QNB Group, the leading bank in the Middle East and North Africa, has announced a nine-month profit of $2.2bn, up 12.6% year-on-year – a period that also witnessed the $506m acquisition of a 23.5% stake in Togo-based pan-African lender Ecobank.

In its report, the group cited its maintenance of an efficiency ratio (cost to income ratio) of 20.9%, which is considered one of the best ratios among financial institutions in the region.

Together with the Ecobank transactions, QNB’s total assets increased by 8.8% from September 2013 to reach $130.6bn – the largest rise ever achieved by the group – in part the result of a growth rate of 8.1% in loans and advances to reach $90.3bn.

The Group was able to maintain the ratio of non-performing loans to gross loans at 1.6%, a level considered one of the lowest amongst banks in the Middle East and Africa, while QNB’s conservative policy on provisioning saw its coverage ratio hit 124% in September 2014.

In September 2014 QNB made a move on Sub-Saharan markets by acquired a 23.5% stake (comprising both ordinary and QNB convertible preference shares) in Ecobank Transnational Incorporated (Ecobank), the second largest pan-African bank after Standard Bank.

With 1,241 branches, 18,745 ATMS and POS terminals, 20,114 employees and 10.8 million customers in June 2014, Ecobank is a strategic partner for QNB and marks a significant step towards QNB’s target of being the largest institution in the Middle East and Africa by 2017.

QNB’s share in Ecobank has subsequently been reduced to 20% in line with limits set by the board and following a corresponding acquisition of a 20% stake in Ecobank by Nedbank, which proceeded with a stock option to purchase shares in the lender at a 4% discount.