Lebanon's six top bankers

30 November 2007

Profiles of Riad Salameh of Banque du Liban, Joseph Torbey of Credit Libanais, Raymond Audi of Bank Audi, Francois Bassil of Byblos Bank, Saad Azhari of Blom Bank and Youssef Nasr of HSBC, Middle East.

Riad Salameh, Governor of Banque du Liban

Riad Salameh, as governor of the central bank since 1993, has given some stability to the country's financial system. He is credited with successfully steering the country through the political and economic crisis in recent years. He has been commended for creating an environment that has enabled Lebanon's banks to expand abroad in the face of the $2.5bn capital flight following the 34-day war with Israel in the summer of 2006. He is helping the government to implement reforms reached in early 2007 to rebuild the economy. Salameh's influence over the country will become even greater if he succeeds in his political ambitions to become president. Although not constitutionally eligible for the role, he says if rival factions in the government agree on his appointment, he will take up the post. He has longstanding political ties, having once been private banker to assassinated former prime minister Rafik Hariri.

Contact: Tel (+9611) 750 000

Joseph Torbey, Chairman of Credit Libanais

Joseph Torbey is chairman and general manager of Credit Libanais and has been with the bank since 1988. He has managed the growth of the bank from a small local institution to one of Lebanon's leading financial groups, operating across the region in various sectors. He has also expanded the firm into Bahrain and plans to use this foothold to target the GCC region. For several years, Torbey has acted as chairman of the Union of Arab Banks (UAB), an organisation that fosters co-operation between Arab banks across the Middle East and North Africa. He has strengthened the organisation by getting the majority of Arab central banks, commercial banks and banking associations to operate in a single organisation. In 2007, he accepted the role of chairman of the executive committee at the UAB after completing the maximum two terms as chairman. Between 2001 and 2005, Torbey was chairman of the Association of Lebanese Banks.

Contact: Email jtorbey@creditlibanais.com.lb

Raymond Audi, Chairman of Bank Audi

Raymond Audi comes from a banking family with a 175-year history, dating back to the 1830s. His banking career began in 1962 when he formed Bank Audi with Commercial Bank of Kuwait founder Hajj Hamad al-Homaizi. Following the merger of Bank Audi and Banque Saradar to form Bank Audi in 2004, he became chairman of the country's second biggest institution, behind Blom Bank. The merger increased Audi's assets by 48 per cent and net profits by 32 per cent. He has also been instrumental in driving the regional expansion strategy of the bank, which followed other Lebanese banks into international markets with the acquisition of Egyptian institution Cairo Far East. Audi also plans to expand the institution into the Kurdish controlled area of northern Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. He is also secretary of the board of directors for the Association of Banks in Lebanon.

Contact: Email info@aib.com.lb

Francois Bassil, Chairman of Byblos Bank

Francois Bassil's indignation at the state of Lebanese politics in the early 1960s resulted in him exploring alternative career opportunities. Since establishing Byblos Bank in 1963, he has grown the bank into one of Lebanon's biggest institutions, and is now chairman and general manager. In the past four decades, he has pioneered personal loans in the country, merged the bank with several rivals and established a separate bank in Belgium. As chairman of the Association of Lebanese Banks, Bassil has repeatedly warned how the country's fractured politics are affecting the economy. The fragile political situation has already resulted in government treasury bills, which represent a significant income stream for the banking sector, falling in value by 10 per cent. He supports the reform programme announced in September 2007. He has expanded the bank into Syria and Armenia and plans to expand into Iraq.

Contact: Tel (+9611) 335 200

Saad Azhari, Chairman of Blom Bank

Saad Azhari, chairman and general manager of Blom, is a dominant figure at the bank, just as the bank is the dominant institution in Lebanon. Blom remains the biggest bank in the country in terms of assets, deposits and profits. Azhari has been an advocate of banking reform for many years, to help the country's financial sector improve performance and support economic growth. He has also helped expand the bank into foreign markets, with the acquisition of Misr Romanian Bank in Egypt in 2006. This made Blom the first Lebanese bank to buy into Egypt, and acquisitions followed in Jordan and Syria. Azhari plans to double the bank's Egyptian operation and move into retail banking, brokerage and car financing. Foreign expansion will continue, with licence applications in Qatar, Algeria and Saudi Arabia. He is also vice chairman of the board of the Association of Lebanese Banks.

Contact: Email blommail@blom.com.lb

Youssef Nasr, Chief Executive Office, HSBC, Middle East

Although not a home-grown institution, HSBC carries significant weight in the Lebanese market. It is the only international bank that has kept a continuous presence in the country since 1946. The appointment of Youssef Nasr, a Lebanese-born banker who has been with HSBC since 1976, as chief executive officer in May 2007 will give the bank further credibility. The combination of his experience in international markets - he previously headed HSBC's South America business - and local knowledge means he is well placed to be a key decision maker for the Lebanese market. If the political conditions in Lebanon stabilise, he is also well placed to take the bank forward. As HSBC's first Arab head for the region, Nasr is also in charge of improving links between the bank's international businesses, which will put local institutions under even greater pressure to compete with global brands.

Contact: Email lebanon@hsbc.com

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