SHAKE ‘N BAKE

Lebanon 2014 | FINANCE | B2B: PRIVATE RESTRUCTURING

The banking and investment sector has a strong presence in Lebanon, with investor interest now piqued.

Salah Osseiran
SALAH OSSEIRAN
President & CEO
BPC (Business Projects Company)
Fouad Rahme
FOUAD RAHME
General Manager
BLC Invest

What's your assessment of the Lebanese financial sector?

SALAH N. OSSEIRAN In Lebanon, the banking and real estate sectors look promising for the time being, and most likely for some time to come as well. It is possible that Lebanon could be the next hot hub for software if there are adequate reforms in the law and regulations; however, we are not there yet. There are many laws we are lobbying the government and parliament for in regard to the telecommunications industry, because the sector relies on infrastructure availability. If you do not have constant and cheap telecoms and power, even if you have the best software developers in the world, it cannot really take off.

FOUAD RAHME The Lebanese banking sector is now the reference point for Europe. A system has been established with high levels of cooperation between the regulator and the operator, and this is why, despite whatever happens, we will have a solid and sound banking system. The government has no resources to manage the deficit, debt, or our float of cash and liquidity. This is why when the crisis came in 2008, when Lehman Brothers went bankrupt, restrictions were in place that prevented us from failing; we hadn't been allowed to invest outside the country. The Banque du Liban (BDL) has a role to ensure that depositors' cash is safe and to provide liquidity for the government.

What projects do you currently have underway?

SNO I think food is a long-term winner in the Middle East because of the demographic explosion that is happening in our part of the world. Fortunately, or unfortunately, with the demographic explosion, you need to create jobs. However, I do not think job creation is happening in line with the demographic explosion, which is an upside problem compared to what is happening in Europe. There, you have a demographic implosion, meaning the population is decreasing. We are in the food business in at least five countries in the Middle East, and food, or anything food-related, will have a market for some time to come, regardless of its categorization—whether it is the upper, the middle, or even the lower end of the market.

FR At BLC Invest we are working on two big direct investment deals, one for $5.5 million for Cinemoz, a video-on-demand platform dedicated to the Arab world and focused on the region, and one for $14 million called Tourist Tube, a social network dedicated to improving tourism and trip planning. We are working with the BDL to create camps for start-ups. We are also helping the start-ups become visible. We're also trying to create a kind of seed capital fund, which is beyond the understanding of bankers. The eco-system is being established and the real trigger now will be the first success story. And it's a question of when, not if. There is no other example in the world where a central bank is prepared to play the role of a venture capitalist like in Lebanon at the moment; we have the talent, innovation, money, will, and, most importantly, the support of the BDL. I want all the children of Lebanon to come back. In Lebanon, we have all the positive ingredients for a good cake, so let's bake the cake!