The story of Banque Saudi Fransi

Special The story of Banque Saudi Fransi
Banque Saudi Fransi (BSF) is one of the leading financial institutions in the Kingdom, but – as its name implies – it has a history and a legacy rooted in the strong trading and financial relations France has enjoyed in the Middle East. (Supplied)
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Updated 15 July 2020

The story of Banque Saudi Fransi

The story of Banque Saudi Fransi
  • CEO says the financial institution’s historic ties with the Kingdom are still in its DNA

DUBAI/JEDDAH: Banque Saudi Fransi (BSF) is one of the leading financial institutions in the Kingdom, but – as its name implies – it has a history and a legacy rooted in the strong trading and financial relations France has enjoyed in the Middle East over many decades.

Rayan Fayez, who has been chief executive officer since 2018, summed it up. “It is a pretty strong legacy. The name is still there, the DNA and the identity are still there,” he told Arab News.

The roots go back to the French financial institution Banque de I’Indochine et de Suez, which existed to serve the overseas trading interests of French business in South East Asia and the Middle East in the days when France was a world colonial power.

In 1977, in line with the aim to control strategic businesses previously owned by foreigners in the Kingdom, by royal decree foreign bank branches were converted into Saudi joint stock companies with majority Saudi ownership.

It is some measure of its heritage in the Kingdom that back then it was the holder – as Al Bank Al Saudi Al Fransi – of the PO Box 1 postal address in the Red Sea trading hub of Jeddah.

“The bank was set up by a royal decree after the ascension of King Khalid to the throne had led to the conversion of all such foreign bank branches into Saudi joint stock companies with at least 60 percent Saudi capital participation.

“This resulted in the creation of Banque Saudi Fransi as a joint venture between prominent Saudi shareholders and Banque de I’Indochine et de Suez,” said Fayez.

HISTORY

Began as French institution Banque de l’Indochine et de Suez. Became Al Bank Al Saudi Al Fransi in 1977, when foreign bank branches were converted into Saudi joint stock companies with majority Saudi ownership. Its postal address was PO Box 1 in Jeddah. Listed on the Saudi Stock Exchange (Tadawul) in January 1993.

The French bank was later merged with the country’s biggest financial institution, Credit Agricole, and the Saudi relationship was taken over by its commercial and investment banking business, CACIB.

CACIB remained a significant strategic shareholder in BSF until it decided to exit its position in the bank in 2017, in line with its global strategy to reduce its presence in many of its international operations.

BSF was one of the bigger and more significant overseas partnerships the French bank had operated, so unwinding it was complicated, but it went smoothly.

“Through multiple transactions, the last of which took place in 2019, CACIB now owns 4 percent in BSF, but has relinquished its governance and management role in the bank.

“BSF always celebrates the history and valuable legacy that links CACIB to the founding and development of BSF over the past 43 years. The bank is a stronger organization for having been on this four-decade journey with one of France and Europe’s leading banks,” Fayez added.

Today, in the fast-changing world of Saudi banking, BSF has much less of the French feel it used to have back in the early days.

It is a Saudi Arabian joint stock company, owned by institutional investors and public shareholders, offering financial services in corporate, private, and retail banking, as well as global markets.

Fayez noted that the bank also provided investment banking, asset management, investment funds, and brokerage services through its subsidiary Saudi Fransi Capital.

It was part of the group of top Saudi financial institutions that played a leading role in marketing shares in Saudi Aramco last year, which resulted in the biggest ever initial public offering on any stock market in the world.

‘The bank is a stronger organization for having been on this four-decade journey with one of France and Europe’s leading banks.’

But there is still a legacy of its French roots in BSF’s strong market position in trade finance and corporate banking.

“There is a commercial legacy mainly around being a bank that has strong cross-border trade finance capability. In that sense many of our clients in Europe were referred to BSF as a trade partner in Saudi for trade finance business. That is the direct legacy,” Fayez said.

“The indirect legacy was a strategic focus on the corporate banking business, which is where CACIB flourished, and obviously that know-how and strategy was retained in the bank in Saudi. As a result, we have one of the leading corporate market shares in the Kingdom,” he added.

BSF’s strong treasury operations also owed a lot to the French heritage, he said, and France – one of the top 10 economies in the world and a major global investor – remained an important and valued trading partner of the Kingdom.

BSF, which was listed on the Saudi Stock Exchange (Tadawul) in January 1993, has been a cornerstone of the Saudi banking sector for more than four decades, providing financial advisory and services to the individuals and organizations that are fundamental to the sustained stability and strong growth of the Kingdom’s economy.

“The bank’s success is predicated on the successful implementation of its mission to become the most modern, innovative, and experience-focused bank in the region. Through long-term customer relationships and a sustained commitment to customer-focused innovation, we offer a comprehensive suite of market-leading products and award-winning platforms, supported by a premium customer experience,” Fayez said.

He added that with more than 2,690 employees spread across its Riyadh headquarters, its regional offices in Jeddah, Riyadh, and Alkhobar, and its 87 branches, it had the talent and broad national footprint to serve countless people and communities throughout the Kingdom.

“With visionary leadership, robust governance and a clear strategy, designed to enhance our core while unlocking shareholder value through strategic growth beyond our core and digital transformation for greater efficiency and customer experience, we are investing for a better future for all our stakeholders,” Fayez added.

“The BSF’s focus on digitization reflects its position as a universal bank, with far-reaching investments beyond the traditional focus area of retail banking, into corporate banking, private banking, global markets, and internally for our people. This broad push supports BSF’s ambition to be the bank with the leading digital offering in Saudi Arabia.”

The BSF, which also provides Islamic and classic banking services, is playing an important role in supporting the Saudi government’s Vision 2030 strategy of economic reform programs and developmental efforts to strengthen the economy and promote the welfare of the community.

As part of its agreement with the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Development (HRSD), BSF is committed to support the HRSD’s programs and activities, and to unify the efforts made by various charitable organizations. It assists them with the bank’s various donations and participates in media campaigns aimed at social awareness.

The bank has won many awards and is considered one of the region’s top banking service providers. In 2017, for instance, BSF was revealed as a big winner at the Banker Middle East Industry Awards, held in Dubai.

Banker Middle East CPI Financial, a top publication in the financial and banking sector in the region, awarded BSF six honors — Best Wealth Management Bank KSA, Best Corporate Bank KSA, Best Trade Finance, Best Talent and Succession Management in KSA, and Best Branch Banking — ANTEE Ladies Banking, and Best New Loyalty Program JANA — all for the same year.