Equitable is Canada's Challenger Bank™, a description we use to capture the way in which this organization strives to be different and better for all customers.
In the housing market, your Bank plays an important societal role by lending to business-for-self borrowers and new Canadians purchasing their first homes. In commercial real estate, we deliver financing solutions that borrowers tell us they cannot get from other institutions as they seek to invest in a variety of assets including apartments, student residences, offices and plazas. In our deposit businesses, we pay great savings rates that help our customers meet their personal financial goals while providing unparalleled convenience through the award-winning digital capabilities present in our EQ Bank platform.
In every market, we strive to challenge conventional approaches to banking, make responsive service our calling card and employ growth strategies to deliver results without taking unnecessary risks.
Achieving record results
In 2018, Equitable executed well on these strategies. As a result, more customers than ever chose to bank with us, which is reflected in record savings deposits and assets as well as best-ever earnings.
Capital deployment decisions were shaped by management's insightful assessments of evolving retail and commercial market opportunities and by the successful acquisition of Bennington Financial Services, which closed on January 1, 2019. On the strength of sound decision making, Equitable maintained excellent loan-to-value and loss ratios and, while growing, kept the Bank's capital ratios above targeted levels.
As a sign of confidence in the Bank's financial position and outlook, in February 2019, the Board approved the 12th increase in our common share dividend in the past five years.
Diversifying with purpose
Part of building out Canada’s Challenger Bank is to create a more diverse set of customer services. In 2018 and early 2019, Equitable planted the seeds for long-term growth in new areas that offer exciting potential including reverse mortgages, Cash Surrender Value loans and equipment finance. We also added new savings products to EQ Bank and forged new partnerships with fintech leaders.
Providing good governance
As we diversify our markets, and more deeply engage in digital banking, Equitable's risk profile is changing. Through ongoing Director education, adherence to the latest best practices in governance and succession planning, your Board is proactively responding to this change to ensure the stewardship we provide remains relevant and effective.
The appointment of Susan Ericksen to our Board in November reflects our commitment to strengthening the Bank's governance. During her 35-year career, Sue served as Managing Director, Global Technology Operations at The Coca-Cola Company, and in similar executive positions at New York Life and Fiserve, a global fintech leader. Her experience will be most helpful as Equitable uses technology more widely in pursuing our core purpose.
Challenging plans and assumptions
Your Board members have the independence, expertise and diverse business and personal experiences necessary to confidently challenge management's assumptions, question strategic plans and ensure those plans are implemented in tandem with appropriate risk management measures.
Carrying out our role involves healthy, productive debate with each other and with management as we formulate the Bank's responses to customer, shareholder, employee and regulator needs and develop an approach to business that addresses broader societal concerns in areas such as open banking (a system to support greater financial services' competition and consumer choice). I encourage you to review our Public Accountability Statement for more information on how we meet our social responsibilities.
Fortunately, our job is made easier by the calibre of all who work for the Bank, including our senior leaders under Andrew Moor's capable direction. These proven professionals believe, as does our Board, in fostering a culture that values personal accountability and demands nothing less than complete fidelity to the principles of honesty and transparency.
One of the principles of good governance is shareholder engagement. Our annual meeting, set for May 15, 2019 at 10 am Eastern at the Bank's headquarters (30. St. Clair Avenue West, Toronto), provides an opportunity for all shareholders to engage with your Board and management. However, the Board is committed to other forms of shareholder engagement and in that sense, our door is always open.
I thank the entire Equitable team and my fellow Directors for the extraordinary efforts they made throughout the year in building the capabilities of Canada’s Challenger Bank. Our workforce of over 830 is not large by bank industry standards, but it is incredibly efficient, effective and caring. Once again, the Equitable workplace was named one of the best in Canada in an independent survey, an honour that speaks to our deeply held belief in the value of investing in our employees.
I also extend my deep appreciation to our customers, business partners and shareholders. Your confidence in Equitable is well placed.