CITIBANK LEBANON

Lebanon 2019 | FINANCE | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Michel Sawaya, CEO of Citibank Lebanon.

Michel Sawaya
BIOGRAPHY
Michel Sawaya has been the Citi country officer of Citibank N.A. Lebanon since March 2016. With Citi Lebanon since 1995, he has held a number of positions during his two decades with the company. With a BA in business administration and a BS in biology from the American University of Beirut, he maintains active in his community and is a board member at the American Lebanese Chamber of Commerce and Vice Chairman of Injaz-Junior Achievement Lebanon, a non-profit organization dedicated to educating students about work readiness, entrepreneurship, and financial literacy.

How has Citi adapted its strategy to serve the current challenging conditions of the Lebanese market?

Citi's model is target-market oriented. In Lebanon, we focus on standard institutional client groups such as multinationals, corporates, government and financial institutions, and banks. In the last three years, we have specifically focused on large Lebanese corporate groups that have growth in the wider region (i.e. Africa, the GCC, and Europe), including both companies established abroad while retaining ties to Lebanon and Lebanese companies that have expanded abroad. This latter segment has been particularly relevant to our strategy in recent years, as Lebanon has seen a broad outward movement of companies seeking to mitigate risk by diversifying markets and sectors of operations. Few international banks are able to support such an array of companies across vast jurisdictions such as Citi's, which is why this one of the pillars of our current strategy.

How would you describe Citi's commitment to Lebanon?

Citigroup's presence in Lebanon dates back to the 1950s when Beirut was the bank's training hub for the region. Since re-establishing its fully licensed Lebanon branch in 1996, the bank has been offering a full range of corporate and investment banking services to its target market clients. In addition, Citibank Lebanon is an active corporate citizen with a particular interest in supporting financial education, microfinance, and capacity building through various grants provided annually through the Citi Foundation. Lebanon is our oldest franchise in the region.

What is your outlook on Lebanon's economic situation?

Lebanon is currently facing a set of pressing challenges—from the current account deficit amounting to 23% to the 11% fiscal deficit—that have deteriorated the credit rating provided by international rating agencies. This in turn has negative repercussions on the behavior of depositors and investors. To turn the situation around, the government must first commit to embarking on the required path of fiscal and economic reform.