In this new contribution to CEO Perspectives, Bank of Kigali CEO Diane Karusisi talks about her bank’s first-line responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, how the crisis will affect industries at large and the need to harness digital tools to smarten and reinvent ways of working.
The world faces an unprecedented challenge with the COVID-19 pandemic communities and economies everywhere. Workers in the informal economy and small business owners, in particular, have been severely affected.
The uniqueness of this pandemic is that the fight to contain it inevitably means causing immediate and significant damage to the economy. Constrained global mobility as well as disruptions in logistics and value chains will affect several industries.
Unfortunately, I don’t expect economic activity to pick up fast, even with targeted, relevant government interventions. Recovery will be slower, with some sectors winning and some others losing ground.
Safety first for staff and customers
In these challenging times, the wellbeing of our communities remains our utmost priority, and Bank of Kigali is committed to doing our part to ensure the public’s safety and comfort. We modified our operating hours and closed some branches temporarily. We also implemented necessary protections for staff, in particular those at the front lines, while ensuring business continuity.
We have also put in place different measures for customers. We offered a grace period on interest and/or principal for up to 3 months to businesses affected by the crisis. We waived charges on all transfers between bank accounts and mobile wallets as well as late payment penalties on all term loans, including BKquick loans and credit card penalties from March until May 2020. A response team has also been organised to contact clients and provide advice.
Finally, the bank contributed to nationwide efforts to support those affected by the crisis. The BK Family has pooled part of our compensation into a COVID-19 Solidarity Fund. The management has also handed over $294,842 (RWF 282 million) to the Rwandan government for the distribution of cash and supplies to vulnerable families.
A test on readiness and digitalisation
While the crisis has undoubtedly affected everyone, I would say the Bank of Kigali proved ready to withstand the pandemic’s massive impact. Our strong liquidity and capital levels have placed us in a much better position to face the crisis. However, there are many lessons to learn, particularly with remote work and serving clients digitally.
At a broader scale, the banking industry has gotten a digital boost. Banks will continue to invest heavily in digital solutions for clients, while smarter, more agile ways of working internally would become a necessity.
We ourselves harnessed our digital capabilities so our customers can continue to transact while staying safe. We have encouraged our clients to use our different digital channels, such as Internet Banking, BK App, USSD (*334#), debit and credit cards and points of sale (POS). Our technical teams have ensured the stability of these systems to remain available for use.
The path forward is agile and digital
There are lessons to learn from how the crisis tested banks’ business continuity plans. In the medium term, banks will focus on ensuring that important operations can continue to be done by remote staff. Institutions will also prioritise making almost all services accessible through digital means.
In the long run, banks will have to let go or modify heavy procedures. Bureaucracy will have to change and be rethought, paving the way for smarter and more agile ways of working, supported by digital tools and solutions, which will chart the way forward.
Diane Karusisi is the CEO of Bank of Kigali, the largest commercial bank in Rwanda.