United Arab Bank strong deposit growth lessens funding needs

26 March 2014

Lender’s “Barcelona effect” boosts deposit base

The growth in Sharjah-based United Arab Bank’s (UAB’s) deposit base over the past six months has reduced the lender’s immediate need to raise additional funding, says its CEO, Paul Trowbridge.

“We’ve had so many new depositors come to us over the past six months that the need for what I call conventional formal funding has diminished significantly,” he tells MEED.

Trowbridge says that as the bank pushes forward with its planned expansion, its funding will eventually grow, but given its current strong deposit base, there are no imminent financing plans.

UAB, which is entirely privately-owned, was last in the market towards the end of 2013, when it closed a two-year $250m syndicated loan with 12 lenders.

The bank’s customer deposits grew by 49 per cent in 2013 compared with the previous year, reaching AED15.3bn ($4.1bn). This growth in deposits is partly due to the lender’s tie-up with Spanish football club Barcelona, says Trowbridge. The Abu Dhabi Exchange-listed bank signed a three-year alliance last September to become the club’s official partner in the UAE.

“It is partly due to the ‘Barcelona effect’ of our sponsorship,” he says, explaining that the partnership, which includes the launch of Barcelona-themed credit cards, has attracted new customers from its target market of UAE nationals and “committed” expatriates.

The bank’s profits also rose during 2013, increasing by 35 per cent to reach AED552m. Customer loans and advances grew by 40 per cent to AED15.3bn. 

This growth continues the acceleration in profits seen in 2012 when the bank recorded 24 per cent growth. Profit growth was also relatively high in 2010 and 2011, where it increased by 10 and 7 per cent respectively.

The rising profits have partly been driven by UAB’s expanding retail banking arm, including its mortgage business. In the aftermath of the financial crisis in 2009, Trowbridge took advantage of the stagnating banking market to increase UAB’s market share by ramping up its mortgage lending.

“While other banks were fixing up their balance sheets, we took the opportunity to grab some of the customers that other banks lost. We aggressively lent to owner-occupied homes, at the bottom of the property cycle,” he says.

Yet by mid-2013, when the real estate market in the UAE began to rebound, Trowbridge decided to reduce UAB’s mortgage lending due to increased wariness about the rapid pace of recovery.

“We did pull back from real estate lending in about August 2013,” he says. “We were worried that there was a little too much hype. We might have called it a bit prematurely but we did build up a strong and well-secured mortgage book. We are no longer the largest mortgage writer, but that’s a strategic decision.”

During 2014, the bank is set to expand its capabilities in Islamic finance, retail banking and small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs), and Trowbridge expects it to be another “good” year, in line with the results achieved in 2013. UAB will also expand its network of branches from 28 banks to 35 by the end of the year.

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