Impact of COVID-19 on credit businesses | Daily News


Impact of COVID-19 on credit businesses

The layout  of a digital bank branch
The layout of a digital bank branch

The pandemic together with depressed global setting has impacted on the economy and the financial sector in particular, have to respond carefully and indeed strategically, if it is to obviate or perhaps, avert the inevitable impacts on it. By far the greatest and most complex impact of COVID-19 for banks will be on credit management.

Emerging COVID-19 outbreak, in credit business have forced the banks to deal with many inevitable challenges. This article attempts to explain the positive and negative implications of the coronavirus pandemic on the banking credit businesses.

Credit in general is granting money for effective utilization. In other words, credit is a method of making reciprocity formal, legally enforceable, and extensible to a large group of unrelated people. A quality credit means a credit which performs well. That means recovery is forthcoming as expected. In other words, the capacity of the borrower to repay.

Credit delivery is considered to be the backbone of Banking, without which the banks cannot operate in a profitable manner. The work connected to all aspects of Credit and Credit operations could be considered as a double-edged sword. It could either create stability or instability in Banks and financial institutions, in other words it could either make or break banks and financial institutions. Meanwhile, credit as a percentage of GDP, which is an indicator of financial deepening of the economy.

Loans and advances as main contributor to total assets of the financial sector make up approximately 9.2 trillion out of the total asset base of 14 trillion, of which Banks and Licensed fiancé/ Specialised leasing companies (LFC/SLC) consist of Rs 8.1 trillion and Rs 1.1 trillion respectively.

Growth in loans decreased significantly during the year 2019. The year-on-year growth of credit to the private sector decelerated to 4.3 per cent by end December 2019 from 15.9 per cent recorded at end 2018. In absolute terms, the expansion of credit to the private sector was Rs. 236.8 billion in 2019, compared to an expansion of Rs. 762.1 billion in 2018

The COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing economic impact will lead bank credit growth to nosedive to low level during 2020, as against the 6.5 per cent achieved in the first quarter of the year. CBSL revised down the private sector credit growth target for 2020 and forecasts 4% credit growth for this year to reflect pandemic caused economic slowdown. The Central Bank however expects the private sector credit growth to accelerate to 10 percent in 2021 before matching its earlier 12-13 percent projections in the subsequent years.

Key Risks for the Sri Lankan Economy

To date, the pandemic has left an unprecedented trail of both humanitarian and economic change in all countries while the containment measures adopted have helped curb the outbreak, they have had a substantial negative impact on economic activity on the domestic front.

Global economic growth is projected to contract by 3%. Several advanced economies such as the United States, the United Kingdom, the Eurozone, and Japan will experience contractions during 2020. Other key trading partners of Sri Lanka, including China and India, are also projected to experience a notable slowdown.

Across the globe, the World Trade Organization (WTO) forecasts that global merchandise trade can decline by as much as 32 percent in 2020. A significant decline in merchandise exports is probable, particularly to Sri Lanka’s key export destinations of Europe and the United States. In particular, exports of textiles and garments are likely to experience a decline in the near future and it is expected to come down from US$ 5.3 Billion in 2019 to 4.3 Bn in 2020. The Sri Lankan economy value to be maintained to remain as Rs 15 trillion, we expect to maintain decent GDP growth, however now it is revised to 1.5%.

The tourist sector and the remittance market which are two main contributors to the national income shall adversely impact the economy. It is also important to maintain sufficient foreign reserve ratio and it is expected to fall around $5.5 billion and Morgan Stanley predicted it to fall to US$ 4.4 billion at the end of the year.

The accumulated debt of Government over the years has reached very high proportions to the extent that debt servicing is a major challenge on top of this pandemic, which will jeopardize the effects made by the Government to bring normalcy to the country. Debt to GDP which was around 87 percent last year would go up to 93 percent this year and 100 percent next year.

De-Risking the Economy

The pandemic arose with uncertainty and implications on all aspects of business across the world despite Sri Lanka being ahead of most countries in being able to implement proper action plan. Government and Regulators have introduced extraordinary measures to alleviate the financial and economic impact of Covid-19.

