About Michel Chiha

Family, Childhood, Career

About Chiha Foundation

The Meaning of Being a ‘Banker’

 I beg your indulgence for a moment to explain my personal background. I am a businessman by profession. This, as you know, describes those who deal in large amounts of money or indeed those who manage the finances of the State. Prevailing biases disparage against those who succeed in the profession. If there are no objections I will explain this evening why although I never became a banker, I am in fact and without regret a banker and all without consciously being aware of how it actually came to pass. It is not always possible to choose one’s career. Indeed we often find ourselves carrying on the work of our predecessors whose hard work we are compelled to pursue with the same decisiveness and certitude and to do our best to avoid the risks they initially confronted and overcame. As this series of lectures- which seem to be equally about sharing confidences as they are about giving instruction-  ends tonight, I could explain without delving too deeply into the paradox and without unduly shocking you, why I didn’t set out to become a banker. But I won’t. These things are as unimportant as trying to explain why someone is not partial to fatty or spicy food. 

However before I discuss the strains imposed by a man’s fate, by the available career choices open to the youth of today or of individual preferences in the choice of employment, I would like to describe in my own terms the portrait of a financier. Let’s be clear, the world of banking and finance in the Middle East as a whole and in Lebanon in particular with its enterprising citizens willing to travel to the ends of the world in pursuit of treasure and unlike the financial world of the West, has a clear tendency to overinflate itself. It is sometimes necessary to help deflate it a little, for its own good. On the other hand, it’s also true that it has the necessary ruthlessness to severally demonetize conventional financial values whenever they go against the country’s interests.

I would like to concentrate for a moment on the Banker and more broadly on the Financier because it was this sort of man who built art galleries and empires and even when their luck turned, like royal palaces after the fall of the monarchy, their monuments remain standing. A banker or a man of finance is not necessarily akin to Croesus. He might simply be a talented money technician. A successful banker is not necessarily covered in gold nor is he unreservedly a Mammonist. The origins of the profession reside in the virtue of having first been an act of common faith. A banker is in essence a man of ‘credence’ or conviction; a man one trusts in the same way that National Savings are entrusted to bankers. Hence, a banker is primarily someone who embodies confidence. Thus I believe I have been fair and square in describing my main occupation. I become even more so by adding that in seeking to expand its horizons, a bank encompasses a variety of honorable employment possibilities, closely related areas of interest and complimentary occupations as well as the whole gamut of economic, political, and social sciences all of which lead to a better understanding of the world around us and the need to find a personal philosophy on life through intellectual thought which ultimately leads to the appreciation of art and poetry.

“Carrières”, M.C., La revue des deux mondes, 2, 1945