Q: What is your assessment of Sampath Bank’s performance last year?
A: Year 2020 was very challenging for Sampath Bank due to the COVID-19 pandemic affecting business operations. At the height of its impact, we expected the worst; our customers were adversely impacted, the bank’s operations were impeded and we were not certain about how long this would continue or what the extent of the damage might be.
However, I’m pleased to say that we concluded the year in a much better position than we initially expected.
Given this, I must thank Team Sampath for achieving this feat while facing many challenges both in the office and their personal lives. They sacrificed immensely to achieve these results and their spirit is what makes Sampath Bank special.
I must also mention the timely and decisive action taken by the Central Bank of Sri Lanka and the government, which served to soften the blow to the economy as a whole as well as the banking sector while contributing to the quick recovery.
Q: In your opinion, how can businesses weather the impact of the COVID-19 crisis – and how should they look to plan for the future in this environment?
A: Most businesses have already survived for nearly a year. We’re seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and it is now that we need to be most careful.
Cautious optimism is what I would recommend as the best way forward. Businesses should take the lessons learnt during this period and plan for their growth carefully without being overly optimistic.
There is tremendous potential for growth for Sri Lanka in the post-pandemic period and businesses should plan on how to capitalise on these opportunities now.
Q: Where do you stand on the growing debate about the pros and cons of working from home (WFH)?
A: WFH is a great option that became available due to technology. Sampath Bank was able to implement the concept effectively for months due to its IT capabilities and crisis preparedness.
However, there are functions that require the physical presence of staff members and customers at branches even now, which makes WFH difficult. Customer facing functions, front end staff and departments that need to work with others, project teams and others find it difficult to deliver expect- ed results with these arrangements.
Additionally, the attitudes and discipline of all stakeholders – viz. customers, employees, regulators and others – need to change to implement sustainable WFH arrangements.
Q: How has the banking sector been impacted by the prevailing economic climate?
A: Banks have had to bear the brunt of the impact as interest rates declined due to monetary easing measures; debt moratoriums were granted, fees and charges were reduced, and non-performing loans (NPLs) all had a negative impact on the sec- tor’s bottom line.
Despite these challenges and as a result of the sufficient capital buffers that were maintained, as well as the strict management of operational costs and remarkable contributions from staff members, the banking sector was able to minimise the negative impact.
With conditions expected to improve, we believe the sector can make a strong recovery this year.
Q: How would you assess the prospects for the world economy going forward – and how will this impact Sri Lanka and businesses here?
A: Prospects for the global and Sri Lankan economies depend on us successfully controlling the COVID-19 pandemic.
With multiple vaccines launched and possibly improved versions expected – coupled with achieving herd immunity – we are hopeful that the pandemic may be under control by the end of the year.
With more than a year spent in an environment of restricted consumption and investments, we anticipate a sharp surge in both aspects, which will drive both aggregate demand and supply across the world.
Sri Lanka will naturally benefit from this development through increased exports, tourism and capital flows.