Interview with G.M. Mr. Elias Alouf by The Business Year - September 2019

“Given these tough economic times, it is important that banks fulfill their social role.”

About the current situation

The year 2018 was a difficult one for Lebanon. Now things have stabilized thanks to the formation of a new government, which gives us reason for hope. Nevertheless, this government will have a big task in tackling Lebanon's difficult economic situation and undertaking the necessary reforms. The most important item to look at is the decrease in the dual budget and trade balance deficit. If one looks at the former, around 33% stems from the financing of the EDL. Similarly, looking at the latter, the major item we are importing is fuel. Reforming the electricity sector and its revenues would thus result in a significant reduction in both deficits. This would give us a balance we can live with until there are more reforms. The international community is asking Lebanon to proceed with its reforms, and then it will provide funding for infrastructure investment to boost economic growth, rather than giving us money before reforms, as happened in the past. Making aid accountable to the reforms undertaken instills a sense of ownership and value to the process of reformation and creates an incentive for politicians to act. I think that the trade balance presents the main challenge. Due to its large diaspora, Lebanon can also count on a large inflow of remittances. As long as there are dollars coming into the country and increasing the reserves at the central bank, Lebanon will stay afloat. We experienced problems over the last two years because we had a negative balance of payments, which is made up of our trade balance versus remittances from foreign workers and capital inflows. As long as capital inflows are larger than the trade deficit, you have a balance of payments surplus that will finance the government's deficit in US dollars. But when you have a deficit in the balance of payments, dollars move out of the country.

About BSL BANK growth strategy

In 2018, our loan base grew by more than 10% and our deposit base by more than 7%, even when the market barely grew. Our deposits' growth stems from our expansion into the retail and commercial banking arenas. We brought on board several new young branch managers who are dynamic and technology savvy and launched several highly successful retail products (car loans, home loans, cards), which increased our customers' base and allowed up-selling and cross-selling. We also invested heavily in technology by launching first-class personal and corporate online banking in addition to the implementation of a first-of-its-kind loyalty program 'Moments,' based on the idea that 'every moment counts.' This unique program doesn't only depend on spending; almost every transaction done through our bank earns our customers 'moments' that can be redeemed in miles (on almost all airlines), hotel bookings, car rental, cash, or even household appliances.

Full interview www.thebusinessyear.com/lebanon-2019/committed-to-responsible-banking/interview

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