Banque et Caisse d'Epargne de l'Etat (BCEE), more widely known as Spuerkeess, has published its financial results for the year 2020; the Luxembourg bank posted a net income of €135.4 million (down 26.4% over one year).
As of 31 December 2020, Spuerkeess' banking income stood at €595.5 million, down 1.3% on 2019.
Net interest margin trended favourably, driven by strong momentum in the production of loans and credit to retail and business clients, the measures of the European Central Bank (ECB) to counteract in part the impact of negative interest rates on bank deposits with the ECB and the adjustment of interest rates on client deposits consistent with the trend in market rates.
Fee income also rose substantially, reflecting Spuerkeess clients’ strong activity on the financial markets, new loan and credit production and the increase in the bank's institutional client base.
These positive trends were offset by a decrease in the dividends received by the bank from its holdings and in the income generated by the sale and assessment of certain categories of financial instruments.
Total general expenses grew by 2.6%, attributable to a structural rise in personnel expenses and an increase in allowances for the impairment of tangible and intangible assets stemming from substantial investments in IT. Work on optimising processes and digitalisation served to boost productivity and limit the increase in general expenses.
The deterioration in the economic environment spurred Spuerkeess’ vigilance on credit risk and led to the recognition of value corrections and provisions for a total net amount, allocations and reversals included, of €66.8 million, compared with €26.0 million in 2019. This result reflects the conservative approach used in the impairment calculation models and includes a flat-rate provision for credit risk of €20 million. Allocations exceeding regulatory requirements have strengthened Spuerkeess’ resilience to the potential economic consequences of the health crisis beyond 2020.
In this respect, the cost of risk had a considerable influence on the trend in Spuerkeess income in 2020.
Spuerkeess posted a net profit of €135.4 million for the 2020 financial year, down €48.5 million (-26.4%) from €183.9 million in 2019. This income enabled the bank to reinforce its own funds and distribute €40 million in profit to the State owner in respect of the 2020 financial year. The distribution of an additional €40 million, currently suspended, is planned for the fourth quarter of 2021, once the European supervisory body has lifted its restrictions on the payment of dividends by systemically important European banks.
Equity rose 5.9%, from €4.085 billion at 31 December 2019 to €4.324 billion at
31 December 2020. Spuerkeess’ capital ratio stood at 21.4% at 31 December 2020, compared with 21.1% the previous year, reflecting its high level of solvency.
Business momentum and crisis management
At the start of 2020, Spuerkeess launched its new brand-image campaign, “Your bridge to life”, to underscore the bank’s role as a facilitator of the life projects of its clients. Close local presence was strengthened in communication through the use of the company name, “Spuerkeess”.
The bank planned and implemented this work in step with the development of its new strategic plan, “Spuerkeess 2025”, the result of a collaborative approach involving many colleagues throughout the year.
The bank's digital transformation project, “CONNECT”, aimed to respond to the challenge of remaining on the cutting edge of new technologies with a view to bringing its clients and colleagues a flawless user experience.
In governance and risk management, the bank continued to adapt its organisation chart, internal risk models and IT security to comply with regulations and best meet the
stringent requirements of the European supervisory authority.
Spuerkeess paid special attention to business relations with its clients by supporting them in their projects through bespoke financing and investment solutions as part of a long-term relationship of trust.
From one day to the next, the health crisis changed the bank's internal operating methods and its way of communicating with clients, but without hindering the progress of its projects. The initial priority was to ensure the safety of bank employees, which was achieved by swiftly introducing teleworking for almost all personnel and adapting the bank's offices to ensure social distancing and compliance with protective measures.
The bank then had to do everything it could to support its clients. During the first lockdown, the teams in its branch network worked to address the questions and concerns of clients. The new Spuerkeess Direct branch enabled employees to work remotely so as to continue to serve clients via digital tools or telephone. To that end, the bank increased its workforce from 20 to 80 people in a single week.
Similarly, right from the start of the first lockdown, Spuerkeess granted requesting local businesses a suspension of payments on their financing to bolster their cash flow. The bank authorised a total of 4,400 moratoriums in 2020, over 2,000 of which were for its professional clients.
Through its support for the wide-ranging aid plan introduced by the government and its participation in the initiatives rolled out by other players such as professional mutual insurers, Spuerkeess confirmed its role as a responsible financial partner that contributes to the Luxembourg economy. The bank’s management and supervisory bodies closely monitored the situation to constantly ensure that relevant measures were in place with respect to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The real estate loans business was impacted by the crisis on a temporary basis only and even during the first lockdown the bank continued to make it possible for clients to carry out their real estate projects and sign housing loan contracts. Housing loan volumes were up 7.9% in 2020.
The bank also continued to support young people with a 6.5% increase in student loans.
With institutional clients, Spuerkeess’ total assets stood at €74.5 billion, including €50.4 billion in third-party assets in the form of securities and €12.5 billion in liquid funds. Institutional client assets rose €4.8 billion year on year, for an increase of 6.8%.
In addition to the launch of an EcoPrêt campaign to support clients in their efforts to build and renovate in line with energy performance requirements, Spuerkeess stepped up its digital transformation in 2020. S-Net was enhanced with new functionalities to make it more user-friendly for clients.
2020 also saw Spuerkeess receive several awards, such as The Banker and Global Finance's “Bank of the Year 2020 - Luxembourg” and “Best Bank 2020 -
Luxembourg”, as well as the “Top Brand Luxembourg 2020” prize in the “Favourite Bank” category.