Q: How do you expect the bank- ing sector to perform this year?
A: As a sector that is expected to be at the forefront of post-COVID econom- ic revival efforts, banking will face a trying year.
The pandemic is not showing signs of ending in the near future, which brings a fresh set of challenges every day. How does one plan and provision for an uncertain business environment over an indefinite period – especially when the sector depends on customers’ financial health?
Bold decisions need to be taken to boost the sector’s resilience in terms of capital, technology and talent. The banking sector will also have a great deal of rebuilding to do including rehabilitating some of the facilities extended, strengthening relationships and rebuilding customers’ confidence.
All this will have to be achieved while keeping pace with rising non-performing advances (NPAs), lower interest rates and the ever-changing ‘new normal’ in addition to attempting to innovate to meet customer requirements.
However, the banking sector has risen to such chal- lenges in the past and is well geared to face this challenge.
Q: What is your take on Sri Lanka’s adoption of working from home (WFH)?
A: WFH is not a new concept; it has existed overseas and even in Sri Lanka to an extent. With the onset of the pan- demic, the necessity of this model as an option weighed heavily on most organisations that were not fully pre- pared with the infrastructure or employee mindset to implement it.
Some industries are unique and not all teams can engage in the WFH model; but during a pandemic where the prime concern is safeguarding the health of employees and customers, there is a need to adjust to extraordi- nary circumstances.
For WFH to be successful, proper controls are needed to ensure productivity, and clear key performance indica- tors (KPIs) must be set and monitored constantly. Data protection and customer privacy protection are vital areas that should be looked into as well.
Q: In your view, what measures are needed to weather the impact of the pandemic?
A: Corporates require comprehensive business continu- ity plans to maintain resilience across available opera- tions as well as detailed crisis management plans.
Efficient cost management, evaluating the possibility of scaling down unfeasible operations, reanalysing port- folios to identify winning products, increasing digital engagements, business process reengineering, reevaluat- ing markets and prioritising are strategies that can be considered during this crisis, depending on the nature of one’s business.
Q: And what is your assessment of the level of social awareness in the corporate sector?
A: Sri Lanka’s corporate sector has done a commendable job in creating awareness and addressing societal issues. Companies can be seen assisting a plethora of worthy causes and in most instances, working with the govern- ment and their peers to create sustainable solutions for
prevailing issues in the society in which we operate.
It is an encouraging trend to observe, and should be wholeheartedly supported and praised.
Q: And last but not least, could you outline Commercial Bank of Ceylon’s plans for the future?
A: The challenging times faced by the banking sector due to the pandemic will not deter us from seeking new opportunities to strengthen the bank’s performance.