A Banker’s Life

06.19.2023 5 min
Read my portrait published in l'Hémicycle

The Economics Professor who transformed BRED, which he ran for over ten years.

He arrives slightly out of breath, apologising for being late, with a big smile. Elegant in his dark suit and sky blue silk tie, Olivier Klein the Managing Director of BRED invites me into his contemporary office high above the Seine populated with his collection of African statues. But the real passion of this fan of primitive art is banks, and in particular his own that he has managed skilfully for over ten years and successfully since the net banking income has increased by 70% in a decade. This boss is also a professor at HEC and the author of numerous publications. A busy life, “an achievement,” he says, of which he is proud. He can thus spend hours discussing world markets adding humorous remarks, using pedagogy to decipher a complex world, inaccessible to laymen.

However, at 65 after an exemplary history of leading large establishments he was obliged to leave BRED at the end of May. When he brings up his imminent departure on this day in April, the eyes of this man with his joyful personality become misty. “It’s not easy to say goodbye,” he frankly admits. Having reached his age limit he regretfully left his position. A brief moment of abandonment quickly forgotten when he begins to recount his banking saga, which started at the beginning of the 1980s.

Expert in Acquisitions and Mergers

Economics and nothing but economics. When Olivier Klein graduated from the National School of Statistics and Administration (ENSAE), finished his postgraduate studies at HEC, and received his diploma from Panthéon Paris- Sorbonne, he hesitated. Should he become a distinguished economist, diving deeply into study and forecasts? Tempting, but this young man finally prefers banking which is at the “crossroads of the economy”. He recalls “I needed to act, to make concrete things happen.” And so in 1985 he joins the French Bank of Foreign Trade (BFCE) and becomes head of the risk management consulting department in charge of change and interest rate risk and puts together complex offers for large groups. He then sets up the business banking at BFCE where he takes the helm. He finds this work very satisfying. But it’s not enough for him to be fulfilled. So to continue moving towards macroeconomics and to satisfy his great curiosity he becomes an affiliate professor at HEC: “I don’t play golf, I have no hobbies, but I need to reflect and to transmit; this helps me become a better banker,” he pleads, affirming that he was able to predict the 2008 financial crisis thanks to his constant watchfulness, an overall understanding of the system and an ever critical eye. “Constantly on the lookout for any signs of weakness in the markets, he’s a visionary; he knows how to anticipate and develop his strategy,” points out Françoise Epifanie head of development at BRED. A double life which makes him a rare breed in the world of banking, “He’s on the one hand an intellectual, an economics professor and on the other he’s very hands-on : a very rare balance!” confides Eric Lombard, Managing Director of Caisse des Dépôts. Determined, a hard worker -“he has an extraordinary capacity to work,” according to an executive manager- he has never given up on his teaching. Even when he joined Caisse D’Epargne in 1998 where he was initially appointed as president of the board of directors for the western Paris region before being sent to Lyon. For this fourth generation Parisian it’s his first job in France outside of the capital. But this food lover and fan of good wines loves the area. And he,“then values the crucial role of the regions in the equilibrium of France,” he affirms. Olivier Klein realises that it is the dedicated involvement of the directors of the established regional banks that are behind the success of a decentralised retail banking group. An expert in acquisitions and mergers, he is given the task of fusing Caisse D’Epargne from the Alps region with the Rhone-Alps Lyon Caisse D’Epargne. A prelude to future mergers, such as the merger between Banques Populaires and Caisse D’Epargne in 2008 (later to become BPCE) in which he was actively involved.

Managing Director of commercial banking and insurance at the head of the newly formed group, Olivier Klein quickly covets BRED bank- which he made into, “a little jewel” points out admiringly his old teacher and former Minister of Economy, Edmond Alphandéry. Taking advantage of the retirement of his predecessor, he takes over in 2012. It’s an entrepreneurial bank,”the most complete in the group” he rejoices. He develops the bank with steady progress going against the tide of the rest of the banking sector rushing to bring in the digital to replace the bricks and mortar banking. He, on the other hand, keeps the branches open, opens more and increases employee recruitment. Convinced of his strategy he launches the, “bank without distance” in opposition to the pure players focused on remote banking, increasing the training budget by 40% so that his employees can best accompany their customers in their life projects. “He understood that the success of a company rests on the quality of its teams,” points out someone close to him. He wants to make BRED 100% dedicated to giving advice, much to the dismay of his team, which finds him a little audacious and in a rush.


And yet the Covid-19 crisis proved him to be right and speeds up the transformation. Being ambitious he also decides to conquer new markets and quickly moves into Cambodia and the Fidji Islands: “He set up shop in places which bankers generally avoid, and he was right to do so,” notes Edmond Alphandéry. Without any false modesty, Olivier Klein is delighted with his results which he sends to all those that are close to him. His fondness for grand strategy doesn’t prevent him from following closely the day- to-day business. He frequently travels around visiting regional branches and banks outside of France and always begins each visit with exchanges with the local teams. A man of communication- and speeches- he enjoys these trips during which he reassures and rallies his employees. On the other hand he will not accept anything that is slapdash. “He doesn’t let anything go by, he’s always on the frontline no matter what the activity,” acknowledges Françoise Epifanie and jokes, “He always encourages people to go beyond themselves”. And he knows how to delegate when he believes in the person, this indulgent boss keeps an eye on everything at all times. Even when he is on holiday he has difficulty in letting go.

As his departure approaches this sixty-something feels he is in great shape. As much as he loves his collection of African statues as wells those from Papua New Guinea which sit in state in a dedicated room, Olivier Klein is ready to head towards new horizons.

L’Hémicycle – Corinne Scemama
Article published on 19 June 2023.

Key Dates

  • 15 June 1957: Birth in Paris.
  • 1985: Head of the risk management consulting department in charge of change and interest rate risk for key accounts at the French Bank of Foreign Trade (BFCE). He then sets up Business banking at the heart of the group.
  • 1985: Affiliate Professor at HEC.
  • 1998: President of the board of directors at Caisse D’Epargne for the western Paris region, followed by the Rhône-Alpes Lyon Caisse D’Epargne.
  • 2010: Managing Director of the BPCE Group, in charge of commercial banking and insurance.
  • 2012: Managing director of BRED.