BNP Paribas to open new online bank: unions

French bank BNP Paribas is set to open a new online bank targeting 500,000 customers in five years as it revamps its retail activities, two union sources told Reuters on Wednesday.

BNP and its rival Societe Generale are cutting costs in their branch networks, where a stagnant economy and consumer belt-tightening have hit revenues and raised the likelihood of branch closures.

Although France's biggest bank already offers online banking for its regular retail customers, the new project will be entirely digital, the sources said. French daily Les Echos, which reported the plan on Wednesday, said the new brand might be called "Hello Bank".

The project has a target of 25,000 customers by the end of 2013, one of the union sources said.

"25,000 clients by the end of this year and 500,000 in five years," he said, citing discussions held with BNP's management. "This is what we have been told."

A BNP spokeswoman declined to comment.

BNP said in February it had begun a three-year plan to cut costs annually by 2 billion euros ($2.6 billion), without giving details of potential job cuts. The bank is also eyeing an expansion in Asia, where it wants to hire 1,300 people.

($1 = 0.7658 euros)

(Editing by Elena Berton and Tom Pfeiffer)