Sterling Bank Plc recently published its audited Annual Report, and Financial Statements for the year ended 31 December 2020. While the results indicated an underperformance based on expectations and compared to the prior year, the outcome was not totally unexpected given that the bank faced severe headwinds from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Indeed, while commenting on the results, the bank’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Abubakar Suleiman, had explained that 2020 was an extraordinary year, defined by the global pandemic, which disrupted the society and severely impacted economic activities.
Gross earnings fell by 7.5 percent to N138. 9 billion (compared to N150.2 billion in 2019). The bank’s Interest income also dropped by almost 12.5 percent from N127.29 billion in 2019 to N111.45 billion in 2020. This drop is mostly attributable to a drop in interest income from loans and advances to customers, which dropped to N82.88 billion in 2020 compared to N97.89 billion for the same period in 2019. The bank’s net fees, and commission also reduced to N13.1 billion in 2021 compared to N14.61 in 2020 as Other fees and commission (mostly advisory fees) fell to N2.9 billion in 2020 (2019: N5.9 billion) while the bank’s e-business commission and fees reduced to N4.98 billion (2019: N6.79).
The bank reported that total non-performing loans (NPL) as a percentage of gross loans improved from 2.2 percent in 2019 to 1.9 percent in 2020. While this appears to be good, a closer look at the bank’s loan portfolio shows a somewhat different picture. First, loans and advances to corporate entities reduced in 2020 (corporate entities N570.88 billion and individuals N42.48 billion) compared to 2019 (corporate entities: N582.94 and individuals N48.76 billion), yet impairment allowance on loans to corporate entities and individuals increased in 2020 (N14.11 billion and N2.42 billion respectively) compared to 2019 (N11.12 billion and N1.85 billion respectively). Secondly, the bank’s credit loss expense (made up of impairment on loans and write-offs) also increased by 36 percent to N7.91 billion from N5.84 billion in 2019, thus raising the bank’s cost of risk by 10 basis points to 1 percent.
Also, during the year, the bank sold off N19.5 billion of its loans and advances portfolio to Cambridge Springs Investment Limited, hence further explaining the significant drop in its total loans and advances portfolio from N618 billion at the end of 2019 to N596 billion by the end of 2020. It is worth noting that as at the end of 2020, the bank was yet to receive consideration for the loans and advances sold to Cambridge Springs Investments Limited worth N19.5 billion as this amount appears as a receivable in the bank’s financial statement (other assets) and explains why its accounts receivable increased from N18.62 billion as at end of 2019 to N39.33 billion by the end of 2020.
Although well within regulatory limits of 30 percent, the bank’s liquidity ratio deteriorated from 39.2 percent at the end of 2019 to 33.87 percent by the end of 2020. The reduction in its total loans and advances portfolio while the total deposit liability improved explains the reduction in the loan-to-deposit ratio of 62.36 percent (2019: 65.29 percent).
It was not all bad news as the bank did very well in several areas. First, as already implied, total deposits increased by 7.5 percent to N972.12 billion at the end of 2020 compared to N892.66 billion at the end of 2019. You will also recall that the Central Bank of Nigeria directed in 2020 to all banks to reduce interest rate payable on savings deposits from a previous minimum of 30 percent of MPR to a new minimum of 10 percent of MPR, effectively reducing interest rates payable on savings account deposits from 3.75 percent to 1.25 percent per annum. During the year, it appeared that one of Sterling Bank’s strategy was to significantly reduce its interest expense, as its interest expense improved by 21.3 percent from N62.59 billion in 2019 to N49. 31 billion at the end of 2020 driven by a 39.5 percent year-on-year growth in low-cost customer deposits.
Note that the bank also increased its savings account portion of total deposit liability from 13.55 percent as at the end of 2019 to 20.5 percent by the end of 2020. The bank also significantly increased the ratio of Current and Savings Account to Total Deposit to 78.95 percent compared to 62 percent in 2019. Compared to term or fixed deposits, savings and current accounts offer the least interest to depositors. This positively and significantly impacted the bank’s cost of funds and ensured that the cost-to-income ratio declined year-on-year to 77.4 percent.
The bank did extremely well in its trading activities as its net trading income more than doubled to N11.72 billion (2019: N5.06 billion). This performance is attributable to a more than doubling of income from trading in bonds (2020: N5.07 billion; 2019: N2.53) and income foreign exchange trading (2020: N 3 billion; 2019: N415 million). Note that the bank’s foreign exchange trading income includes gains and losses from spot and forward contracts and other currency derivatives. Despite the pandemic and the other parameters earlier described, the bank was able to post N11.24 billion profit after income tax for financial year 2020 compared to N10.6 billion recorded in 2019 a 6 percent growth in profit after taxes.
There was also a significant increase in the bank’s effective tax rate or Income tax expense from less than 1 percent at the end of 2019 to over 9 percent by the end of 2020. This increase impacted its Profit after income tax which would have been much higher than the N11.24 billion reported if the same effective tax rate of 2019 had been maintained for 2020.