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KBC digs in for long term here as it recruits 200 more staff

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KBC Bank

KBC Bank

KBC Bank

KBC Bank has doubled its Irish workforce since the crash and will hire 200 more staff here this year.

The Belgian-owned lender announced losses of €864m for 2013 yesterday, driven by a €1.06bn impairment, or write-down in the value of assets – mainly property loans and mortgages.

But the bank has ramped up staff numbers from just over 500 at the end of 2007 to around 1,000 today as it shifts out of business banking and into much more staff-intensive retail banking, chief executive Wim Verbraeken told the Irish Independent.

KBC plans to recruit a further 200 new staff this year and is rolling out new hubs or branches in Dublin's Grand Canal Dock and Stillorgan over the coming months, he said.

Three more 'hubs' are planned this year, which will take the total to 10.

The 'hubs' and recruitment drive are part of a strategy to reinvent the former corporate and business bank as an Irish retail bank. That has seen its deposit base increase to €2.9bn at the end of the year, up by around a third.

The new deposits have helped reduce the bank's funding costs by replacing other financing, and are funding a future lending balance sheet, Mr Verbraeken said.

The bank said it added 34,000 new customers here.

KBC re-entered the mortgage market in July and accounts for around 10pc of current new lending, management said.

The bank has no plans to follow lenders like AIB in returning to lending to builders and developers, despite concerns that a lack of housing stock in urban centres is hurting demand for mortgages.

The legacy of KBC's boom-era lending remains a problem, with long-terms arrears only set to peak this year, Mr Verbraeken said. The bank's Irish unit expects to return to profit in 2016, later than the likes of AIB and Bank of Ireland. That reflects a "prudent" approach to projections, the bank said.

ARREARS

While there are some signs of economic stabilisation, it is "too early to talk about a recovery" until the purchasing power of consumers is restored, Mr Verbraeken said.

He took over as head of KBC's Irish unit in November. Both the bank and himself are committed to remaining in Ireland over the long term, he said.

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Unlike its rivals, KBC said it had no plans to sell off so-called portfolios or bundles of soured loans and would instead work with borrowers on a case-by-case basis to tackle arrears.

Losses at the Irish unit weighed on the results for the parent KBC Group in Belgium, which announced an adjusted net profit of €960m for the year.


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