4 - 10 April 2001

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'Malta very inviting' for financial sector – FIMBANK chairman

Mr. Najeeb Al-Saleh

By David Lindsay

First International Merchant Bank Chairman, Najeeb Al-Saleh, recently speaking to The Business Times, said that Malta is a very inviting location for the International financial sector.

Mr Al-Saleh cited among his reasons for choosing Malta as a base for its operations: the country's strong regulatory body, reasonable running expenses and the ready availability of qualified staff. Other locations that the bank had considered were Bahrain, Cyprus, London, and Geneva
Mr Al-Saleh told The Business Times, "The choice to base our operations in Malta was the result of a study carried out by consultants. We wanted to establish an onshore specialised trade finance bank in a country that has a good, strong regulatory body and a respected banking community with reasonable running expenses.

"The availability of qualified staff was another determining factor and Malta was the obvious choice out of the other locations we had analysed. We then visited the island and Finance Minister, John Dalli, we were given the green light and we got started.

"It was very encouraging and I must say that since then, every day we confirm that the decision was correct."
FIMBANK was established 1994 as a credit institution regulated by the Central Bank, which allowed for all banking activities including the taking of deposits.

First International Merchant Bank's activities are primarily two-fold. The bank carries out structured trade financing and, as a merchant bank, is geared toward the more complex trade transactions that require careful structuring and a more personalised service.

Mr Al-Saleh elaborates, "We aim to specialise in difficult transactions that require a good deal of structuring and time. We a lot of time with the client and their supplier, you need that extra effort to make the transaction work, especially since the countries that we work with require a good, in-depth knowledge of the local scenario."
Secondly, the bank specialises in the financing of ship scrapping activities. The bank mainly finances clients that would purchase a ship toward the end of its life span and sell it to the scrapping industry.

For this section of FIMBANK's business, the bank has a specialised team with a track record of between 600 and 700 ships, which represents some 20 per cent of the annual scrapping industry, and which, in turn, represents some 20 to 25 per cent of the bank's total income.

Mr Al-Saleh comments, "I believe that we have proven that the concept is workable. You don't find very many banks that specialise in one sector. However, given the viability of the concept, we will expand in that field in different locations and in different amounts.

"I believe, with the support of the shareholders, the directors and our high-quality staff, the bank has built a very strong relationship with its customers over the last five years.

"The bank has been profitable from year one and these past years have proved that this is a success story.

"We have a policy of helping our clients to find business and accordingly finance the venture once it is off the ground. However, we do not simply give our clients business, clients must have a transaction for us to be able to finance it. However, if the client does need help in sourcing a product we would, through our contacts, assist in that respect.

"We care about the customer and the transaction. Some banks go through many years of balance sheets and financial statement analysis. This is, of course, important but the most important aspect to us is the transaction itself."
Fimbank prides itself on the degree of customer satisfaction provided to its clients. The bank, varying from the normal banking tradition, has no tellers or front office counters. Instead, it carries out all its business in private meeting rooms.

The Business Times, Network House, Vjal ir-Rihan San Gwann SGN 07
Tel: (356) 382741-3, 382745-6 | Fax: (356) 385075 | e-mail: editorial@networkpublications.com.mt