Bank of Valletta plc (BOV) on Thursday appointed Nicola Angeli and Robert Suban as Non-Executive Directors, following its 49th Annual General Meeting.
During the meeting, BOV Chairman Gordon Cordina and CEO Kenneth Farrugia, together with the bank’s Directors, met shareholders to answer a number of queries. Dr Cordina gave an in-depth insight into the current economic scenario, providing the context to the financial performance of BOV Group in 2022 and the decision to not propose a dividend for the year. Mr Farrugia highlighted the milestones BOV achieved in the past financial year, while also giving an overview of the strategic planned initiatives for the current year and beyond.
Additionally, Antonio Piras and Alfred Lupi were not seeking re-appointment on the Board of Directors, leaving two Non-Executive Director positions vacant. In this respect, Ms Angeli has been nominated for one of the roles, and her appointment is subject to regulatory approval and will become effective from the date of approval.
The other post has been filled by Dr Suban, who submitted the only valid nomination for the role. He was deemed “fit and proper” for the position, and regulatory approval for his appointment has already been obtained.
Addressing shareholders during the meeting, Dr Cordina commented about the economic scenario within which BOV operates, providing an insightful backdrop to the group’s financial performance in 2022, during which time it recorded €48.7 million in pre-tax profit, a 39 per cent decrease in profitability from 2021’s €80.7 million.
He highlighted the local economy’s growth, current low unemployment rates, the slowdown in the rate of inflation, and the continued strength of the property market. Dr Cordina remarked that this context further emphasises BOV’s “strength”, with its balance sheet being over 80 per cent of Malta’s GDP, and is growing “in line with the economy”.
He also delved into the bank’s decision to keep interest rates unchanged despite the pressure brought about by back-to-back increases by the European Central Bank.
“The higher interest rate scenario brough income-earning opportunities to the bank from treasury operations and the Euribor-linked segment of its credit portfolio. For as long as the bank continues to be sustained by a very substantial deposit base, it will not need to pass higher interest rates on to deposits and loans, particularly as the bank is now saving on the costs of excess liquidity which it used to incur in a negative interest rate scenario,” Dr Cordina explained.
He went on to say that “when setting its interest rate and product offering, BOV will remain committed to strike the right balance among all its stakeholders, while ensuring that changes are gradual and well communicated.”
Additionally, he highlighted the closing off of the Deiulemar litigation, Malta’s removal from the FATF’s grey list, and the successful issue of the Senior Callable Non-Preferred Notes on the international markets as three “important milestones” BOV achieved in 2022.
Looking forward, Dr Cordina noted: “We are focused on fulfilling our unique role in Malta by focusing on our core activities to provide enhanced value, fortifying our risk management to meet evolving regulatory requirements, safeguarding the bank’s reputation and instilling ESG good practices.”
During his address, Mr Farrugia expressed gratitude to the bank’s shareholders, employees, and fellow Board and Executive Committee Members for the “sound performance” the group registered in 2022, despite several “challenges”, particularly resulting from the Deiulemar settlement and Malta’s exit from the FATF grey listing episode.
Mr Farrugia said that the bank is in the third and final year of its current strategic journey and is in the process of developing a new strategy for the next three years. He highlighted a number of improvements which the bank took forward so far, such as the re-engineering and streamlining of processes to deliver customer service improvements.
“Through the bank’s digitalisation efforts, we have already seen early signs of benefit in terms of faster growth in investment and lending businesses, where digital solutions such as the Home Loans Digital Portal provide customers with enhanced ease of access and service delivery. Other initiatives include the introduction of longer opening hours in 10 of its branches and preferential servicing times to the elderly in our society every Friday and Saturday,” he explained.
Additionally, he went on to mention improvements registered in a number of customer touchpoints. “The branch modernisation programme kicked off in 2021 and is making headway. Five branches are now fully renovated with a refreshed, eco-friendly, and customer-centric layout. We shall continue streamlining our operations to provide a more rapid service and improve efficiency.”
“In our efforts to offer more value to our customers, a series of Investor Education sessions have recently been launched, seeing the bank taking a leading role in promoting financial literacy, acting as a catalyst in improving financial knowledge, and helping customers make more informed decisions when managing their finances,” Mr Farrugia added.
He also noted that the bank offers an “extensive investment offering”, which includes “professional advice and expertise” to those customers seeking viable alternatives to traditional deposit instruments.
Mr Farrugia also commented on the bank’s leadership initiatives on ESG matters, citing “increasing efforts” in embedding ESG within the operations and business of the bank. BOV’s aim is to “instil a sense of responsibility towards ESG” in the bank’s everyday practices, among customers, staff members, and other stakeholders. He referred amongst others to the branch renovation which is driven by the use of recyclable material and smart lighting, the introduction of “highly favourable terms” on eco-financing loan products for personal customers, and equally the introduction last December of a Business Energy Loan which comes with a “fully subsidised interest rate” for eligible corporate clients.
The bank’s Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programme is another initiative that is having a positive impact on society, having offered its support to various initiatives. These include the national fundraising event BOV Istrina Piggy Bank Campaign, restoration works on statues at Ta’ Ġieżu in Valletta and the restoration of the masterpieces of Emvin Cremona at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish Church in Paola, the latter aimed at safeguarding our national heritage. BOV also supports major sports leagues, such as the BOV Premier League, as well as the national water polo and basketball leagues. On the education front, the bank lends its support to initiatives such as the Dean’s List and the BOV Prize in Medicine within University of Malta.
Mr Farrugia concluded by saying that the “way forward” for the bank is to “sustain the momentum” and to “continue to build” on the solid foundations being laid today.
BOV CEO Kenneth Farrugia during the AGM