Central Bank Governor Ajith Nivard Cabraal yesterday spelled out an eight-point agenda for the Lankan banking sector to get themselves aligned with the government’s ‘Vision 2020’.The government hopes to achieve the US $ 150 billion economy and gross domestic product (GDP) per capita of US $ 7000+ by 2020. According to Cabraal, the banking sector, which represents 60 percent of the financial system, has a pivotal role to play in getting the country there.
“Financial inclusion is topping my list. Here we don’t mean how many Sri Lankans have a bank account or not. We are talking about real financial inclusion, where people have real access to finance to do business and carry out their activities.What is the point of having a bank account without money,” Cabraal quipped.According to a recently published working paper by Asian Development Bank Institute, Sri Lanka tops in the region in financial inclusion with comparatively easy access to finance.
As the second point, the Governor urged the banks to develop new fund-based products as margins are shrinking due to the prevailing low interest rate regime, a scenario the Central Bank predicts for the medium and long term.Sri Lanka’s largest private bank Commercial Bank PLC saw its interest income falling 4 percent year-on-year (YoY) to Rs.15.3 billion in 3Q14. The second largest Hatton National Bank PLC’s interest income for the same quarter fell 6 percent YoY to Rs.15.4 billion.
As the third point, Cabraal urged the banks to get involved in the infrastructure projects that are taking place in the country.“For a long time, infrastructure was funded and developed by the government. The key infrastructure of the country such as ports, air ports, power plants have now been built. The next wave of infrastructure development should come from the private sector.”Already, some of the large banks in the country, both private and state-owned, have funded some of the key infrastructure projects.Assistance in reviving ailing businesses was the fourth point in Cabraal’s list. Deriving examples from the Central Bank-driven financial sector consolidation programme, he recommended banks to have dedicated units to help their customers who are struggling.
The Central Bank has a separate unit headed by a Deputy Governor, driving consolidation process.“It is more difficult to recover than revive,” Cabraal noted. He further said banks in most of the developed countries follow this path and stressed that lower NPL ratios in those countries are a result of this practice.“We would like to see a few banks setting up such dedicated units in the coming few months.” As the fifth point, Cabraal said the banks need to reposition themselves as soon as possible as Sri Lanka is going to be a regional hub. “You need to be the trailblazer,” he urged.the ongoing