WAR CHEST

Lebanon 2015 | FINANCE | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Dr. Salim G. Sfeir, Chairman and CEO of Bank of Beirut, on the bank's award-winning success, the role of innovation in the banking sector, and their growth strategies.

Dr. Salim G. Sfeir
BIOGRAPHY
Salim G. Sfeir started his career at the Bank of Nova Scotia in 1971. From 1980 to 1983, he occupied the position of Deputy General Manager at Banque de la Mediterranee. He founded Wedge Bank (Middle East) in 1983 and was appointed General Manager and Member of the Board of Directors. From 1985 till 1991 he held the positions of General Manager & Chief Executive Officer, Wedge Bank (Switzerland) S.A., Geneva and remained in that position until 1991. In 1992 he was appointed Vice Chairman and Managing Director of Wedge Bank (Middle East). He was appointed as Chairman of the Board and General Manager of Bank of Beirut in 1993. He also lectures in economics, finance, and marketing.

In June 2014, Banker ME officially designated Bank of Beirut as “The Fastest Growing Bank in Lebanon" for 2013. To what do you attribute that success?

It was the vitality and dynamism of my colleagues. We operate in a team-oriented environment; I believe we were very fortunate to have been able to bring together a remarkable team at all levels and in all divisions. We are one of, if not the, youngest bank in the marketplace. The average age of our staff members is the lowest in the banking industry of Lebanon. What differentiates us is that upon taking over Bank of Beirut in 1993, we did not inherit a senior generation of employees. Our team is very young and highly educated. We do not spare any effort to employ additional well experienced staff from overseas who can further add to our existing knowhow and experience; as their international exposure would enhance our business. The advantage of one bank over another is the extent of opportunities captured from the new generation of bankers as the tools currently utilized are much more sophisticated than those in the past. A young team provides a high competitive edge to our daily operations. The outlook is different, the horizons are different, and the energy is unlimited.

How would you assess Bank of Beirut's performance in 2014?

We did very well in 2014 in all growth indicators. Our total assets grew by 9.69% year- over- year, and net profit after tax increased by 20.65%, to reach $175 million. For the last 20 years, Bank of Beirut has each year outperformed the previous one. It is obviously another consequence of the productivity of each and every team member in all market segments.

What strategy will Bank of Beirut follow to sustain growth in 2015?

Bank of Beirut is primarily a trade finance oriented bank. Each bank has its own characteristics. We are the leader in the market in trade finance, in housing loans, and in asset management. We intend to add additional segments in the near future. Regretfully, 2015 will be much different than the previous years. The regional environment is politically more difficult. Our markets are smaller. The Lebanese market itself has shrunk due to the prevailing political situation in the country. If we should add the pressures imposed from compliance procedures throughout the region, we could say that 2015 would be more taxing than the previous years. Growth is sustained through two types of strategies; one is human-oriented, whereby we keep our teams well motivated by constantly assessing their performance. This is the role of management. The second type of strategy is beyond our control. It is highly linked to the political environment, be it in Lebanon or the region. We will therefore do our best and pray that all will turn out in our favor.

What role does innovation play at Bank of Beirut?

Bank of Beirut offers plenty of innovative solutions. Most importantly, is to take advantage at the right time of any added solution. We are here to assess and introduce fresh solutions to our customers' needs. More often than not you do not need a Ferrari to drive to the city as it is not always the case that high technologies serve your objectives; but rather the necessary technologies that would serve your objectives. Our IT people are always keen to acquire new technology and we are enthusiastic about new achievements. Here, we have to assess the right innovation at the appropriate time. Our markets are not yet as sophisticated as the highly developed markets, such as, the UK or the US. Our markets are more customer-oriented, to the extent that we have to adjust and to cater to our customers' needs.