By CONRAD ONYANGO Cooperative Bank is bracing itself to be the lead financial lender in the country after posting 20 percent growth in its pre-tax profits for the last three months. The bank posted Sh 1.96billion in profits compared to last years Sh 1.64 billion after being taxed. This was attributed to increased lending to both individuals and companies which the bank said will leverage on in the year. “The successful strategy of increasing our customer numbers thus increasing the transaction based incomes is expected to be the key driver of our performance for the rest of the year,” said Cooperative Bank, Group Managing Director, Gideon Muriuki. The bank’s total customer deposits rose to Sh145.9 billion from Sh135.9 billion in March 2011, a growth of Sh10 billion representing 7.3percent growth in deposits. “The growth was well supported by the increased client base of over 2.7 million account holders from 1.8 million accounts in March 201,” added Muriuki in a statement. Cooperative bank is now at per with Barclays bank in terms of profits margins, with Barclays standing at Sh 1.9billion according to its first quarter results. Equity bank still leads the pack after it increased its net profits by 13 percent to settle at Sh 2.63billion followed by KCB after it posted Sh 36.7 percent to stand at Sh 2.42 billion in net profits for the last quarter. Cooperative bank comes fourth after Standard charted bank, with a net income of Sh 11.88 billion a 29 percent jump from the previous period when it recorded Sh9.19 billion. The two are sleeving up for a battle of the positions as standard charted announced it will open two outlets in the course of the year and another six next year. Cooperative, is currently eyeing at setting shop in the newest kid on the East African Bloc, South Sudan, a move the bank views will position it at a competitive edge with the top three lenders in the country. The latter have subsidiaries across the bloc. However, despite the impressive results by the bank, its operational costs increased by 28 percent mainly attributable to branch expansion strategies and recruitment of staff. “Focusing mainly on staff rationalization which saw the redeployment of staff to the newly opened branches,Other cost areas are being consistently reviewed and monitored and any cost overruns eliminated to manage on the expenses” added Muriuki.