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Abdul Razzak Achour

LEBANON - Finance

Head of the Line

Chairman & General Manager, Fenicia Bank

Bio

Abdul Razzak Achour was born in 1965 and has been the Chairman and General Manager of Fenicia Bank since 1994. He is also the Chairman of several committees, including Assets and Liabilities (ALCO), Anti Money Laundry, Credit Rating, and Credit. On top of that, he is the Chairman of the Board and General Manager of Bellevue Company, a member of the World Union Arab Bankers, a member of the Board of the Lebanese Banking Association for over 15 years, and a Board member of the Children’s Cancer Center of Lebanon (CCCL). Recognized for his strategic vision, leadership skills, and innovative ways to do business, Mr. Achour has a degree in business administration and accounting from Lucien Coormans Institute and a degree in international commerce studies from ICAD-Paris.

"We have a strong customer-oriented approach that allows us to know and understand the client's needs."

What is the background of Fenicia Bank and how did your restructuration process contribute to a better identification within the Lebanese market?

Fenicia Bank first started in in 1959 as Bank of Kuwait and the Arab World. After the Civil War ended, I joined a group of Lebanese businessmen to acquire the bank in 1992, As we took over the bank, in 1992, we started the restructuring process through enhancing the management by injecting new expertise in the first and second line of management, we introduced new standard operational procedures to streamline all processes and set clearance on job descriptions and reporting channels at all levels. Equipped with a fully Lebanese workforce, in 2010 we made a major leap in changing the Bank’s headquarters, name, and logo in order to reflect our identity and our Lebanese roots. We also pushed the bank’s assets, we succeeded to increase the bank’s assets from $10 million dollars to $1.5 Billion dollars, since we needed a solid platform to build on the new strategy we had planned. The challenge we faced in late year 2000 was when we decided to compete with other mid- size banks in Lebanon. We made it clear to our stakeholders that it was not our utmost endeavor to become one of the big players in the market, but to become the firmest and the strongest one. After the new management was implemented, we were able to achieve the best ratios in the market in terms of liquidity and return on equity; our shareholders has even been referred to as the happiest shareholder in the Lebanese banking sector.

Fenicia Bank has become increasingly inclined towards corporate governance practices. How has this asset helped you raise your level of competition in the market?

Introducing international best practices into the bank’s day-to-day procedures was the main purpose why we injected new blood into the management that emerged after we ended the first phase of bank’s restructuring. Applying corporate governance principles, as per Basel II requirements and Banque Du Liban regulations with the help of a consultancy firm, was a smooth transitional process to us. We are now in the process of finalizing the implementation process in collaboration with an American firm in the field, which will imply the constant revision of our manuals and procedures to remain accountable. As we carry out cross-border transactions, we are committed to international financial standards and regulations, especially those applicable in Europe and the United States. We are actually in an on-going process to update our financial crimes compliance (FCC) policy to remain abreast with the new international regulations that fight corruption, tax evasion, money laundering, and any illicit transaction where the financial sector is susceptible of being harmed. We consider ourselves directly responsible of taking whatever measures to protect the banking sector in this regard.

As a mid-size bank operating in the oversaturated Lebanese banking industry, how do you fare with the fierce local competition?

We have strong customer-oriented approach that allows us to know and understand the client’s needs. This is our niche expertise to build a solid and long-term relationship with our clients, which enables us to attract new customers and enlarge our customer base. Part of our DNA is to offer prime and quality service rather than piling up big number of customers; in other words, our focus is to become stronger rather than bigger. We share our accomplishments with our clients because their success is our success as well. We concentrate our business on the conventional banking transactions, and we’re actually competing with the top- five alpha banks in Lebanon in terms of service quality and prices, despite the fact that we are a medium-size bank. Moreover, we have always been highly capitalized as our board’s direction demands. We play it safe and we manage risks to mitigate their impact without sacrificing the satisfactory level of profit. This might seem to most players in the market as a moderate role, however, we have experienced success stories based on such strategy.

The diaspora is one of Lebanon’s major assets in terms of capital inflows. What channels do you use to attract them to Fenicia Bank?

The majority of our shareholders are part of this Lebanese diaspora. As such, we understand our Lebanese expatriate needs and requirements. We maintain good and long-term relationships with eminent Lebanese businessmen abroad and this kind of relationships ordain wide and large channels to meet the requirements of Lebanese diaspora and reach out to their business fields, mainly in the GCC and western African countries where the Lebanese presence is vast. We have teams that regularly visit those countries and return with new relationships. We try to be next to the Lebanese expatriates side by side to help them meet their goals and succeed wherever they are. The diaspora trusts the Lebanese banking sector, because they are aware of the high caliber of the players here; they know we are accountable, compliant, and that we offer the best services in the market. Most banks in Lebanon are family owned, so this also plays in the favor of good accountability.

What are your biggest markets outside of Lebanon?

Our main markets are West Africa and the GCC countries. Then come Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa. In my view, an important advantage of serving for the diaspora around the world is to maintain this vital link between the resident and non- resident Lebanese people. In addition, we maintain and enhance the current capital inflows, which are a major source of funding for local businesses.

What do you see for the future of Fenicia Bank, and what would you like to achieve in the next two years?

Dynamism is a key factor to success and that is why our management has always been keen to invigorate the bank’s structure and to adopt best global standards. At the beginning of 2015, we signed up an engagement with Financial Integrity Network (FIN), a reputable consulting firm, to further enhance our compliance practices and materialize them into actual facts. A sizable team from the bank was involved in the process and the primary results were very encouraging in terms of updating Fenicia Bank’s practices in combating and preventing illicit financing. We have reached many achievements that led to regional and international recognitions that have certainly marked Fenicia Bank with success. In April 2015, the bank was awarded by Standard Chartered Bank with the “STP Excellence Award”. Moreover, the bank was granted the Golden Medallion of Honor from the Tatweej Organization in the United Arab Emirates for its distinction and quality in the Arab region. And more recently, we received the “Excellence in Brand and Trademark” award from the World Union of Arab Bankers in May 2016. These awards are a big honor for us not only for its regional impact, but because they reflect our successful implementation of global standards. We will continue expanding our network on that same track by starting new branches in various regions and we will also work intensively to become an alpha bank in the near future. We currently have a great business model that has produced good figures and remarkable financial ratios. What we need now is a convenient market place and a dynamic working environment in Lebanon to play at a much larger scale, and to attract new potential businesses and investments into the country.

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