Consumer credit finance firm Aeon Credit Service (Asia), which posted a 27.58 per cent increase in net profit to $186.11 million for last year, plans to aggressively expand its retail network and issue more credit cards to gain market share. The subsidiary of Aeon Credit Japan this year plans to open 15 branches for a total of 35 and issue about 130,000 credit cards, bringing the total to one million cards, according to managing director Masanori Kosaka. The company expected declining unemployment and rising salaries would reduce bad debts and late payments. Director Derek Lai Yuk-kwong said the company ranked third in Hong Kong with 15 per cent of the personal loan market. Last year, the company recorded a 23 per cent growth in personal loans to $1.68 billion. The average loan amount was $28,000 last year. Mr Lai said there had been a significant increase in loans for education and home improvements. Apart from personal loans, the company's other key businesses also recorded growth. Cash advances rose 14 per cent to $1.67 billion while credit card payments increased 21 per cent to $1.87 billion. With 877,000 credit cards issued, Mr Lai estimated Aeon had about 8 per cent of the credit card market in Hong Kong, where there were about 10 million credit cards in circulation. Net interest income rose 36.1 per cent to $631.58 million last year while net interest margin was 25 per cent. The funding cost was 4.7 per cent last year while the lending rate for loan customers averaged 30 per cent. Mr Lai expected the funding cost would remain stable this year at between 4 per cent and 5 per cent. Turnover rose 3.89 per cent to $912.52 million. Aeon's shares yesterday closed unchanged at $6.60.