ING Groep, the largest Dutch financial group, on Wednesday reported better-than-expected fourth-quarter underlying pretax earnings of 1.69 billion euros ($1.93 billion), reflecting rising interest income, commissions and fees.
The results come as ING tries to put a hefty 775 million euros fine it incurred in the third quarter for poor monitoring of money laundering by clients.
Analysts polled for Reuters expected pretax earnings to come in at 1.57 billion euros for the three months ended Dec. 31, compared with 1.56 billion euros a year ago.
ING said it had won new customers despite the scandal and seen net loan growth of 3.2 billion euros. Among key banking metrics, its net interest margin was 1.56 percent, slightly worse than 1.58 percent a year ago, but its cost/income ratio improved to 57.1 percent from 59.9 percent.
"We see the need for better cost discipline as we expect lower lending in the wholesale banking division (in 2019)," CEO Ralph Hamers said in a statement.
The company said that the macroeconomic outlook globally had deteriorated but "remained robust in both Europe and the U.S."
Provisions for bad loans increased to 242 million euros, up from 190 million euros, but the bank considers both figures below average for over the economic cycle.
Despite those costs increasing, Hamers told CNBC's "Squawk Box Europe" on Wednesday that ING's unique approach to banking was helping to drive strategic, commercial and financial growth.
"If the euro zone economy isn't (growing) as fast, it may hamper some of our growth," he said. "Having said that, we have an approach to banking which is fully digital – we take market share every year, so we are generally growing fast in the market (because) we have an approach that is different to any other bank."
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