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Lawrence Podesta: “setting up a bank from scratch is no easy task“

The soon-to-be-opened Gibraltar International Bank will fill a major gap in the local banking market. Lawrence Podesta, its CEO, shares the story behind the bank's development

By New Statesman

What’s the story behind the Gibraltar International Bank – is it the first native retail bank in Gibraltar?

In 2012, one of the major international retail banks in Gibraltar announced that it was closing its retail operations. This bank had a substantial share of the market and, with only two other retail banks open for business, the government of Gibraltar took the decision to establish a local bank. The bank is set to open before the summer.

Historically, in Gibraltar there have been a number of retail banks from other countries. However, the Gibraltar International Bank is not the first locally established retail bank in Gibraltar. That honour goes to Galliano’s Bank, established in 1855 by a local family of Genovese ancestry.

Who is the bank for, and what services will it offer?

The bank will primarily cater for the needs of the local retail market, both for personal and corporate clients. It will provide a full range of products and services typically associated with a retail bank – such as current accounts, deposit accounts, personal and commercial mortgages, loans and overdrafts, debit and credit cards and online and mobile banking.

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The bank is being set up as a traditional bank with a modern feel, meaning that we endeavour to provide the best face-to-face customer service, while at the same time promoting our online and mobile banking applications.

Is the new bank a public or a private one? 

The bank is wholly owned by the government of Gibraltar and has a board of directors which stands completely independent from government, comprised of top professionals from our community. The bank’s executive team and staff have all been recruited from the private sector and the bank will be run on a commercial basis.  

What impact did the banking crisis have on account holders in Gibraltar? Is there any connection between the banking crisis and Gibraltar setting up its own bank? 

There is no direct connection between the global banking crisis and the setting up of the Gibraltar International Bank. The new bank is the result of local needs expressed by the local community through various means over the past few years. The Gibraltar International Bank will, together with the other retail banks, add value to the marketplace.

What are some of the challenges you have faced setting up a bank from scratch? How have you surmounted these, and who are you turning to for advice? 

As you can well imagine, setting up a bank from scratch is no easy task. There are a number of fronts that need to be tackled at the same time – be it concerning regulation, operational or IT infrastructure, finance or risk.

Myself and my colleague (chief operating officer Derek Sene) embarked on this journey last May, and produced a business plan to take us forward. We have engaged with a number of external international parties in order to set up our operational infrastructure for services, such as having worldwide acceptance of our debit and credit cards.

They say that a company’s best assets are its employees. We made it a priority to employ the senior management of the bank in order to put the wheels in motion. We have been very cautious in setting our recruitment criteria, and are proud to say that the time and effort invested in this process has produced the desired results. 

Tell us about the premises that will house the bank – is it a historic building? Did it need much renovation?

The bank will be housed in possibly the only building constructed before the Great Siege of Gibraltar (1779-1783) to survive its original form. The building was constructed in typical Georgian style, and was used originally as a garrison armoury. No structural changes have been done to the building, and it will retain its charm and no doubt become an iconic building in Gibraltar.  

What are your long-term aspirations for the bank? What difference will it make for life and business in Gibraltar?

Gibraltar is an international finance centre, and whilst under its current remit the bank has been set up primarily to service the local community, we will entertain applications from prospective international clients who have personal or commercial links to Gibraltar and might require retail banking services.

Both Derek and I are convinced that the bank will have a huge impact in the community for personal and corporate customers. Gibraltar will be proud to have its own retail bank where decisions are taken locally by a team of professionals who fully understand the needs of our community.

The task force: CEO Lawrence Podesta (right) and COO Derek Sene (left)