Comments from the CEO
All time high in customer growth and net inflow of capital
The fourth quarter was a worthy end to a fantastic year in terms of growth. With 16,000 new customers and net inflow of capital of SEK 5,900 m, this is the strongest growth we have ever achieved in any one quarter. Furthermore, new highs have been achieved in both customer inflow, with 55,000 new customers (33,200), and in net inflow of capital, by SEK 20,100 (10,900) m, for the whole of 2014. The 8.9 per cent of net inflow of capital into the Swedish savings market means that after the third quarter we have significantly exceeded our long-term goal to achieve a minimum 7 per cent.
The strong growth is also apparent, despite falling market interest rates, in the operating profit where SEK 82 m for the quarter represents an increase of 28 per cent compared with the previous year. The primary reason for this is increased trading activity, as due to prevailing low interest rates our customers looked for returns on the Stockholm Stock Exchange; a market place which has acted as a good harbour for investment during 2014 with a total return of 16 per cent. The strong stock climate is also reflected in an exceptionally strong quarter for our Corporate Finance Department, which more than tripled its income compared with the previous year. An important reason for this is our much stronger position in the retail market and our much greater savings capital, which makes us more attractive for future share issues and other commissions.
2014 operating profit increases by 34 per cent despite pressure on net interest income
With the strong net inflow of capital behind us, we managed to achieve an increase in savings capital of 26 per cent for the year, which together with increased trading activity contributed to an increase in operating incomes of 17 per cent, despite slightly declining net interest income in the slipstream of the falling repo rate. We thereby strengthened the operating profit for the year, before provisions for VAT, by 34 per cent to SEK 304 m. A continued focus on cost control and ongoing efficiency improvements also mean that the cost to savings capital ratio during the year reduced by 18 per cent from 38 to 31 basis points and the operating margin thereby increased from 38 to 43 per cent.
Sweden's most satisfied savers for the fifth year in a row
In the previous quarter I wrote that we should continue to strengthen our leadership within savings and investments; which we did with the launch of our new price plan during the fourth quarter. We are now the only Swedish bank that offers share trading with a minimum one krona brokerage, which has led to an increased customer inflow at the end of the year and the receipt of Privata Affärer's award of "Price Presser of the Year". Our most gratifying achievement, however, was winning the Swedish Quality Index's (SKI) award for "Sweden's most satisfied customers within savings" for the fifth year in a row in December. For the first time we also won all seven sub-categories, including loyalty, product quality and service. Customer satisfaction is, and will continue to be, our most important focus and the SKI award is the ultimate evidence that our work to create a better alternative for the country's savers is bearing fruit.
Increased capital requirement taken into account
The new Basel III and Solvency II regulations entail increased capital requirements in the years ahead for both the bank and the insurance company. An almost doubled growth rate during 2014, combined with continued favourable growth conditions for 2015, is expected to increase capital needs still further. This means that for 2014 we are choosing not to retain the high dividend payout rate we have had in recent years. The Board's dividend proposal for 2014 is therefore 7 SEK per share, equivalent to 81 per cent of the annual profit, in accordance with our aim to distribute a minimum of 70 per cent of profits to the shareholders.
During the fourth quarter, we started to more actively handle our excess liquidity in order to achieve better capital efficiency than in the past.
Focus in 2015
In 2015 the focus of our operations will be on three main areas: maintaining the company's strong rate of growth, developing our mobile presence (this should be ready by the summer) and continuing to achieve further efficiencies to improve scalability and quality. As part of this, we are opening a new sales office in Malmö, specialising in pensions and private banking in January, as planned. We are also continuously initiating and evaluating new innovations. However, sound cost control continues to be critical in enabling us to get on and remain competitive moving forwards. We are clearly on the right path in this area.
The strong finish to 2014 in terms of trading activity and net inflow has continued during the beginning of 2015. So, another exciting year ahead.
Stockholm, 21 January 2015
Martin Tivéus, CEO Avanza