per year to rent a classic safe, and 14,000 euros for a room.
According to Societe Generale, there has been no health crisis effect on activity, nor a rush on coffers since the outbreak of the conflict in Ukraine. “The room occupancy figures have been fairly stable for ten years,” explains Bertrand Gilquart.
The agency nevertheless tries to put forward this service, which is not reserved only for Societe Generale customers. The activity has the merit of offering recurring income, with costs that remain fixed. A boon for a retail banking network in full transformation.