July 11, 2019

Marhaba, Bonjour and Hello Open Banking Lebanon!

I tend not to have too many preconceptions when visiting a country for the first time, but an invitation from Arabnet to speak in Lebanon, certainly brought a few news flashes from the 80’s and 90’s to mind!

News flashes aside, a friend saying “wonderful” and always ready to spread the word of open banking – I said yes, whilst simultaneously wishing planes were electric and checking my company is up to date with its carbon offsets!

I arrived in Beirut several days before my talk, following my rule of not just flying “in and out” if I can help it.

But, being an urban lover with nature freak tendencies, I wanted to see the “Cedars of God”, a forest of ancient (and also recently planted) Cedar trees.

So, leaving my conference attire behind, my next step was to find the bus stop to take me north to Bsharri.

Everything in Lebanon seems to have three names (three languages are in operation so why not?). Perhaps this is why I couldn’t figure out where the hotel manager was trying to send me. But, Google, Uber and some good old fashioned asking about delivered me to a petrol station where minibuses leave for the north.

At the end of the bus trip, a mini Lebanese network effect kicked in to my advantage: I asked a woman on the bus where to get off: she spoke to the bus driver who asked a passing taxi driver who asked a cousin to take me to a restaurant where the owner helped me find an ATM and then fed me ice cream whilst I waited for the taxi to arrive! It wasn’t the only time I experienced such efficient and generous fluid logistics!

The Cedars of God forest is smaller than I had imagined but each of the old trees is incredible.

I had heard that many new trees had been planted nearby – and I wanted to see them for myself. This took me on a rather long hike…

As I walked up from the cedars I found some discarded ski poles to help me. I also met a shepherd and we conversed in school boy French. The terrain was steep and slippery. I had to navigate between the patches of land that held a bit of moisture and thus afforded some traction. I reflected that that’s a bit like a startup having to jump between contracts. Also, a country embarking on an open banking journey can’t expect to know everything in advance, it will find people and tools to help it along the way.

During my seven hours on the mountain, “The Book of Mirdad” (Naimy) sprang to mind – as did “The Only Way Is Up” by Yazz and “Walking On The Moon” by The Police!

I was sure glad to get to the path at the top!

The way down was easier.


But I was happy to find the new trees (26,000 planted by the US Forest Service and local people)


I read Naimy in the 80’s but earlier this year I discovered Gibran’s “The Prophet” and similarly loved it. On my way to Bsharri I realised that the Gilbran museum is there. What a treat!

Not a bad place to wait for the bus back to Beirut!

At the conference, I met with several of Lebanon’s banks – including the central bank Banque du Liban.

Here I am talking about open banking and how Lebanon might shape its open banking priorities.

I was privileged to be invited to a dinner at the Grand Serail – hosted by Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

I met a good crew of Lebanese entrepreneurs and VCs. Thanks to Sarine and everyone from Arabnet! The slides from my talk can be found here.