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French Version

Swiss bank sees Lebanon as foothold in regional market (Daily Star)

BSI has over $35.8 billion in assets

Managing more than $35.8 billion of customer assets, as leading Swiss bank BSI does, is no mean feat. This figure represents more than half of the total assets of all commercial banks in Lebanon.

With a strong banking tradition and customers from all corners of the world, BSI seems keen to establish a foothold in the Middle East through the financial world of Beirut.

Alfredo Gysi, the chief executive officer of BSI, said that getting more customers from the Arab states will not be a piece of cake at a time when more banks and investment houses are aggressively seeking a bigger share of the Middle East market.

But Gysi, who recently came to Beirut with senior executives from BSI, said he felt the bank's long experience and strong reputation were bound to leave a good impression on prospective clients in the region.

Gysi and his team met with many Lebanese and Arab bankers and investors during their stay to explain the products BSI is offering its clients.

"Over the past 10 years, BSI focused a lot on private banking and has opened branches and representative offices in Europe, the United States and Hong Kong," Gysi said.

But BSI does not yet have any presence in the region although the bank has appointed experienced Lebanese executives to contact Arab investors.

"We look at Lebanon as a crossing bridge with other states in the Middle East. We are one of the few banks that have vast knowledge in private banking and this will bring comfort to the customers," said a member of Gysi's team.

He added that contrary to the general belief foreign banks are interested in Lebanon and the region, noting the presence of many foreign banks in this area.

The BSI official said some foreign banks had shied away from traditional retail banking but nevertheless they remain interested in corporate and private banking.

"We do not have branded products, but BSI tries to understand the needs of the customer and tries to get access to certain products around the world," the banker said.

Gysi said that he is not

concerned by the attractive return on Lebanese treasury bills and eurobonds.

"Lebanese and Arab banks are aware of the risks involved in buying T-bills and eurobonds and for this reason investors are diversifying their investments," one of the BSI executives said.

Established in Lugano Switzerland in 1873, BSI is part of Generali Group, a leader in the European insurance industry.

The BSI group closed 2003 with a net profit of 93.5 million Swiss francs ($74.5 million).

The year was characterized by operating profits that steadily improved month on month, despite the weakness of the dollar and the low level of interest rates.

Beirut 16-08-2004
Osama Habib
The Daily Star

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