BEIRUT: The fate of Standard Chartered Bank’s retail business in Lebanon is expected to be decided within a week after the remaining two bidders made their final offers, bankers said Tuesday.
“It shouldn’t take more than a week. The ball is in Standard Chartered’s court. We made our offers and answered all the questions they sent us,” one of the bidders told The Daily Star.
Cedrus Invest Bank and First National Bank are thought to be the only remaining bidders after Bank Audi, Lebanon’s largest lender in terms of assets and deposits, withdrew from the race.
The binding offer made by FNB expired Monday evening, but Standard Chartered asked for additional time before making a final decision.
“It seems that Standard Chartered is coordinating with the headquarters in London. The bank apparently is still deliberating on the fate of the 100 employees,” one banker said.
Sources told The Daily Star that the offers submitted to Standard Chartered ranged between $17 million and $22 million.
“But the price is not the only determining factor. The bank wants to know [whether] the new buyer will keep most of the staff or it will offer them good compensation so they can leave their work,” the banker said.
Any deal for the acquisition of Standard Chartered would still be subject to approval from Lebanon’s Central Bank, whose Governor Riad Salameh, according to sources, prefers to cancel the license of Standard Chartered if it is acquired by an existing bank.
“However, the governor will also consider the fate of all the employees, and this may be an advantage to Cedrus, which plans to keep most of them,” another banker said.
Cedrus does not have a permit to operate as commercial bank, but its officials said they intended to expand retail-banking operations in Lebanon if their offer is accepted by Standard Chartered and Salameh.
“I think the employees of Standard want handsome compensation from either the original owner or the new buyer. This is a major issue facing all the banks seeking to acquire Standard,” a banker explained.
Standard Chartered has deposits of less than $100 million and operates only three branches.
Cedrus has more than $400 million in assets under management, according to their website.
FNB’s assets stand close to $3 billion, and the bank reported net profits in 2013 rose by 30 percent to $25.5 million.
“Among the advantages of acquiring Standard Chartered is that you have gained a reputation for buying an important foreign bank in Lebanon,” one of the bidders told The Daily Star. “In addition, Standard has an impressive credit card data base. They also have three branches and two more permits to open new ones.”
Ahli International Bank, which is also up for sale, has turned down an offer from Byblos Bank for being lower than expected, according to Francois Bassil, the president of the Association of Banks in Lebanon.