First and foremost, please take all the time you need to determine what you exactly need from your future bank. This is extremely crucial. Is it a certain product/service? An investment you are planning to undertake? Or is it the convenience of the new technologies facilities offered? Answering these questions will comfort you in the decision you will make to choose the bank and the branch you will be assigning to handle your money.
Once you know what you exactly want, take some more time to consider and compare the different banks available on the market. You will certainly want to check the reputation of the institution that you will entrust with your funds. Lebanon is a small country. Yet, its banking sector is large and the customer can be really spoiled for their choice.
According to the Association of Banks in Lebanon (ABL), we currently have 33 Lebanese commercial banks, 7 Lebanese banks with Arab control, 7 Arab banks, 3 foreign banks and 15 investment banks (see ABL page info) It is important to note that we do not have online banks in Lebanon.
Then comes… drum rolls … the part most people dread… drum rolls… probing the fees you will end up paying. Because we all know nothing is for free when it comes to banks. Be aware that different banks offer different packages and products/services. My golden rule when initiating this step is to ask questions relentlessly until you get all the answers you need on the fees and terms related to the account and/or product/service you are opening and/or adhering to. You don’t need to be a financial wiz to ask about the details of the product/service you are “buying”. Your questions can start with asking for all details on the products/services that interest you, passing by the fees and rates applicable in each case and the geographic location of the branch and the ATM you will be most frequently visiting. And make sure you read the papers you are signing please! You wouldn’t want to end up paying double what another bank is offering just because you missed on some fine print and the branch manager of that particular bank is a relative/friend and/or was recommended by said relative/friend. And you equally do not want to be stranded in the middle of nowhere and at ungodly hours, just because you went for the cheapest fees and rates, do you?
The fourth step is subsequent to both the reputation of the bank/financial institution and making sure fees and rates are convenient as well as the geographic location of the bank. Yes, you have guessed right! I am talking about tech solutions provided —through an app or a website or both, ease of use of said solutions, and security provided. It is not just about the physical insurance on the -cash- money present at the branch. It is also and mostly about online security and the safety for you to execute your transactions using the portals provided by the bank. I am sure you would not want to be executing bank transfers from the convenience of your home in the middle of the night if you had the slightest doubt that your access could be hacked or your data is out there in the open and available to pretty much anyone. Rest assured, the Central Bank of Lebanon has very strict regulations regarding these matters and is enforcing high security standards in this regard. I still do not use any bank application for any of my online bank transactions, and again, this is just me. What you need to make sure of is actually that the network you are using is secured and preferably encrypted. Which means, please refrain from checking your account online when in public places such as cafes or restaurants, at ports or parks.
Finally, and this may sound like evidently noticeable, make sure you visit the branch before you make up your mind for this or that bank and/or branch. Although you can skip going to the branch for a long long time after you have opened you account there, it is important that you feel comfortable with the way your branch is and will be handling banking transactions on your behalf and as instructed. Ultimately, you will definitely appreciate not showing up to the branch after having wasted 3 hours in the traffic and on your nerves just to be able to make it on time during banking hours.
So now you are set to choose the bank(s) you will authorize to handle your money. Rest assured, it is healthy to have several bank accounts and if possible at different banks. The “do not put all your eggs in one basket” quote is the one to remember here. After all, when acting so, of course after having gone through the aforementioned check list thoroughly, you will be maximizing your potential income while reducing your fees and debit rates. That’s cool, right?