Cultivating an aura

Fenicia Bank emphasizes quality over growth

Abdul Razzak Achour
Abdul Razzak Achour, chair and general manager of Fenicia Bank

Fenicia Bank has a relatively quiet profile in the banking sector. While having a headquarters in downtown Beirut, the bank has just 17 branches dotted around the country, and does minimal marketing or advertising to bring in more clients and depositors. This is a calculated move, says Abdul Razzak Achour, chair and general manager, to go after a strategy of “quality not quantity” and to target the Lebanese diaspora.

“Our strategy is to attract prime customers and companies, which is why we’re competitive in services and pricing, and we are specialized in the Lebanese diaspora — especially Africa — to attract prime business outside,” says Achour. The Achour Group, which owns 74 percent of the bank, is heavily invested in real estate and manufacturing in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and to a lesser extent in Angola, Romania and France.

The bank is one of the country’s oldest, established in 1958 as the Bank of Kuwait and the Arab World. In 1992, the Achours took over management, and alongside other shareholders made Fenicia a solely Lebanese-owned bank, a factor that Achour is keen to promote and which is reflected in its name, which officially changed in 2011.

“We didn’t spend too much money on marketing as we wanted the name changed, but [after the change] we started to promote the name and advertise. We are doing fair, but the vision is to be a mid-sized bank, not an alpha, even though our ratios are prime,” says Achour.

Over the past few years, results have been “conservative” due to instability in Lebanon and Syria. “But our growth is calculated, and we are not concerned with how big we are, but rather our strength,” Achour says, adding that the Banking Control Commission did not ask for any provisions last year as Fenicia had no defaults.

Based on unaudited figures, total assets increased from $1.28 billion at the end of 2012 to $1.39 billion by the end of 2013, while shareholders’ equity increased from $117 million to $128 million over the same time period. Net profits rose 6.3 percent year-on-year to $13.6 million in 2013.

“We have high liquidity but at the same time a good return on equity. The secret? I will not tell you. A formula for growth with high liquidity,” says Achour. “Our next move will be to target other countries, but not before we’re ready with a good team.”

Paul Cochrane

Paul Cochrane is the Middle East Correspondent for International News Services. He has lived in Beirut since 2002, and has written for some 70 publications worldwide, covering business, media, politics and culture in the Middle East, East Africa and the Indian subcontinent.