(GB) To what extent has COVID-19 affected the banking sector in general?
JO: COVID-19 has presented us with an opportunity to review the way that we think about banking in the traditional sense and in so doing, it has accelerated certain areas that were already gaining traction, namely the digital experience.
As the public is encouraged to stay home as much as possible, digital has become an extremely important element of the customer experience and the banking industry in general has focused on how to improve and innovate in that space so that we can continue to provide value to our customers.
For many of our business customers, this pandemic has highlighted ways in which banks can provide additional support to help ease the effects of the COVID-derived economic slowdown.
Additionally, given that we are an essential service, the banking industry was forced to balance work from home initiatives with the need to offer banking services in certain branches.
GB: How are industry players adjusting?
JO: For the most part, the banking industry has demonstrated its agility and its commitment. From necessary social impact activities involving financial contributions to the COVID-19 Trust Fund to partnering with other banks in the creation of the COVID-19 Private Sector Fund, Banks have taken multi-pronged approaches to minimize the COVID-19 effect.
Some of these measures include credit considerations, staff rotations, queue management systems and changing banking hall protocols.
GB: Are people losing confidence in banking and what are players like Fidelity doing to restore confidence?
JO: To be accurate what we are experiencing is not an issue of confidence, but one of expectations and specifically customers’ expectations around how banks will react to our changed reality.
At Fidelity, we took a proactive approach that focused on serving our customers through an enhanced digital offering; serving the larger community through targeted financial contributions and strategic partnerships; and alleviating financial difficulties to the extent that we could with loan moratoriums, loan restructuring, interest rate reductions, fee waivers and other segment specific initiatives.
It was important for us to communicate and demonstrate our concern and willingness to help our customers, the medical community and the country at large.
GB: With COVID, do you think the banking sector will be the same?
JO: No, there will definitely be some changes. Like many other sectors, more and more banks will reevaluate how we work and where we work with a view to adding more flexible work options such as teleworking.
Additionally, while the in-branch experience will maintain some level of relevance for certain customer segments, we will see continued focus and innovation in the digital banking space.
GB: Businesses are collapsing. Does that pose a risk to banks because some have taken loans?
JO: In a sense yes, but the risk can be mitigated with effective loan restructuring.
We need to be mindful that we are still in the early stages of this pandemic and we could experience more or less upheaval in the future.
Banks have demonstrated that even with this uncertainty about what the future holds, we will still find innovative ways to adapt, manage our exposure and drive the economy.
GB: How is the Bank of Ghana supporting the industry?
JO: With its decisive and swift response, the Bank of Ghana was instrumental in minimizing the degree of negative economic impact from COVID-19 through effective monetary policy.
Measures such as cutting the Policy Rate by 150 basis points to 14.5 per cent, effectively lowering interest rates on loans; reducing commercial banks’ cash reserve requirement from 10 per cent to eight per cent to provide banks with additional liquidity; and reducing the capital conservation buffer from three per cent to 1.5 per cent; among other measures, gave the banking industry the necessary flexibility that we needed to support our customers and to steady the sector.
GB: Graphic is 70 this year, do you have any message for us?
JO: To enjoy 70 years as one of the leading media houses in the country is an inspiring story of business success and ingenuity. The Daily Graphic has been instrumental in setting the standard for quality journalism in Ghana and we at Fidelity wish you continued success. Happy 70th