Increasingly forced to look overseas to expand and compete in the global banking market, Israeli banks are finding it ever more important to foster international contacts and relations with foreign institutions. What a time to lose your "ambassador." "Throughout the 1980s and until a few years ago, the Israeli banking system had to strongly rely on foreign banks - they were like the oxygen of the country, so it was of utmost importance to forge special business relationships with the large US, German and UK banks," UK-born Cedric Olivestone, said in an interview with The Jerusalem Post. "It was not enough to know your banks. To be good in this job you had to break the ice and find a common language. You would have to know your [artist Wassily] Kandinskys and your [composer Gustav] Mahlers and, of course, your whiskeys." Bank Leumi has some big shoes to fill: After 40 years of service to the bank building its image, esteem and relationships with banks around the world, Olivestone, executive vice-president and head of its financial institutions group, retired late last year. "The competition between the two large Israeli banks in the international arena is ever so fierce," said Olivestone. Today, financial market deregulation, privatization and the increased involvement of foreign parties in Israel's financial markets were challenging Israeli banks like Leumi to look overseas for expansion and to forge ties with foreign banks. Speaking of Olivestone with great admiration, Leumi CEO Galia Maor said he came to represent the silent figure for hundreds of bankers around the world - for when they needed anything in Israel he was their first port of call. "To us he acted as ambassador for Bank Leumi and Israel and was an example of the right man at the right time in the right job. He didn't just do the job he has held for the last 18 years, he defined it," said Maor. "In London they call him Mr. Israel, in New York he is affectionately referred to as a legend and in Singapore he was described as an icon of the industry." For Olivestone, the biggest achievement of Bank Leumi in recent years is its image abroad, which has remained steady. "Despite the negative press Israel has been faced with throughout the years, the credit availability for Bank Leumi in the international arena has never been impaired," he said. Olivestone will be succeeded in managing the bank's international trade finance business by US- born, Liorah Tidhar, who joined Bank Leumi in 1995. In her previous post at the bank, Tidhar had overall responsibility for much of the payments business and export credit transactions in the local market. "Tidhar will take on the extremely important task of caring for Leumi's relationships with our banking partners around the world," said Maor.