Wednesday 21 August 2019

KBC chief can see M&A potential in insurance

CEO targets digital-first growth

KBC CEO Peter Roebben
KBC CEO Peter Roebben
Donal O'Donovan

Donal O'Donovan

KBC Bank sees insurance as an area for Irish growth, potentially through acquisition, according to the new head of the group's Irish unit.

The bank declined to name possible targets, but as a stand-alone insurer FBD could be a attractive in any such scenario.

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KBC Ireland's new CEO Peter Roebben said the focus within the lender was on driving organic growth, but accelerating that through acquisition "is potentially something that is always on the agenda", he said.

Nothing specific is in the works, he said, but the bank will look "if the right opportunity comes along in banking or insurance".

The Belgian executive was appointed in March to lead the Irish business, joining from its Brussels headquarters.

KBC Ireland is positioning itself as a challenger bank, with a big emphasis on "digital first" customer growth.

In its home market, KBC is a bank-insurer while in Ireland it mainly provides banking services with its insurance products sourced from Zurich.

"Insurance is definitely something where we see opportunity," said Mr Roebben.

That includes digitalisation which is less developed in insurance than banking, he noted. "Digital disruption is around the corner. It's true for all industries," he said.

KBC Ireland yesterday reported a profit of €14m for the three months to the end of March. That was down from a €57m profit in the same period last year; the result of tighter lending margins, increased costs, and lower write-backs on previous bad loan provisions.

Mortgage lending increased 9pc year-on-year to €216m and the bank said it has an 11.5pc market share for new and existing mortgages. A big push to increase customer numbers led to a 10pc increase in new accounts - an extra 18,000 - opened during the period.

The bank has exited corporate and business banking to focus on retail and so-called micro-enterprise customers - small business owner-operators. That was accelerated by sales of a buy-let-mortgage portfolio last year and €260m of legacy corporate loans to Bank of Ireland this year.

"We are in the place where we want to be. We are now a pure-play retail bank," Mr Roebben said following the results.

The bank's non-performing loan book also now only includes residential mortgages and the preference is to resolve cases through engagement, Mr Roebben said.

"We know how sensitive this issue is - these are people and people's houses," he said.

Last December KBC was involved in a high-profile attempt to repossess a farm in Strokestown, Co Roscommon after securing a possession order from the High Court.

After those events a number of KBC branches in Dublin were attacked. Mr Roebben said the bank had been dismayed by the violence. KBC's position is to accept the decisions of the "independent courts" and "rule of law".

"We strictly follow the legal process, we accept the court decisions," he said.

Irish Independent

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