BANKING ON THE BEST

Lebanon 2017 | FINANCE | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Antoun Sehnaoui, Chairman & CEO of SGBL, on supporting the bedrock of the Lebanese economy, SMEs, the group's ambitious expansion efforts across the region, and how to continuously deploy the most advanced information platforms.

Antoun Sehnaoui
BIOGRAPHY
Antoun Sehnaoui has been SGBL’s chairman and CEO since 2007. He is also the chairman of Fidus, the group’s financial brokerage firm. Sehnaoui holds a BA in business administration with a major in international finance and banking from the University of Southern California and is a member of the Board of Directors of the Association of Banks in Lebanon.

How was 2016 for SGBL's operations?

SGBL's financial results in 2016 were among the best in recent years, largely due to the bank's loyal customer base and highly dedicated team of professionals. Total assets increased by 16% to USD19.07 billion by the end of 2016, and shareholder equity jumped by 37% to USD1.72 billion. The bank remained well capitalized, with the capital adequacy ratio reaching 18.5%, significantly above regulatory requirements. Customer deposits grew by 15.4% to USD14.59 billion at the end of 2016, reflecting a high level of confidence among depositors in the bank's financial structure and business model. Despite political uncertainty and economic challenges throughout most of the year, SGBL continued its support of the private sector and the Lebanese economy as a whole. The bank's loan portfolio increased by 7% to reach USD4.47 billion at the end of 2016, equivalent to an additional USD281 million in financing. Net profits grew by 18% to USD200.7 million during the year.

What are the main highlights of your recent financing agreement with the European Investment Bank (EIB) and how will your clients benefit from it?

The new financing agreement between SGBL and EIB falls within the framework of a program dedicated to supporting SMEs in Lebanon. The EUR60 million-credit line granted by the EIB to SGBL will be lent to eligible SMEs looking to finance CAPEX or working capital at highly competitive rates. Our partnership with the EIB confirms our ongoing support for clients, especially SMEs, which form the backbone of the Lebanese economy. The agreement will enable our SME clients to access low-cost financing to scale up their operations and expand their workforce, thus enabling them to better compete in the local and international marketplaces. This latest credit line, which is four times the size of the previous agreement signed with the EIB in June 2012, serves as a testament to SGBL's leadership role in supporting productive sectors and driving economic growth.

SGBL is opening a subsidiary within Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) with an initial capital of USD50 million. When is it expected to start operations?

SGBL Group's expansion into the Gulf marks another milestone in the group's growth strategy and follows similar moves in the past into Cyprus and Jordan. The newly established, wholly owned subsidiary in the UAE will be located at the ADGM financial center, the second-largest international financial center in the UAE after the Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC). SGBL Group's subsidiary will be the first bank to operate at ADGM, and is expected to launch operations soon, following the completion of the regulatory authorization process. We take pride in having received preliminary approvals in record time, thanks to our full compliance with the requirements set by supervisory authorities in Lebanon and the UAE.

What is your vision for the economic development of Lebanon in the next year?

Our vision for the next year includes investment in the country's transport, telecom, energy, and environmental infrastructure through PPPs to improve Lebanon's international competitiveness and promote sustainable economic growth. SGBL is committed to helping the country move forward into the next stage of development by leveraging our financial capacity and the Lebanese people's extraordinary will to progress.

What are your key priorities for 2018?

We take the confidence our customers place in us very seriously and are constantly looking for ways to improve their banking experience. To that end, SGBL is currently revamping the bank's technology systems and deploying advanced information platforms that enable us to offer world-class financial solutions to our diverse customer base. We are also focused on implementing a prudent domestic and regional expansion strategy that leverages SGBL's strong reputation and financial strength. Domestically, we are committed to supporting economic development across all of Lebanon. At the regional level, we are constantly on the lookout for growth opportunities, whether in new markets, market segments, or business lines.