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French Version

Intercontinental Bank eyes top-five bracket

Executive manager Samir Tawile reveals plans to acquire medium-size bank... Samir Tawile never imagined that he would spend the rest of his life working in a bank after obtaining his law and political degrees from St. Joseph University...

Business in person

Samir Tawile never imagined that he would spend the rest of his life working in a bank after obtaining his law and political degrees from St. Joseph University In his third year at the university, Tawile decided to take a part-time job in Banque du Roma, one of many foreign banks that operated in Lebanon before the war broke out. "I was hooked. I never thought that I will love working in a bank," Tawile recalls.

After his graduation, Tawile became a full-time employee at Banque du Roma for 17 years before joining Banque Saradar as one of the top executives.

The experienced and ambitious banker took a new challenging responsibility in Intercontinental Bank of Lebanon, determined to bolster the bank's market share and introduce new products.

Tawile said that foreign commercial banks in Lebanon were quite active before the war, adding that most people preferred to deal with European and American banks at that time.

However, this perception completely changed after the 1989 Taif Accord which ended the 17-year-old war.

In less than 10 years, Tawile saw the deposits of Lebanese banks jump from a mere $6 billion to more than $57 billion, thanks to the modern banking regulations and the tight supervision of Banque du Liban Governor Riad Salameh.

"Lebanese banks stayed here during the war and even provided services and loans to their customers."

Tawile pointed out that assets of Lebanese banks are considered very high and have even outstripped many banks in the region.

"Banks in Saudi Arabia, which has an enormous GDP due to the oil boom, are twice the size of Lebanese banks in terms of assets."

Saudi banks' total assets are $120 billion compared to $65 billion for Lebanese banks.

Tawile said that Intercontinental Bank of Lebanon has grown rapidly in the past few years and its assets are close to $1.4 billion.

The bank is part of the Central Bank's Alpha Group which groups banks that have assets of more than $1 billion.

The Intercontinental Bank's Lebanese shareholders control 40 percent of the bank and the rest is divided equally between Saudi investors and a group of European companies.

To strengthen its market share, Intercontinental Bank acquired Credit Populaire, a medium size bank.

Tawile disclosed that the bank intends to increase its capital from $30 million to $55 million and plans to issue preferred shares to boost its private equity.

"The purpose of this step is to acquire a medium-size bank. This will make our bank among one of the top five banks in the country with assets of more than $3 billion."

But Tawile did not say when the acquisition will take place but assured that "this will happen sooner or later."

The bank's return on the net equity exceeds 30 percent each year, one of the highest ratios in Lebanon.

The preferred shares will carry a yield ranging from 8.5 percent to 12 percent, depending on the level of profits each year.

Tawile refused to disclose the name of the bank which Intercontinental Bank intends to buy.

In the past five years, leading banks such as Banque Audi, Byblos Bank and Bank of Beirut acquired or merged with other banks to increase their market share.

Tawile said that his bank has a representative office in Iraq and hopes to turn it into a branch once peace is established in the war-torn country.

The banker seemed quite confident about the future of the country but wants the government to adopt more measures to check the rise of the public debt that has exceeded $36 billion.

"One way to get out of the debt trap is to implement the privatization program and reduce the cost of spending in government departments."

He added that the government must select high-ranking employees based on their merits and qualifications and not their political affiliations.

But Tawile said that reforms will not move forward as long as politicians are engaged in endless debate.

He added that Lebanese banks will face a new challenge once Basel II guidelines are enforced.

According to Basel II, Lebanese banks need to increase their capitals and strengthen their risk management.

"Basel II may encourage banks to consider either bringing in new partners or acquiring other banks," Tawile said.

20-second resume
In the Family: Married with three children
Last Vacation: "I haven't had a vacation in a long time"
What was the last book you read? The DaVinci Code
What car do you drive? Ford Explorer

Beirut 29-08-2005
Osama Habib
The Daily Star

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