Page last updated at 11:16 GMT, Monday, 23 March 2009

Bank heads renounce stock options

Societe Generale chief executive Frederic Oudea (right) and his deputy Didier Alix
The SocGen bosses admitted the stock options had proved controversial

Four top bosses at French bank Societe Generale have handed back thousands of stock options, after public criticism and a call from the government.

Chief executive Frederic Oudea, chairman Daniel Bouton and deputy chief executives Severin Cabannes and Didier Alix announced the move on Sunday.

The stock options - which they gained on 9 March - caused controversy because SocGen needed public cash in December.

The French government has pumped 1.7bn euros ($2.3bn; £1.6bn) into SocGen.

'Responsible gesture'

"To cut short the current polemic, we have decided to give up the benefit of these stock option awards, and we have informed the board of directors about this," said the four directors in their joint letter.

Times have changed, and clearly there needs to be a change of behaviour
French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde

French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde had earlier called on the SocGen bosses and other banking leaders to drop all their stock options.

"Given the current state of things, that would seem to me to be a responsible gesture," she said.

"Times have changed, and clearly there needs to be a change of behaviour."

Ms Lagarde added that she would consider bringing in new legislation.

"If we have to use the law, we'll use the law."

In total, the French government has so far given the country's banking sector 10.5bn euros.

Global issue

Stock options are a common part of remuneration packages for top executives of listed companies.

They offer senior executives the chance to buy shares in the company at an agreed price, at a certain date in the future.

Traditionally they have enabled the executives to buy shares at below the market price.

Stock options and other payments to banking bosses - such as bonuses - are now a controversial subject in most Western nations following the global losses in the financial sector, and the widespread need for state support.

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