Creditbank Chair Tarek Khalife explains his views on banking and the roots of his strategy to prioritize lending to the private sector. Last week, Executive published a longer piece about Creditbank.
The impression from our conversation on Creditbank is that you neither aim to be the richest banker in town nor are angling for the biggest bragging rights. Why are you a banker?
I don’t regard myself only as a banker. If you think of yourself as a banker, you reduce yourself to calculating your margin on every transaction. I like to think of myself as a common denominator in the business world where people need a financier.
How do you define the difference?
Being a financier is more than being a banker. People think of a banker as someone who gets a lick of every deal that passes under his nose. This is not the picture that I have. If you asked me what I think of Creditbank, I would tell you that Creditbank is catering to people who are producing. If you are involved in banking in Lebanon today and like it, it is because you think everything is undervalued.
Undervalued in what way?
I think everything in Lebanon could be at a higher and better value. This is the confidence that we have in this market and this is why we still lend to people in this market. If we didn’t believe that tomorrow would be brighter than today, we would not be taking the exposure to the private sector [that we are taking]. By taking private sector exposure, we are saying “I would rather take the upside of the private sector than the fixed return I can get on sovereign risk.”
How does the risk of private sector exposure correlate with your strategy for seeking growth?
Going to a restaurant, hospital, clinic and retailer [as their lender] is saying that I am investing in the goodwill of all these operations and in their relationship with me. When [these businesses] are going to be bigger and more successful, I will grow [with them] because I have taken the risk in the bad days. It makes sense to us because we believe that there is an upside to the market. Lebanon can only [go up] in the future and the private sector is going to benefit from many things. We believe in this economy and the people that are the talent and the resource. As a bank you have to have the right morality vis-à-vis the client and the right productivity to reply to his needs. If you have those two, then you have a success.