Lebanese banker Marwan Kheireddine has always had a deep connection to his homeland. After a trip to the United States, Marwan Kheireddine was inspired to introduce credit cards to Lebanon, changing the region’s financial system forever.
“I came back to Lebanon from the United States and there were no credit cards; not a single bank had a credit card,” AM Bank chairman of the board and CEO Marwan Kheireddine recalls.
Marwan Kheireddine soon realized it was a completely untapped market and began the intricate process of implementing credit cards in Beirut and beyond.
“I was the first bank in Lebanon and not only the first bank, the only bank to have credit cards for about five years,” he says. “During the first five years, I had 100% market share, but today my credit card market share is at least multiple times my general banking market share. That’s an achievement that makes me really proud.”
After graduating from Columbia University in New York in 1993 with a Master of Business Administration, Marwan Kheireddine returned to Lebanon to begin his journey at AM Bank, where his father was chairman. Marwan Kheireddine had also done a research project during his university studies on Citibank and the positive impact credit cards had on it during the ’70s and ’80s.
He was determined to bring Mastercard to Beirut and he did that — and much more. He contacted Michael Milken, who was the former vice chairman of Citibank. Milken, who happened to be Kheireddine’s one-time professor, arranged a life-changing phone call and AM Bank was quickly green-lit to begin offering Mastercard in Lebanon. In addition to credit cards, AM Bank was also the first bank in Lebanon to launch phone banking, thanks to Marwan Kheireddine.
Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due in Lebanon
“Banks were only open four out of 24 hours a day,” Kheireddine explains. “We were the first bank to open until 5 p.m., and then all the banks in Lebanon followed me. We launched phone banking with an app you could download to do most of your banking transactions online.”
Marwan Kheireddine has continued the expansion of credit cards throughout Lebanon and believes constantly creating new products can jolt the market in a good way.
“We haven’t stopped creating credit cards,” he says. “There are different programs, some that are no interest, some that are higher interest, some that pay yearly fees et cetera. So we create and we innovate.
And our ability to go to market with a new idea is typically limited by third-party vendors if we need them. So for example, we create a new credit card program. If we need an actual physical plastic card, this delays us. If we don’t need it, we can launch in two or three days.”
Balancing a Transfer of Technology
Marwan Kheireddine has made AM Bank a highly innovative institution.
“We are a very flexible bank as well as a very dynamic bank,” he adds. “You come, and you meet my team, all my team with no exception. The talent pool is amazing and most of them have experience in international banks or international audit firms or international consultancy firms.”
With the vast majority of AM Bank’s team having been educated at world-leading business schools, the financial genius is confident his crew brings a different type of banking experience to his clients. Prior to graduating from Columbia, Marwan Kheireddine earned a bachelor of business administration in accounting and finance from Richmond, The American International University in London.
Education remains at the forefront of Kheireddine’s core mission. The ambitious businessman was also a lecturer in finance at the American University of Beirut from 1993 through 2013 and never stops educating himself. “I have a Bachelor of Arts and an MBA, but it’s not enough,” Marwan Kheireddine says. “In my opinion, you depreciate any degree you get within five years if you don’t keep nourishing your brain, developing your brain.”
Kheireddine was appointed to the board of trustees of the American Community School Beirut in 2012.
“We’re flexible, giving you the right advice and we are the bank that says yes, all the time,” Marwan Kheireddine says. “You tell me something, we can figure it out. We can structure it for you and we can do it. So that has allowed me to grow significantly and to move forward and grow my market share.”
A Native Son Strengthening Ties in His Homeland
Growing up in Lebanon during the Lebanese Civil War years, Marwan Kheireddine remains committed to serving the Lebanese people with the best possible opportunities. “I have always felt I need to do something for my country when I can and if I can,” Marwan Kheireddine says.
He has achieved that by creating jobs with AM Bank and Virgin Megastores, which he also launched in Lebanon. At its peak, Virgin Megastores employed more than 400 people in Marwan Kheireddine’s native country.
AM Bank has experienced continued growth since its inception in 1980. With 19 branches and personal, corporate, private, and online banking options, AM Bank embodies Kheireddine’s can-do attitude, solid communication, and integrity with every transaction. “The whole banking industry grew in Lebanon, but we grew, by far, faster than the industry,” Kheireddine says.
“As a matter of fact, we’ve achieved the highest compounded growth rate among all banks operating in Lebanon, if you exclude the banks that grew by way of mergers or acquisitions. So over the past years, some banks grew more than I did in terms of percentage, but only because they acquired the business of other banks, as opposed to purely internal growth that is based on the inertia of the organization working. My bank is a family-owned bank, where I am the second generation running it. ”
Kheireddine is proud to offer clients at AM Bank optimal customer service, where they can conveniently access senior management. “I’m most likely the only bank in Lebanon and most probably the only bank in the Middle East where we have a flat organizational structure,” he says. “The least senior employee is only one layer away from the CEO. It’s a very flat organization and that has allowed me to operate more as an entrepreneurial company than a traditional one that has a lot of red tape.”
The forward-thinking banking mogul attributes the bank’s expansion to its progressive culture.
“We’re all positive thinking and we’re all geared toward servicing our clients in the best and the most efficient way,” he adds. “And that, quite frankly, is what allowed me to grow significantly over the years from a $30 million bank in 1992 to $2.3 billion.”