Local banks risk losing out

04 April 2008
Banks working with large corporates in booming sectors of the economy usually fall over themselves to lend money to their customers. These relationships offer great financial rewards to institutions that can support developing businesses and nurture potential global champions.

But they can become complacent, particularly during periods, like now, when the tightening credit markets make it far harder and more expensive to raise finance.

Banks could be tempted to feel that corporate customers have little choice but to pay a premium to ensure deals get done. The Saudi International Petrochemical Company (Sipchem) financing demonstrates the dangers of banks becoming arrogant.

Several Saudi banks that did not respond to Sipchem’s financing requests earlier this year risk being seen as laggards that have failed to grasp that they must still work hard to retain their clients.

Sabb, having decided that Sipchem’s Jubail project was a bankable asset, decided to take on the whole deal itself. The banks that Sabb displaced are now struggling to get back into the deal, but they could find that Sipchem will be less willing to work with them in the future.

The tight credit market gives customers ample opportunity to separate the banks that can raise funding and execute deals quickly in difficult times, from those that rest on reputation or believe that a previous working relationship will secure them a place in future deals.

The situation also provides a dilemma for Sipchem and other Saudi firms that would prefer to support the local banking sector. The larger these firms grow, the more mature their lenders must be.

If local banks cannot keep up, they will lose out to international firms and risk becoming relative minnows in a rapidly growing pool.

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