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Banking Leader Marwan Kheireddine Reflects on Bringing Credit Cards to Lebanon

Marwan Salim Kheireddine has held leading roles in the Lebanese banking sector for decades. As the chairman and CEO of AM Bank, one of the nation’s leading commercial banks, he has long worked closely to expand opportunities for Lebanese citizens.

One of the banking initiatives of which he is most proud is his drive to bring credit cards to Lebanon for the first time.

After completing his education, Kheireddine returned to his native Lebanon in the early 1990s. His father was chairman of AM Bank at the time, and Kheireddine soon began working there, focused on bringing credit cards to the country.

“I came back to Lebanon from the United States and there were no credit cards, not a single bank had a credit card,” he said in a recent interview. “I thought, ‘Oh my God, this is a green field.’”

He was greatly influenced by a research project he had done while in school. He had created a case study on Citibank and how its credit card program had saved the bank in the late 1970s and 1980s. He had closely studied the Citibank model and thought it was something his bank should pursue. However, AM Bank’s small size was working against him. Letters he sent to Visa and Mastercard were not returned.

However, he contacted Michael Milken, who had taught Kheireddine corporate finance and was at the time a vice chairman of Citibank. Kheireddine asked Milken for an introduction to the representatives at the two credit card companies and his former professor obliged. The next day, he received a call from a vice president at Mastercard and the two met in Paris two days later. AM Bank soon received a license to offer Mastercard and began setting up systems within the bank.

His father, however, was skeptical. The elder banker refused to spend the money to buy an embossing machine, which was an essential need, over concerns it was too expensive and that credit cards were bound to fail. Kheireddine went behind his father’s back and purchased the machine anyway. Shortly thereafter, the credit card services launched.

For the first five years, AM Bank was not just the first, but the only Lebanese bank to have credit cards. To this day, the bank’s market share in credit cards is still higher than its general banking market share.


Innovation Drives Kheireddine

Kheireddine has brought multiple innovations to the banking system within his country. With credit cards alone, for example, he has introduced new models into the marketplace, including cards that have no interest rates, those that carry a higher interest rate and some that have annual fees.

In many cases, he is only limited by third-party vendors that cannot deliver what he needs in time. For example, if he needs a physical plastic card for a new credit card program, it can cause delays. Otherwise, he can typically launch new card options in two or three days.

Kheireddine also has redefined customer service for banking in Lebanon. When he started in his career, he notes that banks were typically only serving clients for about four hours a day, beginning at 8:30 a.m. and closing at about 12:30 p.m.

AM Bank became the first bank to remain open until 5 p.m. Soon, other, larger banks in the country followed suit.

Technology has driven a lot of Kheireddine’s strategic moves. When it came time for a significant investment in IT for the bank, he partnered with a leading publicly-traded company in the U.K.

The technological advancements have helped AM Bank to launch new, technology-based products quickly.

AM Bank was also the first in Lebanon to offer digital banking. It was the first to offer a downloadable app to a smartphone, allowing account holders to complete most banking transactions online.

“It’s these little things that we do every now and then that shake the market,” he said.


Marwan Kheireddine’s Road to Success

Marwan Salim Kheireddine is chairman and CEO of AM Bank, a Lebanese commercial bank.

He previously served from July 2011 to February 2014 as minister of state for the Lebanese government. In that position, he played a key role in multiple economic, fiscal, and financial matters shaping the country.

His banking background allowed him to garner support for policies that protected the Lebanese banking sector and strengthened its compliance with international laws and industry norms. He played an important role in the creation and government approval of a cross-border cash limitation law, capital markets law, and updates to anti-money laundering legislation.

An advocate for economic growth through empowerment of the private sector, he also was a key figure in supporting the launch of Banque du Liban Circular 331. Those regulations promoted sustainable economic growth by supporting entrepreneurs. The guidance allows and incentivizes banks to invest in tech incubators, tech startup companies, and venture capital funds.

Service is important to Kheireddine. In 2005, he was elected to the Middle East Advisory Board of the American University of Beirut’s Olayan School of Business. He served as a lecturer in finance at the university from 1993 to 2013.

In 2012, he was appointed to the board of trustees of the American Community School in Beirut. He is also a board member of the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies, which has been credited for advocacy work related to judicial reform, local governance, and transparency in budgeting processes.

He has been elected multiple times to the board of the Association of Banks of Lebanon.

A serial entrepreneur, he has created several small and medium-size businesses. He also served on the board of Beirut Stock Exchange and is a founding member of the Young Presidents’ Organization Lebanon chapter, and also served as its chair. He is also a founding member of Young Arab Leaders and was the Lebanon chapter’s first president.

Kheireddine earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration and economics at Richmond University in the U.K. He earned an MBA from the Columbia Business School at Columbia University in New York.


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