A different loan for Lebanese couples

TEXT OF STORY

Steve Chiotakis: Lebanon may have a reputation for guns and bombs. It also has some creative businessmen. And a good banking system. Last year, that translated into the country's first plastic surgery loan. Now, the same bank is offering fertility loans. Ben Gilbert reports from Beirut.


Ben Gilbert: When Maher Mazher first heard that his fellow Lebanese were more infertile than the average person, the marketing professor started doing his homework on married couples.

Maher Mazher: We have done a quantitative research on 600 person, showing that 18.7 percent couldn't have babies.

Mazher, who's also a marketing manager at Lebanon's first national bank, saw dollar signs. He calculated that each year, around 10,000 couples in Lebanon undergo fertility treatments of some kind. Mazher's research resulted in this:

[First National Bank's ad in Arabic]

This is First National Bank's ad for a new Fertility Loan. It's part of an ad blitz that features a very small, cute newborn baby, curled up and sleeping on a blanket. The kid is on billboards and in magazines.

Lebanese sociologists have noted the pressure society exerts on newlyweds to have children here. Mazher says Lebanese families can be overbearing:

Mazher: If after three or five or six months, they don't see that the lady's not pregnant, they start asking, "Is it she or you? Are you trying? When are you trying?"

And adoption is not an option for most Lebanese. It's banned for Muslims, and Christians frown on it. Infertility is also grounds for divorce here.

But now Mazher says his loan can help. Couples can borrow $7,000 at 5 percent interest. It can be used to finance in vitro fertilization surgery or fertility "treatments."

Mazher says the bank isn't looking to profit off the loans. He says they are "humanitarian," and good marketing for FNB Bank.

Mazher: Because this is the best way to touch their heart. Each time they would look at their baby and the baby would smile, they will remember FNB. It is the best way to get into their life.

Some Lebanese have objected to Mazher's fertility loan. But Mazher says in the ad campaign's first week, his bank received more than 100 calls a day.

In Beirut, I'm Ben Gilbert for Marketplace.

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