Nassau, 22 Jun 2015 – For the second consecutive year, Commonwealth Bank reported it was ‘the most profitable of all (retail) banks’ with net earnings of $53.3 million, $16 million higher than its nearest competitor and up from $48.7 million over the year before.
That news of a 7% increase in profits topped a list of positive performance figures for fiscal 2014 reported by the bank at its annual general meeting at SuperClub Breezes May 27, a standing room only event with the crowd applauding and breaking out in cheers more than 30 times.
“Commonwealth Bank continues to be the leader in personal banking services and remains focused on personal banking,” Chairman William B. Sands, Jr., told the packed room, noting that other banks were now “placing more emphasis” on the personal banking platform that has been the core of Commonwealth Bank’s business model. Commonwealth Bank has built its reputation and its success on granting consumer loans for purchases, education, medical and special purpose applications, reducing the risk associated with hefty capital commercial lending and enhancing loyalty. Its average loan value is $17,155.
This was the third time in four years that Commonwealth Bank’s profits exceeded $50 million, profits it has shared with shareholders since it went public with an oversubscribed share offering in 2000. With more than 6,000 shareholders, Commonwealth Bank is the second largest publicly-held company (largest publicly held financial services company) in The Bahamas and accounts for 22% of all trading on the Bahamas International Securities Exchange (BISX). In 2014, the bank paid $.06 per share in quarterly dividends plus an extraordinary dividend for a total of $.30 per share. Equity earnings per share were $0.49.
In other performance figures, the bank reported gross revenues of $139.3 million and total assets of nearly $1.5 billion. The bank’s efficiency ratio, 48.4%, was the sole declining indicator, a result, said AVP & Group Financial Controller, Mrs. Gladys Fernander, of a $5 million increase in business license fees and an increase of 85% in fees overall.
Despite those increases, the bank maintained its commitment to community with contributions totaling $400,000, much of that going to education, including a long-standing partnership with the Ministries of Education and Social Services to provide school backpacks and supplies for thousands of students. The bank’s outreach stretches from the youngest child to the aged in a senior citizens’ home, from the teen mother who wants to earn her high school diploma and find employment to the college student benefitting from a scholarship for future leaders of The Bahamas.
Like other financial institutions, the bank’s internal focus was on managing lending and curtailing bad loans during an economy that continues to be challenging. That focus paid off. Tougher lending restrictions and more stringent collections resulted in a substantial reduction in loan loss impairment with total write-offs of $28.4 million, an 18.6% improvement over 2013 when the bank reported $34.9 million in write-offs. Both years placed Commonwealth Bank’s loan losses far below competitors’ and shareholders were reminded that while some banks in The Bahamas announced in 2014 that they were closing branches, Commonwealth Bank had expanded services and hours and now offers Saturday banking in six locations.
Non-interest income, mostly earned from its subsidiary Laurentide Insurance & Mortgage Co Ltd, stood at $14.5 million.
Total capital was reported at year-end at $294 million, exceeding regulatory requirements by 64% and contributing to share value. Market capitalization rested at $732.4 million and the bank paid out $30 million in dividends.
The domestic capital market responded to those positive performance indicators driving share value up 8.5% in 2014 to close at $7.50.
In looking toward the future, the chairman said Commonwealth Bank would maintain its interest in the consumer market, control loan growth, continue to improve its efficiency in operations as well as in collections and recovery, and devote resources to staff development and succession planning. He hinted at changes in the long-serving board of directors, some of whom have served for more than 30 years. Mr. Sands also said the bank would not be constructing or opening any new branches in the coming year, but would introduce a chip enabled VISA debit card and would also enhance its international MasterCard products with the high-security, chip- enabled card in 2016, to complete its array of MasterCard/SunCard offerings. This represented a significant investment for the Bank.
Given continuing high unemployment and slow growth, Mr. Sands said, cautious optimism will guide the economic outlook until BahaMar opens.
And, according to Commonwealth Bank President Ian Jennings, in such a challenging and competitive environment, “it is critical for service-oriented businesses like Commonwealth Bank to focus on constantly upgrading how they interact with customers, how fast they respond, how well they develop products consumers need.
“We have no foreign parent, we have to protect ourselves, our staff and our shareholders,” said Mr. Jennings, “That is why we take a conservative approach. We never lose sight of the fact that we are a Bahamian bank for every Bahamian and we want you to know that your all-Bahamian bank was once again the first choice of Bahamians for personal banking services and the top performing bank in The Bahamas.”
Shareholders returned the Board of Directors unanimously. Those directors include William B. Sands, Jr., Ian A. Jennings, Rupert W. Roberts, Jr., Roland C. Symonette, Vaughn W.T. Higgs, George C. Culmer, Earla J. Bethel, Larry R. Gibson Marcus C.R. Bethel and Robert D.L. Sands.
Commonwealth Bank with more than 525 employees operates 11 branches in New Providence, Abaco and Grand Bahama. A record crowd of nearly 500 persons attended the annual general meeting for the year January 1 – December 31, 2014.