Meet Suresh Lalwani, advising on SME banking and financial guidance

Meet Suresh Lalwani, advising on SME banking and financial guidance 

By: Abu Dhabi SME Hub

The Access to Experts initiative offers you professional, free-of-charge guidance and support on doing business in Abu Dhabi.

Meet Suresh Lalwani, Managing Director & Head of Coverage, Commercial Banking at First Abu Dhabi Bank (FAB).

A member of the Access to Experts initiative, Suresh answers the Hub's Q&A so you can get to know him better. 


An expert SME and Commercial Banker, Suresh has over 20 years of banking experience. He has been working with business owners in diversified industries, and has experience with different industries including manufacturing, services, e-commerce and trading, having financed such businesses through the banking system for many years.

His sound knowledge of Trade Finance, Treasury and Supply Chain Finance helps him in supporting SMEs and commercial businesses in their cash flow management and banking. Suresh has worked with institutions like Citi, HSBC, RAKBANK, PwC and FAB thereby managing large lending portfolios in $Billions, building and executing strategies.



Can you summarize your role in one sentence?

My team and I look after the banking and borrowing requirements of startups and mature businesses in the UAE. 

What are some fun facts and/or truths about your field?

Two Facts: 

  • 90% of entrepreneurs start their business with a loan from friends, family or via credit card. Personal equity comes later. 
  • Every bank thinks that they know how to run an SME banking business, but they don’t. They either align it to Retail Banking or Corporate Banking which is wrong. SME Banking is somewhere in the middle. Speed and Accuracy, both are important in SME Banking. 

One Truth: 

  • SMEs not having access to finance is a global issue and not just a local one. It’s the same story everywhere whether you go to Australia, Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Europe or America. It is the same challenge everywhere.  

Who would benefit the most from your expertise? 

Any startup or SME can gain something from my expertise. Certainly, the needs of these businesses are different, but since I have worked with startups and mature businesses across diverse industries, I believe I will be able to add value in one way or another.  

Tell us about your experience working with a startup/entrepreneur. 

I have worked with a startup that was engaged in the field of animation and content creation in the Arabic language. They targeted young children and created Disney-like content. As FAB, we financed this entity under an Innovation Fund as it was a startup. We gave them a fully-loaded banking account with minimal charges which helped them to expand their business. They were able to produce more content, hire the right people, produce effective marketing material and eventually grow their topline. 

Today, in terms of banking, most startups’ needs can be narrowed down to the following: needing a simple check-in account, access to digital channels including online banking, a mobile application, ATM Banking and phone banking. They also require POS machines and payment gateways. Optimally, all these services can be nicely bundled in one simple package, where the startup may only have to pay a small monthly fee (AED 100-250 per month), similar to a Netflix subscription. Easy to understand and simple.    

The Virtual Relationship Banking concept works very well when it comes to dealing with startups. The majority of dealings can happen over a phone or via emails and the bank does not necessarily need to hire a relationship manager (RM) for startup accounts, considering the cost of operations in mind. This concept is well adapted to banks in Asia and helps to serve a large number of startups with minimal cost.  

What are some common challenges you've noticed entrepreneurs face?

In terms of funding: 

  • How to approach a bank for availing finance? 
  • How much finance to ask for? 
  • What sort of information is required? 
  • When should an entrepreneur look for financing in the life cycle of the business? 

What’s the best professional advice you’ve ever received? What about one piece of advice you would share with your younger self?

  • Your product and service must solve a problem. Research and convince yourself with data. Once this is done and you believe in your idea, go for it. Finance will come. That’s not a problem. 
  • Don’t feel shy or have apprehensions to seek for help. Look around, it’s available, you just need to ask.   
  • Discipline is important as an entrepreneur. Early success can put you on the wrong track. Don’t be fooled and don’t take success for granted, keep working hard. 


Suresh is part of our Access to Experts initiative, providing mentorship and support to prospective and existing entrepreneurs looking to grow in Abu Dhabi. Connect with him and other industry thought leaders here.

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