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Big increase in bank's lending to Scots SMEs

SANTANDER'S UK arm says it has increased lending to Scottish small and medium enterprises (SMEs) by 71%.

STRENGTHENING: Santander UK CEO Ana Botin praised the UK economic recovery. Picture: Mark Mainz
STRENGTHENING: Santander UK CEO Ana Botin praised the UK economic recovery. Picture: Mark Mainz

Although the bank declined to give a total figure for its activities in Scotland, it did outline that it advanced £305 million of new facilities to SME customers in 2013; a rise of more than 90% from the £160m of the previous year.

It said the majority of the increase in its total Scottish lending came from new customers, with a smaller proportion coming through existing clients that have negotiated additional borrowing.

Santander's corporate team worked on deals for the likes of family owned builder M&K MacLeod, RAD Hotels and Findlater's Fine Foods in the year.

It also completed its biggest corporate lending deal to date in Scotland with a £40m facility for property developer James Keiller Investments.

The Scottish data came as Santander UK reported a small fall in annual profits for 2013 but suggested it was still confident of growing its corporate and retail divisions this year.

The bank reiterated there were "no current plans" for a stock market flotation of the UK business but a listing is a "medium-term objective" with some analysts expecting things to start happening in 2015.

Commercial banking loans grew by 12% to £22.1bn last year with total SME lending said to have increased by 10% to £11.7bn.

Mortgages fell from £156.6bn to £148.8bn as Santander, which has dozens of branches across Scotland, continues to exit some parts of that market that it perceives to be riskier, such as higher loan to value and interest only products.

Pre-tax profits in the UK were at £1.14bn, marginally down from the almost £1.15bn posted in 2012.

The three months between October 1 and December 31 saw a profit of £248m, which was far ahead of the £107m booked for the same period in the previous year.

Ana Botin, Santander UK chief executive, said: "The UK economic recovery is strengthening, although uncertainties remain in the banking environment for the year ahead.

"This year we will continue with our significant investment in strategic initiatives to expand further our commercial businesses, to improve our retail banking offering and enhance the experience of our customers interacting with us across all channels.

"We will continue to support our customers and the broader economy.Our intention is to grow both our commercial and retail lending in 2014."

The retail bank was the biggest driver of annual profit as it went from £1.26bn to close to £1.6bn. The commercial arm saw its pre-tax profit drop from £327m to £273m. This was mainly as a result of an 18% hike in expenses to £318m caused by investment in staff, IT and premises.

Santander also benefited from lower bad debt and compensation provisions. It signalled volumes of payment protection insurance complaints dropped by 29% with monthly redress costs at an average of £11m per month in the final three months of 2013, against an average of £26m across 2012.

There was still £222m held at the year end for potential compensation in areas including interest rate hedging and card protection plans.

Spanish parent Banco Santander also revealed a marked turnaround in fortunes, with full-year profits nearly doubling to €4.37bn (£3.6bn) from €2.29bn (£1.9bn) in 2012 thanks to sharply lower bad debts.

Chief executive Javier Marin confirmed the UK business would not float in 2014 and that he was pleased with how the repositioning to focus on more small and medium sized clients was going.

The UK delivered around 17% of Banco Santander's annual profits, second only to Brazil which brought in 23%.

Separately there has been speculation Royal Bank of Scotland could sell its RBS Securities arm, formerly called RBS Greenwich Capital, to reduce the claims on its capital.

Reports say the American trading business could fetch up to £1bn.

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