Wim Verbaeken: Why KBC has decided to stay in Ireland and our plans to grow here
WE are extremely pleased to announce the long-term commitment of KBC to the Irish market.
It's great news for all of our customers, for our 1,000 dedicated staff, the new team members we will begin hiring this year and also for all banking consumers in Ireland who now have more choice, an expectation of innovation and even greater certainty around KBC as a really competitive force in the market.
We've been here for a long time and are eager to begin this exciting new chapter. It's also a great vote of confidence in Ireland as a place to do business. This was something KBC Group was very conscious of as we worked with them to arrive at the investment decision.
This decision was well considered, properly planned and resourced. Ireland's economic recovery has been hard-fought and all the more successful for it. We have a young, growing population which is very digital-savvy. Unemployment is falling and demand for new banking services and products is growing. All of this was very important for KBC Group which invested heavily in Ireland at a time when other banks were leaving the country, so it is particularly gratifying to see this strategy validated.
We've added thousands of customers in the last few years as we've opened 15 hubs around the country and built a €100m digital infrastructure to bring the most exciting and innovative products to our customers.
Without the historic legacy of an extensive branch network we're building our own way of banking that appeals to the modern consumer. KBC is the first bank where you can open a current account straight from your mobile app or desktop and one of the first to introduce Android Pay.
We stay open later, and on more channels so we can engage with our customers on their own terms. On top of that, we have a very competitive product offering. For all of these reasons we were delighted to welcome 70,000 new customer accounts last year alone.
As a core market for KBC, Ireland will now benefit fully from the backing of one of Europe's strongest financial groups. Aside from financial strength KBC Group will allow us to offer even more digital innovations which are already in place in other markets and we look forward to revealing these in the coming months.
Four-in-10 new customers are already joining us digitally. As Ireland has been so successful in moving towards a digital-first approach, customers can also expect that brand-new innovations will be trialled here first so we'll be at the cutting edge of developments in the banking market - all very much in keeping with Ireland's position as a global tech leader.
While we've been very focused on growing our retail offering - mortgages, savings and investments, insurance, consumer finance and current accounts, we will now also turn our attention to business banking with an offering for micro businesses and SMEs.
Our hubs will be particularly important for us here and it is through these hubs that we connect with the communities we serve, with initiatives like Bright Ideas which has invested €250,000 to date.
While being able to bring good news is wonderful we never lose sight of our customers who have been experiencing difficulties. The most important message for these customers is an invitation to continue to engage with the bank. In the majority of cases where people talk to us we have been able to find a workable solution.
As we report a profitable year, our level of impaired loans continues to reduce and we expect this to continue as the economy grows.
Competition in any sector is what brings vitality and dynamism as well as best value for consumers. We've been driving competition in banking for many years but are ready to step this up even more. We're very grateful to customers, employees and partners who have shown faith in us over the last few years and look forward to continuing the journey with them and thousands of new customers who will experience what KBC has to offer.
Wim Verbraeken is ceo of KBC Ireland