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BB asks all banks to craft business continuity plan

FE REPORT | March 22, 2020 00:00:00

The central bank has asked all banks to prepare business continuity plan immediately to ensure that operations are not inturrpted in the aftermath of pandemic exigencies, officials say.

The Bangladesh Bank, or BB, has also instructed financial service providers to ready a list of key persons, who are involved in critical service management, including the information and communications technology infrastructure.

The advisory came on Thursday, which asked chief executives of the banks to keep the banking and payment services uninterrupted in response to Covid-19 caused by new coronavirus.

"We've asked the banks to prepare the continuity plan soon to ensure uninterrupted banking and payment services to clients to tackle in any kind of situation," a senior central bank official told the FE on Saturday.

He said the functions of the key persons will have to be ensured in any circumstances, such as state of emergency or lockdown.

"We've also asked the banks to ensure round-the-clock operations of alternative delivery channels in order to facilitate smooth transactions," the central banker noted.

The alternative channels include ATMs (automated teller machines), POS (point of sale), e-payment gateway and mobile financial services (MFS) through which a customer can get financial services.

The BB also advised the banks to encourage electronic payments for  reducing the use of bank notes, the official said.

Private lenders and non-banking financial institutions have been smarter and have adopted multiple measures to help contain contagion while offsetting the possible setbacks stemming from the coronavirus crisis in Bangladesh.

As part of the measures, a portion of employees of different banks have been allowed to work from home, senior bankers said.

"We've already formed our emergency team to keep uninterrupted banking and payment services," Abdul Halim Chowdhury, chief executive officer of Pubali Bank told the FE.

Pubali has advised its clients to prefer online transaction facilities to cash handling, Mr. Chowdhury said.

Like Pubali, Prime Bank Limited has already taken some precautionary measures aiming to limit spread of the coronavirus that emerged from China's Wuhan in late December.

"We'll offer leave to our employees, who have been identified as nonessential right now for 15 days," Rahel Ahmed, CEO of Prime Bank, told the FE while explaining its continuity plan.

Besides, Prime Bank has planned to allow some employees to work from home, Mr. Ahmed added.

"We've stopped all meetings with physical presence for the next two weeks in our bank as part of the precautionary measures," the CEO said.

Prime will continue to contact clients and others using modern communications tools like WhatsApp, Viber and mobile phone instead of physical presence, he added.

Like the private commercial banks, state-owned Bangladesh Krishi Bank has started work on preparing the continuity plan in line with the central bank instructions.

"We'll complete preparation of our plan shortly," Ali Hossain Prodhania, the bank's managing director, told the FE.

Industrial and Infrastructure Development Finance Company, a non-bank lender, has finalised its plan, allowing its 40 per cent employees to work from home from Sunday.

"We've already issued a circular and asked our branch officials to act according to the plan," Golam Sarwar Bhuiyan, managing director of IIDFC Limited, told the FE.

On Saturday, Bangladesh reported its second death from the pneumonia-like disease, with four new cases of virus, bringing the total to 24.

The World Health Organization, WHO, has recommended social distancing as an arsenal to flatten the curve.

Meanwhile, production at the ready-made garment (RMG) factories in the country will continue amid the spread of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

An emergency meeting between the apparel makers and the government decided to this effect on Saturday.

It discussed the emerging situation in Bangladesh following the outbreak of coronavirus, according to a labour ministry statement.

State minister for labour Monnujan Sufian chaired the meeting at Shrama Bhaban in the capital.

Leaders from Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA) and Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry attended the meeting.

Representatives from Bangladesh Chamber of Industries (BCI), Bangladesh Employers' Federation, Leathergoods and Footwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association of Bangladesh, and Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments were also present.

Minister Ms Sufian exhorted the apparel manufacturers to take emergency responses like distribution of protective safety equipment among workers.

Some apparel makers at the meeting demanded shutdown of garment units, payment of wages and other allowances following the adverse impact of COVID-19 on the sector.

Meeting sources said they sought prompt government support to meet the emergencies.

Earlier on Thursday, the same group at a meeting at BGMEA asked that RMG factories be shut considering repeated work order cancellations, and deferment of payments and shipments, among others.

But another group was of the view that factories should be in operation with required health and safety measures.

According to the BGMEA, work orders worth more than $607 million of some 264 garment factories were either cancelled or suspended as of Saturday.

When asked, BGMEA president Dr Rubana Huq said no decision on factory closure was taken in Saturday's meeting.

"Production will continue. Labour ministry has called another meeting for Sunday with apparel sector leaders and trade unions," she told the FE after the meeting.

BKMEA senior vice-president Md Hatem said the meeting also discussed how the government can render special support for payment of wages and allowances to workers at a time when buyers have deferred payment of the already shipped goods.

BCI president Anwar-ul-Alam Chowdhury said the meeting discussed the overall situation, especially business, safety and ways, to overcome this crisis.

The meeting heard concerns of apparel makers who are facing the adverse impact of the virus, he added.

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