- Over 70% of its branches kept open during lockdown
- Reports 10.9% credit growth during Q1-2020 alone, compared with industry growth of 5.0%
- One of the first banks to act on CBSL relief program
- Uninterrupted banking access from onset of lockdown
- Uncompromised dedication to health and safety standards
There are responsibilities that are inherent for a State bank when it comes to a national crises. The almost complete closure of the Sri Lankan economy since the COVID-19 lock-down on 16 March was surely a national crisis bringing about unprecedented challenges, with a fear of the financial distress to come and the unknown.
For People’s Bank, a trait that has always remained at the heart of its business, is the unrelenting drive to serve the nation in any circumstance, and with COVID-19 bringing with it financial distress, the bank took action. It did this with the support from its entire Board of Directors, senior management and team showcasing its unbridled dedication to maintaining business as usual, with the highest levels of engagement, providing 24/7 accessibility throughout.
There was never a time People’s Bank closed its doors. Its ethos of being the bank for the people, which runs strongly in its veins, saw over 70% of all its branches and all its self-banking units being fully operational, while ensuring absolute health and safety measures being implemented for team members and customers visiting the branches and self service centres.
Customer service support hotlines functioned all throughout the lock-down too, all POS machines were kept active and over 400 locations were visited by the bank’s Mobile Banking Units, which facilitated over Rs. 200 million in withdrawals for cash-strapped customers in some of the most remote parts in the country. Online engagement via multiple social media channels significantly enhanced the Bank’s visibility and brand strength.
It was also among the first banks in the country to act on the CBSL relief package offering over 400,000 of its retail customers financial relief in a time of need, while also being in the process of disbursing nearly 4,100 applications for working capital loans to small business owners, amounting to approximately Rs. 8.5 billion.
Whilst these are yet in process, further are expected to be processed in the near term. Further to ease customer engagement, People’s Bank established a dedicated customer care unit to answer queries on the CBSL relief programs and was amongst the first to accept customer requests, the circumstances considered – via SMS, WhatsApp and even Viber.
Aligned with the directive, the bank stopped all deductions and refunded most instalments already deducted for the month of March. All pawning auctions were halted too and any penalties across products were fully waived during the said period. Credit card minimum payments were reduced by 50%.
Heeding the clarion call of the Government to assist areas of the economy facing dire straits, the bank extended over Rs. 150 billion in financial facilities, of which over Rs. 140 billion disbursed to the State and other State owned enterprises.
In this context, it must be pointed out that, during the first three months of 2020, the bank recorded a credit growth of 10.9%, as compared with 5.0% reported growth of the industry during the same period. In addition, with its public sector responsibility and private sector mindset, People’s Bank was called upon to add its expert opinions via its Chairman Sujeewa Rajapakse who was appointed by the President to an expert panel to devise on economic and business strategy from a banking and financial services perspective.
And meanwhile, the product portfolio expanded, timely and well thought out. The Aswenna loan scheme specifically aimed at making the agriculture, fisheries and animal husbandry value chain self-sufficient was relaunched.
Sarusara, a comprehensive rural credit scheme and Vanitha Saviya a loan scheme for micro and small scale women entrepreneurs, too was initiated with much success. With working from home and schooling from home becoming the norm, People’s Bank also extended several schemes in technology facilitation for teachers, undergraduates of the medical, engineering and IT faculties and law and accountancy firms.
Reiterating the significant contribution made to the economy by migrant workers, People’s Bank aligned with a CBSL directive and launched a special deposit account with a very attractive interest rate to encourage inward remittances and higher levels of retention.
The bank also ensured there was no interruption in overall payment flows even during the height of the lock-down with all inward, outward and IBT SLIPS transactions carried out even during the most difficult circumstances
In addition, early this month, People’s Bank undertook the responsibility of facilitating repayments to the aggrieved depositors of The Finance Company Ltd. from CBSL’s deposit insurance fund. There are around 60 branches expected to make distributions close to 143,000 depositors of the Finance Company Ltd.
The bank for the people is manned by a highly motivated team who deserve kudos for their dedication in continuing business as usual in unusual times. This dedication therefore came with rewards. The bank’s staff were also provided relief from loan deductions.
The bank is now exploring newer initiatives for working conditions suited for the ‘new normal’ including flexible working hours and increasing online working collaboration. Its commitment to serve its customers remains unwavering and its drive for betterment even under difficult circumstances remains unrelenting.