* Bad loans drop by more than 50 percent
* Bank’s interest margin improves to 1.53 pct
* Cost trimming in the Netherlands bears fruit (Updates with details on reasons for beat)
AMSTERDAM, Nov 2 (Reuters) - ING Groep NV, the largest Dutch financial services firm, reported better-than-expected third-quarter earnings on Thursday as it won customers, grew its loan book and improved interest margins.
Continuing a string of successes as ING invests more aggressively in its mobile banking platform and online services while trimming costs from physical offices, its quarterly profit and loss figures were also helped by fewer bad loans.
Underlying pretax profit was 2.0 billion euros, versus 1.88 billion euros in the same period a year ago. Analysts polled for Reuters had expected a figure of 1.83 billion euros.
“Overall, we’ve seen good commercial growth in the third quarter, with 8.0 billion euros of net core lending growth at stable margins and a 4.2 billion euro increase in net customer deposits,” CEO Ralph Hamers said in a statement.
The company’s net interest margin improved to 1.53 percent from 1.50, while its cost/income ratio, a closely-watched measure of a bank’s efficiency, improved to 53.8 percent from 56.5 percent.
Provisions for bad loans were cut in half to 124 million euros from 265 million euros as the European economy has improved and the Dutch economy is growing at better than 2 percent, among the fastest in the EU.
ING, which has been growing quickly in Germany, added 400,000 customers globally during the quarter and now has 36.9 million in all. ($1 = 0.8582 euros) (Reporting by Toby Sterling; Editing by Richard Pullin)