KUALA LUMPUR: ALLIANCE FINANCIAL GROUP BHD (AFG), the smallest financial institution in terms of asset size, has dismissed speculation that it is the subject of a merger.
The bank, which has seen some changes in shareholding, said it was financially sound and looking to lift its returns to shareholders.
“I would just like to say that small is beautiful. We are absolutely certain that we are a very sound and sustainable financial group. We believe that with the investments we are making, we would actually be able to lift our return on equity (RoE),” group chief executive officer Joel Kornreich said at a press conference after its AGM and EGM.
“Three years back, our goal was 15% (RoE). I think maybe that was not quite realistic, but we are definitely aiming for 11%-12% as a very sustainable level for us,” Kornreich added.
Banking merger fever has picked up again in the Malaysian financial industry following the proposed exercises between RHB Bank Bhd and AMMB HOLDINGS BHD; and MALAYSIA BUILDING SOCIETY BHD and Asian Finance Bank Bhd.
AFG chairman Datuk Oh Chong Peng said that as far as it knew, nobody was courting it and nobody has said anything about wanting to take over or anything like that.
“Nothing is in the pipeline as far as we (the board of directors) know. But we don’t know what the shareholders are planning, as they could have something at their level which we have no clue to,” Oh said.
Pertaining to possible mergers down the road, Kornreich said nobody could predict or control the future, while also highlighting that the bank’s fundamentals remained sound.
“We see that the bank is sustainable the way it is now, and we will invest to make it more efficient and profitable. In other words, we can definitely live a single (life), and well if somebody wants to marry us, then that happens when it happens. However, we don’t want to speculate on that. We just know now that we can live very well as a single person and then we’ll see,” Kornreich said.
It was reported in StarBizWeek in early June that AFG could be ripe for a merger and could be a good fit for Affin Bank Bhd, which is small but has a strong institutional shareholder in the Armed Forces Fund Board or LTAT.
There were some changes in the shareholding structure of AFG last year, suggesting that there could be merger and acquisition-related developments for the bank, the report said.
Last year, three individuals – financial corporate adviser Seow Lun Hoo, Singapore property tycoon Ong Beng Seng and Ong Tiong Sin, who owns Singapore-based private equity firm RRJ Capital – had bought into Langkah Bahagia Sdn Bhd from Lutfiah Ismail, an associate of former finance minister Tun Daim Zainuddin.
Langkah Bahagia holds a 51% stake in Vertical Theme Sdn Bhd, the single largest shareholder in AFG with a 29.5% stake.
The remaining 49% stake in Vertical Theme is controlled by Duxton Investments Pte Ltd, which, in turn, is owned by Temasek Holdings Pte Ltd, Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund.
Langkah Bahagia’s effective stake in AFG is 15.04%. The three individuals separately bought the 15.04% in AFG.
Meanwhile, Kornreich also said the bank’s major shareholders were very supportive of management’s plans to ensure the bank is run in a more efficient way.
“This also includes growing the bank and they have a long-term view. So, basically, the major shareholders and also the other shareholders that we talk to are supportive of the initiatives to modernise the bank and ensure that it is sustainable. We pride ourselves on being stable and sustainable; and we will continue to do this,” Kornreich said.
He said AFG would be making exceptional investments of some RM90mil in financial year 2018 (FY18) that would go into the sales force (50%), technology (20%) and marketing (30%).
“These are for the Alliance One Account’s sales force, Cash2Home, which we just launched. We will also be launching retail solutions for retail businesses. We will be significantly reorganising our branch network and will also be launching the digital bank and these will require significant investments,” Kornreich said.
“These exceptional investments are under operating expenses and will hit our profit and loss (statements) in the coming year,” he added.
The bank, meanwhile, is targeting overall portfolio loan growth in the mid-single digits, while revenue growth would be in the “mid to slightly higher” single-digit revenue growth in FY18 ending March 31.
“We will continue to see strong and steady loan growth in the commercial and corporate segments, while for small and medium enterprises, it would be at about 14%, which is quite significant. In the consumer segment, it is going to be more mixed, where we will see the (impact) on the hire purchase portfolio and we are not putting any emphasis on that. We will continue to see strong growth in the personal loan portfolio,” he said.
“Towards the end of the year, you will see a significant change in the trajectory of our mortgages, where in the last couple of years, the growth in mortgages has actually tapered off and the portfolio has actually contracted in the last year. However, with our Alliance One Account, we will be able to originate about RM1bil this FY,” he added.
All the resolutions tabled at its AGM and EGM were passed by shareholders.
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