Israel's Bank Hapoalim Names New CEO

Deputy CEO Ari Pinto to take over as chief of Israel's biggest lender as country’s banks face tougher regulatory environment.

Tomer Appelbaum

Bank Hapoalim said on Tuesday Deputy CEO Ari Pinto will be its next CEO, putting him at the helm at Israel’s largest lender at a time when it faces an increasingly tough regulatory environment.

Hapoalim told the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange its board had unanimously approved Pinto’s selection by a search committee and that he will take over from outgoing CEO Zion Kenan after the Bank of Israel approves the appointment.

Pinto, 55, has been with the bank for over 35 years, overcoming a difficult childhood to rise through the ranks and become heir apparent after Kenan announced in March he was stepping down.

Ari Pinto, the new CEO of Israel's Bank Hapoalim, poses for a photograph, May 24, 2016.
Courtesy of Bank Hapoalim via Reuters

He will need all his experience to cope with the uncertain future of Israel’s banks. Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon is pushing for reforms aimed at increasing competition among banks and reducing costs for private customers.

Shares of Hapoalim were up 0.7% at 19.11 shekels ($4.95) in late trading on the TASE.

A government commission headed by former Antitrust Commissioner Dror Strum is exploring a package of banking reforms, chief among them one that would force Hapoalim and its No. 2 rival, Bank Leumi, to divest their profitable credit-card units. Reformers hope that credit-card companies will compete with the banks for consumer credit and also hope to encourage additional smaller lenders.

This year the Knesset approved curbs on top bankers’ salaries that are among the toughest in the world. The new law, which takes effect in six months, limits annual compensation for bankers and other financial service at 2.5 million shekels or 35 times the salary of the organization’s lowest-paid employee.

Pinto may also be answering to a new controlling shareholder. Shari Arison was reported this week to be in preliminary talks to sell at least half of her controlling 20.08% stake in Hapoalim to an unidentified U.S. investment fund. The Arison family has controlled the bank for a decade.

Pinto, like Kenan, came from a poor family. Born in Morocco in 1961, he contracted polio as an infant and immigrated to Israel with his family in 1964. By age 12 he was orphaned and attending the Ben Shemen boarding school. He was exempted from military service as a result of his physical disabilities, and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business administration in the United States.

He began his career as an investment adviser at Hapoalim in 1981 and served in a variety of positions, as well as heading the workers’ committee. By 2009, he had been promoted by Kenan to deputy CEO and head of strategy, where he has been the one to put Kenan’s policies into place, in particular Hapoalim’s focus on consumer credit.

In October 2013, when Lilach Asher-Topilsky step down as head of Hapoalim’s retail banking division — its biggest and most important division — Pinto took over. By the time he moved on to chief operating officer just two years later, the division was the most profitable and efficient in Israel’s banking sector.

Aside from his banking career, Pinto plays wheelchair basketball for a team sponsored by the Wingate Institute and led the Israeli team at the Beijing Paralympics in 2008. He is also a ranked chess player.

“The circumstances of my life spurred me to strive harder than anyone else and to act resolutely to achieve my personal and professional goals,” said Pinto, who is also known as Arik.

Hapoalim said in late March that Kenan would step down in six months after 38 years at the bank and more than seven years as CEO. Kenan, 60, said he wanted to explore new business challenges in Israel and abroad.