Similar to other countries across the globe, Sri Lanka has utilised three types of policies to address the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects; a) border control and health sector policies; b) fiscal measures; and c) monetary and financial sector measures, including capital flow management

The relief measures include a range of different payment moratoriums, government guarantees, concessions to Pandemic hit businesses including self-employment, individual and banks.

Apart from above relief package introduce by the CBSL, experts and some institutions also suggested various strategies to be considered for de-risking the economy. A combination of the measures given below could have a significant positive impact on the economy.

‘Debt Standstill’ from the IMF and World Bank for a period of 2 years, Re-attract at least USD 3 billion (Rs.570 billion) of foreign investment into Sri Lankan Rupee Government Securities, Release 20% of the EPF Member balance to the Members themselves, which has already been implemented in Australia and India (Paper article published by former Governor Mr Ajith Nivard Cabraal). Individual banks to look for short term loan from a development finance institutions, (Commercial Bank obtained US$ 50 Mn short term loan from IFC (approx Rs.10 bn) to support COVID-19 affected SME exporters). PwC has proposed Funding based initiatives as Enterprise financing facility, Business disruption funding scheme and Tax or grant based initiatives, creating, Export Development Fund similar to Bangladesh. These measures will further complement the debt moratoriums and subsidized loans being offered to affected sectors, which need longer term support.

Impact on banks Profitability

The major short-term impact of COVID-19 on the retail and commercial banking industry would result in revenue compression from multiple sources. Due to difficult operating conditions, the performance of the banking sector and the NBFIs’ in particular, will be more challenging, affecting asset quality and profitability recovery. Introduction of debt moratoriums may reduce stress on businesses, but causes a bane for banks. Individual banks are now preparing probable loss in this respect.

Possibility of increasing NPL

The six-month debt moratorium and other measures imposed by the government is expected to soften the impact to individuals and businesses but will increase non-performing loans and is expected to weigh heavily on banks’ asset quality and to increase overall gross NPL percentage during 2020 to7.2%. However, the increasing trend in NPL, continuing from 2019, 3.4 per cent at the end of 2018 to 4.7 per cent mainly due to the adverse business conditions which prevailed during the year. Accordingly, total NPLs of the banking sector increased by Rs. 118.5 billion in 2019 compared to the increase of Rs. 102.5 billion in 2018. LFCs and SLCs Sector gross non-performing advances (NPA) ratio increased to 10.6 per cent at end-December 2019, from 7.7 per cent reported at end-December 2018, as well. Higher NPL will be contributed by the loans given by banks to migrant workers.

Pressure on Net Interest Margin

Emergency interest rate cuts to stimulate the economy may lead to net new lending, and will also compress banks’ net interest margin in many markets. Lending rates are expected to decline to single digits in the period ahead commensurate to the policy rate deductions and with the other policy measures.

Fee based income

All financial institutions have been instructed not to charge for cheque returns, stop payments, late payment fees on all credit cards and other credit facilities during the period up to 30.09.2020. No additional interest will be charged on the capital and/or interest installments deferred under the concessions granted. Further, transaction cost of foreign remittances to be waived for a period of 6 months to provide them relief.

Workers’ remittances are also likely to be impacted with low international oil prices as well as the direct impact of the COVID-19 outbreak. The World Bank forecasts 19% decline in remittances to Sri Lanka, accordingly from USD 6.7B in 2019 to USD 5.4B in 2020. (Sri Lanka has about 1.7m migrant workers and 5 m beneficiaries)

Indirect advances

A decrease in off-balance sheet exposures was reported in 2019 and this will further decline, reflecting the slowdown in business activities that are going to take place during the year. Directions were issued to licensed banks to suspend the facilitation of importation of several categories of motor vehicles and other non essential goods, other than those approved by the Trade and Tariff Policy Committee, which has a direct impact on LC opening and guarantees.

Credit cost

The challenge for many banks will be how to operationalize these moratoriums and other programs. Many core banking and loan accounting systems are just not set up for this type of operational flexibility at scale. Many banks have some experience of these types of loan modification programs from the aftermath of the 2019 Easter Sunday attack but this time the loan programs requiring modification maybe much more expansive, the timeline to get it done is much shorter, and the resulting operational complexity much higher.

