BRINGING ALL PASSENGERS ON BOARD

Lebanon 2017 | FINANCE | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Anwar Jammal, Chairman & CEO of Jammal Trust Bank (JTB), on radically addressing market realities, penetrating household and small and micro-business markets, and bringing the previously unbanked on board.

Anwar Jammal
BIOGRAPHY
Anwar Jammal is the Chairman & CEO of Jammal Trust Bank (JTB). A University of Westminster MBA graduate with more than 30 years of experience in the banking and financial sector, he practiced in different institutions and headed several committees before joining JTB, where he climbed up the ladder, taking incremental steps toward the highest position by combining a mix of professional leadership and business strategy.

JTB won the 2016 Best Customer Service Award for corporate and SMEs. What strategy does the bank follow to achieve such results?

JTB gained the trust and confidence of its clients long before the award. We have focused on differentiating JTB from the competition on a number of fronts such as in service, where our aim has been and will be to re-define service excellence. We want the name JTB to be synonymous with customer satisfaction and for JTB to become the bank of choice for households, micro, small, and medium enterprises. We have focused on market penetration, where we have embarked on a strategy to come closer to our clients and tap into new markets by opening new branches and relocating certain existing ones. Our objective is to maximize profits by capitalizing on whatever moderate economic improvement Lebanon may exhibit.

What are the bank's plans to expand to Africa and/or Europe?

We have a strong presence in Africa and Europe, where we have been growing confidently with existing and new clients. Our domestic presence, nevertheless, has registered a healthy growth by tapping into new markets, either through branching out physically or through our highly skilled network of relationship managers.

JTB has an important focus on expats. How do you target this segment and the diaspora?

A comfortable portion of the growth in the loan portfolio is attributed to the “foreign sector." The Lebanese diaspora is at the heart of our interest, particularly in Africa. We offer them tailor-made services that respond to their specific needs and wants. We also cater to their investments and their expansion needs. Recently, we started to expand our reach with that market segment in Egypt, Iraq, and Kuwait, to name a few.

Can you please tell us more on JTB's strategy toward financial inclusion?

Private banks should play a role in national responsibility. Having said that, JTB's innovative approach toward financial inclusion was to treat it as part of our corporate social responsibility initiative. A few years ago, JTB came up with tailor-made products and services especially designed to support underprivileged individuals, farmers, start-ups, and young people, as they are not conventionally considered as profitable in the banking sector. Those who are unbanked are generally those who do not have bank accounts, do not use banking services, or rarely or never go to a bank. The most commonly cited reason for not having an account is that accounts are too expensive and carry high commissions and fees. It is in this spirit that JTB's latest product, Save and Win, was designed.

What are the biggest challenges facing the sector?

JTB faces and will face the same challenges that all banks in Lebanon are facing, such the overall political and security situation in the region, which adversely affected Lebanon in general, particularly banks' balance sheets and income statements. However, we are hopeful that things have taken a turn for the better domestically and regionally. Another challenge is the regulatory authorities' move to become extra conservative in dealing with credit risks. Increased costs have placed a strain on banks' net interest margins and on their attempts to increase the portfolio of interest-earning assets. The increasing regulations on commercial banks have given rise to a risky alternative as well: shadow banking.

What are some of your main priorities for 2017?

If we do not duly respond to customers' needs and wants, other banks will, since the cost of switching has been reduced to negligible levels. Coping with that reality requires radical thinking. Harnessing big data analytics, social media monitoring, and other new forms of insight to anticipate and respond proactively to changing customer demands are only the icing on the cake. Our capabilities must reflect our customers' changing expectations. We need to maintain a clear line of sight, speed up decision-making, and overcome institutional resistance to change. It is imperative that we shift from product-push to customer solutions.