Mashreq reports slight improvement in full-year 2019 net income

The lender is pivoting to digital banking to cut costs and improve efficiencies

Mashreq Bank says unemployment is the biggest risk to retail lending. Reuters
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Mashreq Bank, the Dubai lender controlled by the Al Ghurair family, reported a slight improvement in its full-year 2019 net income, helped by its digitalisation push as impairment allowances fell and its asset base grew.

Net income for the 12 months ending December 31, rose 0.2 per cent to Dh2.1 billion, the lender said in an emailed statement on Monday. Impairment charges for the reporting period fell 1.5 per cent year-on-year to Dh1.2bn, while its asset base grew 11.8 per cent to Dh159.4bn at the end of last year, it added.

A more than 450 per cent year-on-year rise in investment income to Dh150 million also helped Mashreq’s 2019 net profit. Loans and advances increased 10 per cent year-on-year to Dh76.2bn, while customers’ deposits grew 9.3 per cent for the period to almost Dh91bn, Mashreq said.

“Mashreq Bank continued to register strong performance and achieved a healthy net profit,” Ahmed Abdelaal, Mashreq's chief executive said, adding that all of the bank’s businesses performed well.

“Importantly, this was achieved whilst maintaining a capital adequacy ratio and a Tier 1 capital ratio that was significantly higher than the regulatory limit at 16.3 per cent and 15.2 per cent, respectively,” he noted.

Mashreq, which plans to spend Dh500m on digital transformation over a five-year period, has invested in several digitisation initiatives that helped it improve productivity, achieve cost efficiencies and enhance customer experience.

Mashreq plans to shut half of its branches in the UAE this year, replacing physical infrastructure with digital branches as increased technology use reduces the need for as many branches.

About 97 per cent of Mashreq’s transactions take place via a digital platform, Abdulaziz Al Ghurair, who took over the bank as chairman in October, told The National in an interview last year.

Its digital drive last year saw it continue this transformantion and introduce a digital-only bank for small and medium-sized enterprises, Mr Abdelaal said in a statement accompanying the lender's results.

“The banking industry is evolving at a rapid pace and our clients, shareholders and regulators have a high expectation from banks to offer quick and real time services,” he said. “This offers significant opportunities for banks such as Mashreq to capitalise on.”

Like their peers globally, banks across the Arabian Gulf are investing in digitising their operations and moving away from traditional branch networks, which are expensive to operate and maintain.