2017 was a year of positive economic developments on a global scale. World trade expanded at a faster rate than global economic growth. This positive trend also translated into increased profitability. Market volatility has been limited compared to the last few years. The USD index remained low due to geopolitical developments, low inflation and moderate interest rates. With low volatility and a weak USD exchange rate, fund flows to developing countries reached their highest level over the last three years. Geopolitical developments, EU policies following the Brexit referendum, changes in the Fed, BoJ and ECB balance sheets were other major issues during the year.

Despite some geopolitical challenges in 2017, Turkey showed resilience and took its place among the fastest growing economies in the world. On the back of strong GDP growth, unemployment declined significantly. The increase in employment, in turn, boosted purchasing power. The banking industry continued to perform strongly in 2017 thanks to the positive impact of CGF incentives on lending.

Akbank recorded a remarkable performance this year as well. The bank set itself apart with its strong growth rate, effective risk management and high asset quality. We continued our support to the economy with our robust balance sheet and long-term funds secured from abroad. In 2017, our total assets grew 16.0% to TL 342 billion. We increased our deposits by 15.8% year-on-year to over TL 201 billion.

In 2017, the Bank set aside a tax provision of TL 1.6 billion from gross profit of TL 7.7 billion, posting net consolidated profit of TL 6 billion. We provided the domestic economy with TL 261 billion in loans, TL 209 billion of which consisted of cash loans. This year, our support to the real economy in the form of SME loans and corporate loans rose a remarkable 19.5% to TL 166 billion.

The Bank's strong capital structure makes it easy for us to make important investments in the future. In 2017, we invested about USD 150 million in cutting-edge technology to provide the best services to our customers, recruit the best talent in the country, extend the innovation culture across the organization and help current employees adapt to our new ways of doing business. Last year, we also broke ground on the Akbank Data and Life Center – an investment totaling USD 250 million. The Center is designed to host Akbank's entire technology infrastructure, monitor all Bank operations 24/7 with the latest technologies and provide uninterrupted services to our clients. Our largest one-off investment to date, Akbank Data and Life Center is scheduled for completion in 2019.

In addition to the wide range of technology-related investments we make in-house, we also undertake innovation-focused collaborations with leading technology companies in Turkey and worldwide. In 2017, we rapidly translated global technological innovations into banking practices and established Akbank LAB, which will provide us a significant advantage in our mission to pioneer banking of the future. To deliver an exceptional banking experience to our customers, we plan to continue adopting innovative practices.

The performance of Akbank and the brand earned the approval of international institutions again. We also won the "Best Bank in Turkey" award from the sector's leading publications, including Euromoney, Global Finance, EMEA Finance, and World Finance in 2017. In addition, Akbank was named "The Most Valuable Banking Brand in Turkey" in Brand Finance's research for the sixth consecutive year.

We recognize that we must employ the best human capital to excel and succeed in our industry. To this end, we created a work environment that will appeal to Turkey's most innovative and visionary youth. Our dynamic and transparent corporate culture integrates all employees into our innovation process. Talented individuals who have made technology a way of life and serve as pioneers in innovation, enjoy an environment at the Bank where they can realize their potential in a much more effective manner. The workspaces we have restructured or developed from scratch are part of this change. With projects to come in future years, we will continue investing in our human capital at full speed.

Creating sustainable value for our stakeholders, our country, our shareholders, our employees and our customers is our number one social responsibility. Understanding that education, arts, culture and entrepreneurship are the main factors that foster creativity and innovation culture in a country, we devise and implement numerous initiatives to this end. These projects are fostered by volunteer efforts of Akbank staff and stakeholders. As part of the volunteer-driven projects we undertook this year, we organized nearly 150 activities with the participation of some 400 Akbank volunteers and reached 50 thousand students.

In the coming period, we will continue taking major steps forward with a transparent banking approach that places trust above all else. We plan to make further efforts to add significant value to our economy, society and culture, while continuing our ground-breaking initiatives in banking. I extend my gratitude to our valued customers, shareholders and employees for our stable and strong performance.

We strive to cultivate a creative and innovative generation to help our nation assume its rightful place in terms of socio-cultural and economic development. We believe that our actions will inspire new generations that are even more free-thinking, productive, courageous, creative, and who think outside the box and go beyond borders. To foster a Turkish arts and cultural environment that inspires the whole world, we will continue our activities in the future with the same pride and forward-looking ambition.