News Column

Leumi CEO draws line under US tax probe affair

August 7, 2014

By Irit Avissar, Globes, Tel Aviv, Israel



Aug. 07--"We'll make a provision for NIS 460 million more in the next quarter for the US customers. We're glad that this subject is behind us, and we can set aside the uncertainty. Ending the affair is important to us, and constitutes a substantial competitive advantage for us. Keep in mind that there are other banks around the world involved in the investigation," Bank Leumi (TASE: LUMI) President and CEO Rakefet Russak-Aminoach said today at the bank's annual shareholders meeting.

Russak-Aminoach was commenting on the investigation into the bank by US authorities on suspicion of abetting tax evasion by its US customers. The bank is expected to make a total provision of NIS 1.1 billion in the matter. A substantial proportion of this provision will be made in the bank's second quarter statements scheduled for publication in two weeks time. There is a list of banks being subjected to such investigations, including Israeli banks Bank Hapoalim (TASE: POLI) and Mizrahi Tefahot Bank (TASE:MZTF).

Russak-Aminoach commented on Bank Leumi's global activity, noting that this activity was being cut back, including the closure of overseas offices. "We don't regard ourselves as a global bank; we're an Israeli bank that serves its Israeli customers. We're returning to the bank's basic business, but today's basis is not the same basis as in the past," she said.

She stated that the banks were coping with a trend towards lower revenue. "The drop in revenue is a result of several causes, including Basel 3, the current account fees baskets, and the low interest rate. At the same time, the regulator is causing a rise in expenses," she explained.

She added, "As a result, we are rebuilding our core business in accordance with the new reality. This reality includes two types of customers: the older generation, which is accustomed to traditional banking services, and a younger generation, which is looking for a new banking that relies more on digital elements."

Focus on elections to the board of directors

Russak-Aminoach also addressed the cost cutting she was promoting at Bank Leumi, saying, "We have reduced staff at the ban. We will end 2014 with 12,700 employees in the group, a 1,000 reduction over three years. This process is taking place quietly in cooperation with the workers committee. Cost cutting is also reflected in the area of technology. IT spending already went down last year, and this downtrend is expected to persist.

Russak-Aminoach also spoke about the bank's policy on non-financial investments. In the past, Bank Leumi was known for its rather broad investment portfolio. In recent years, however, the bank has been cutting back in this area. "Strategically, we don't think it is necessary to hedge the results of banking activity with non-financial business. We'll go on making non-financial investments, but we certainly don't see ourselves relying on them," she commented.

Russak-Aminoach was speaking at Bank Leumi's annual shareholders' meeting. Several matters were on the agenda, but the election of the bank's board of directors drew the most attention. Four new directors are to be chosen: two ordinary directors and two external directors. Publication of the election results is expected tonight.

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(c)2014 the Globes (Tel Aviv, Israel)

Visit the Globes (Tel Aviv, Israel) at www.globes.co.il/serveen/globes/nodeview.asp?fid=942

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Source: Globes (Tel Aviv)


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