BEIRUT: Lebanese banks intend to expand their services in Iraq and open more branches across the country, the president of the Association of Banks in Lebanon, Francois Bassil, said Friday.
Speaking to the participants at a Lebanese-Iraqi banking conference that began Friday at the Movenpick in Beirut, Bassil said the Lebanese banks operating in Iraq were relatively small compared with the size of the state-owned Iraqi banks.
“The size of the Lebanese banks in Iraq maybe too small compared to the huge Iraqi market. Iraq’s seven state-owned banks have 80 percent of assets and 90 percent of total deposits in the country. However, we are going to the Iraqi market to serve new clients,” Bassil said.
There are seven Lebanese banks operating in Iraq, and authorities in Baghdad are expected to issue three more licenses soon. Lebanese banks are expanding their operations in the region to diversify their income.
Bassil stressed that Lebanese and foreign banks should expand to all of Iraq to serve more clients.
“I would like to loudly emphasize that we did not go to Baghdad, Irbil and Basra to engage only in foreign currency auctions. This operation is limited by nature and temporary,” Bassil said.
Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh said he was looking forward to increase cooperation with Iraq in organizing the banking sector and strengthening supervision and money laundering protections.
Salameh announced that the Central Bank had decided to set up a consumer protection unit to ensure that commercial banks dealt equally with all their clients.
The president of the private banking league in Iraq, Adnan al-Jalalbi, said Iraq was underserved in the banking sector, considering the size of the population.
“The number of banks operating in Iraq does not correspond with the number of population. We have one bank for every 45,000 citizens, while the average should be one bank for every 10,000,” he said.