Bank Audi is set to be the fourth Lebanese bank to establish a presence in London as Beirut seeks to strengthen its ties with the international banking centre, according to the country’s chief banker.
“There are three Lebanese banks in London and a fourth – Bank Audi – is asking for a licence,” Riad Salameh, governor of the Central Bank of Lebanon, told MEED in the sidelines of the inaugural Lebanese banking day, organised by the Arab Bankers’ Association (ABA) in London on 10 November.
“Bank Audi are looking into the possibility of establishing a presence in London,” says George Kanaan, chief executive of the London-based ABA, speaking to MEED at the same event.
Bank Audi has not officially confirmed its intentions, but the bank’s representatives at the conference did not deny suggestions that a London opening was imminent. “We have not yet filed an application, but it’s definitely something we’re interested in,” Freddie Baz, the bank’s chief financial officer, told MEED on 12 November.
Any expansion of Bank Audi into the UK would be as a branch of its Paris-based subsidiary, Bank Audi Saradar France, said Baz.
The move comes in the context of efforts by Beirut to strengthen its banking ties with the UK. “We are trying to keep a presence in London because we consider it to be the global centre for banking operations, especially given its proximity to Lebanon and the large presence of Lebanese people in London,” says Salameh.
“I hope Bank Audi will be granted a licence because it would be the best possible expression of these ties.”
Bank Audi is the largest Lebanese bank in terms of total assets, shareholder equity, customer deposits, loans and advances, and profits.
A total of 17 Lebanese banks have overseas operations, in 250 units across 25 countries, including 12 in the Arab world, according to Blom Bank. Three have a presence in London: Byblos Bank and Blom Bank both have branches, while Bank of Beirut has a wholly-owned subsidiary.
London is the third-largest banking centre in the world in terms of deposits, and the largest Western centre for Islamic finance. It boasts 262 foreign banks, including 35 from the Middle East.