Bino Takes New Stance on Banking Binge

If Hapoalim's Shlomo Nehama is the big winner in the sale of Bank Otsar Hahayal, and Mizrahi's Eli Yones is the big loser - then where exactly does the buyer, Zadik Bino, fit in?

For years Bino built himself a reputation of knowing how to buy cheap. And to tell the truth, he signed onto the deal in 2002 to buy the First International Bank at the lowest price ever for a bank in Israel - only 50 percent of shareholders equity.

But, as of yesterday, Bino is also signed on the most expensive deal ever in Israeli banking history by paying 185 percent of shareholders equity for Bank Otsar Hahayal.

Bino hasn't gone mad. The difference in price between the two banks is a result of a number of real factors: the sharp improvement in the economy in the past three years; and the huge difference between FIBI, whose business was based on credit to the (risky) business sector, and Otsar Hahayal, which specializes in low-risk retail credit.

But there is another reason why Bino went out on the limb: The deal is an exceptional opportunity to pick up 200,000 new private customers in one fell swoop, and at the same time to keep them away from his rivals, Discount or Mizrahi.

He may have bought FIBI cheap, but he is having a hard time designing a strategy and implementing it. Everyone knows that households are a good business for the banks, but they also know that signing up new customers is difficult, if not almost impossible. The only real way to grow is to buy.

And of course the real winner is Hapoalim, which kept on putting off the sale; but in the end it wound up with a dream price due to the perfect timing of the sale. And best of all for Nehama: He was able to ruin Yones' plan to build a strong, growing bank.