(Adds reference to memo, context)
By Pamela Barbaglia
LONDON, April 28 (Reuters) - JPMorgan is betting on a female banker to take the reins of its investment banking business in France as it seeks to bolster its leadership in one of Europe's hardest-hit markets from the coronavirus pandemic.
The Wall Street bank has snapped up Citigroup's co-head of France investment banking, Maja Torun, to take on a similar job at the helm of its own franchise, according to a memo sent to staff which confirmed an earlier Reuters report.
Torun, who will start her new role in July, will also join the bank's France management committee.
The move comes as big banks and corporate boardrooms in Europe are trying to fill the gender gap and open up more top jobs for women.
JPMorgan kept a focus on diversity during its latest leadership reshuffling in February when it promoted two female bankers, Dorothee Blessing and Anu Aiyengar, to two power-sharing roles as co-head of EMEA investment banking and co-head of global M&A, respectively.
In her new Paris-based role Torun will be part of a small circle of female banking leaders in the French capital which also includes BNP Paribas' Sophie Javary, Goldman Sachs's Anne Bizien and Citi's Laurence Parisot.
JPMorgan's France boss Kyril Courboin, who sent out the memo, said that Torun will mainly focus on deepening the bank's client franchise while working in close partnership with its existing senior team.
But Torun's appointment comes with the challenge of a bleak economic environment, with France bracing for a series of rescue deals, nationalizations and restructurings in the coming months.
The French economy sank 6% in the first quarter of 2020 in its sharpest slowdown since World War Two.
The novel coronavirus has forced the country into a prolonged lockdown, paralysing business activity and claiming more than 23,000 lives.
Torun, a specialist in mergers and acquisitions (M&A) who joined Citi in 2016 from Deutsche Bank, will lead JPMorgan's efforts to win business from cash-strapped companies seeking help to stay afloat and fend off pressure from a growing number of activist investors in France.
She fills a vacant role that will reunite her with a former Deutsche Bank colleague, Marc Pandraud, who has chaired JPMorgan's investment banking for France and Belgium since 2016.
Torun first met Pandraud at Merrill Lynch where they both worked before the financial crisis forced the bank into a rescue merger with Bank of America.
She then rose through the ranks quickly at Citi, winning the top job as the bank's co-head of France investment banking alongside Emmanuel Regniez in 2019 and leaving her mark after Citi topped up M&A league tables in France last year ahead of Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley.
Torun worked on some of France's most prominent deals in recent years including the merger of Essilor and Luxottica and Publicis's acquisition of Epsilon.
Conor Hillery, who co-heads JPMorgan's EMEA investment banking unit, praised her ability to "build trust with clients naturally," saying she was a "first class adviser."
Torun, who holds an MBA from French business school INSEAD, will report to both Kyril Courboin, who runs France as senior country officer, and Tanguy Piret, who heads the banking business across France, Belgium and Luxembourg. (Reporting by Pamela Barbaglia in London Editing by Matthew Lewis & Shri Navaratnam)