Cyber Security

While banks are providing more flexible customer access, they also need to ramp up their cyber-security and anti-fraud teams. As more staff work from home and therefore open new threat vectors (Ransomware implications). This will also create the risk of sensitive information flowing outside the organization, which should be managed appropriately. Due to increased usage of internet banking, an environment of increased exposure to financial crime have resulted increased possibilities of cyber risk.

Relationships with customers

This is an ideal opportunity for the banks to combat competition. Building trust and confidence is of paramount importance to any bank. This is an opportunity for banks to show that they understand their customers’ plight and are committed in supporting them through the crisis. Clients will remember for a long time how they were treated during the bad times. Therefore, banks need to give very careful consideration to their approach to credit resolution.

Operational issues

Inability of the existing rating models to capture the effect of COVID-19, as existing models may not be geared to assess the impact of this nature and magnitude. Existing stress testing scenarios used to assess the credit risk stress may not be capable of capturing the effects of the existing pandemic requiring to closely monitor the funding and recovery plan of the bank.

Liquidity issues

Financial sector liquidity will be impacted by the debt moratoriums although it shall be offset to some extent by the reduction in the liquidity requirements for financial institutions. There is a need to detect worsening liquidity positions of the banks as many institutes can be negatively impacted due to adverse liquidity. Stress testing of banks will also be of relevance and importance as we face uncertain events. Likelihood of adverse liquidity positions in the financial services sector due to credit relief offered to customers by deferring their payments and existing customers drawing additional facilities to manage the working capital and to revive their businesses.

Commercial as well as individual consumers will not be equally impacted by this pandemic. It follows that lenders should not be only doing sectoral modelling but also individual customer cashflow modelling (particularly where they have transaction account information). These analyses can then be used to proactively reach out to customers with tailored, relevant solution proposals.

Beyond performing interventions and messaging, banks also need to proactively consider alternative lending structures, particularly if there is a way to convert cash flow-based lending into asset-based lending.

Bank employees’ professional role is becoming increasingly strategic and fast, flexible focused, on the spot decision making is importance. The outbreak of the pandemic has encouraged people to lean new IT skills in a virtual office concept. As a result the employee should be an accelerator for one of the greatest work place transformation and swiftly shift from “Rowing to Rafting world”

Reduction of Statutory Reserve Ratio (SRR), Lower capital conservation buffer requirements, and reduction of Liquidity Coverage Ratio and Net Stable Funding Ratio to 90% resulting in an injection of liquidity of around Rs. 500 billion to the market.

More digital savvy customers

Bankers can view this positively and digitalize most of their credit operations to ensure internal efficiency and external effectiveness through customer centric enablers. Bankers face high internal and acquisition cost, hence digitalization of end to end process would positively impact cost structure.

The rapid adoption of online retailing facilities by the customers boosted an already booming online market in the country, specifically in relation to digital payments which saw a spike. This sector is not benefited due to lack of start up support from the banks and now it provides a great opportunity to capitalize the new market.

Further, in the long term, the government focus on development of health-related infrastructure can also give rise to newer lending opportunities.

This pandemic also gave an opportunity to banks to test it effectiveness of their Business Continuity plan and take appropriate actions to strengthen their shortcomings.

Based on the PwC Global COVID-19 CFO Survey, the impact of the outbreak on mergers and acquisitions (M&A) strategies remains unclear at the moment. A majority of business leaders are still assessing whether or not to change their approach. However, 13% report an increasing appetite for M&A.


Banks are preparing for the first wave of the pandemic now, but need to be agile as the crisis evolves. Banks must be both reactive and proactive in crisis response; risk mitigation actions taken now which can have a significant impact on bank’s future years to come. In this unprecedented situation, each continues to bring new insights into how the market, consumers and companies are being impacted.

On the one hand, market participants’ reliance on central banks to consistently intervene during difficult periods for economies and markets may have contributed to corporate behaviors that have driven up financial leverage in the system.

Accordingly, it is of national duty for the banks to step up and follow a risk-seeker approach than a risk averse approach when managing and driving the Sri Lankan economy to a higher degree in the current economic outlook.

The writer was Senior Deputy General Manager at a leading State bank, Vice President of APB and Senior Lecturer at IBSL.

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