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ComBank becomes biggest lender to SME sector in 2020 among all banks

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The Ministry of Finance has confirmed that the Commercial Bank of Ceylon was the biggest lender to Sri Lanka’s SME sector in 2020 among all state-owned, private and specialised banks in the country, accounting for more than a fifth of all loans in terms of value and number.

According to the Ministry’s Annual Report for 2020, Commercial Bank lent Rs 163.98 billion or 21.57% of the Rs 759.7 billion in loans provided to SMEs by 19 institutions, while the 58,584 loans provided by the Bank represented 23.82% of the total of 245,883 loans granted in the pandemic-impacted year.

The value of Commercial Bank’s lending to SMEs was Rs 21.6 billion or 15% more than the next lender, Ministry’s published data reveals.

Commercial Bank was also the highest lender to the ‘Industry’ sector dispensing Rs 45.9 billion or 21.3% of the total via 9,654 loans.

Of the total of Rs 163.9 billion granted to the SME sector by Commercial Bank, 4.47% was to the Agriculture sector, 14.58% was to the Services sector, 28% was to the Industry sector and 52.9% was to ‘Other’ sector.

“There can be no better illustration of our commitment to our mission and to the national economy than this,” Commercial Bank Managing Director S. Renganathan observed. “The data also reaffirms our status as a systemically important bank in Sri Lanka. Our role in supporting the SME will be further strengthened in the years ahead with the US$ 50 million loan the Bank recently secured from the UK’s CDC Group.”



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‘The insurance industry continues to drive the message of safety and optimism’

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The Insurance Association of Sri Lanka has been working overtime to ensure the smooth operation of the insurance industry with the objective of spreading awareness and inculcating knowledge on the importance of insurance. Similar to multiple other industries, in global and local contexts, the insurance industry has experienced its share of fluctuations with the onset of the pandemic and displayed its resilience to the resultant challenges.

Dinesh Yogaratnam, the Chairman of the Marketing and Sales Forum (MSF) of the Insurance Association of Sri Lanka (IASL), shared his perspectives on the marketing of insurance during these tumultuous times. He expounded on the ways in which the MSF of the IASL adapted to overcome the hurdles of the circumstances that arose during 2021, while promoting insurance penetration.

“The Insurance Association of Sri Lanka (IASL) is the industry body comprised of all the Life and General Insurance companies that operate in the market. The Marketing and Sales Forum (MSF) is a subcommittee thereof and as the name implies, addresses matters pertaining to the sales and marketing of insurance products and services. Further, the MSF also carries out various initiatives to increase insurance penetration in the country via education and knowledge-sharing. One of the major efforts of the MSF this year is to help the public better appreciate what insurance is. In addition, helping them understand how, when, and why they should purchase a policy, so that they may provide themselves, their loved ones, their assets, as well as their enterprises with the financial protection required, are key objectives.

“The MSF has resorted to using mainly digital and print media for its insurance promotion activities. Employing a two-pronged approach, whereby, the MSF under the IASL banner is carrying various pieces of communications on social media channels and is working with the country’s print houses and their digital arms to disseminate information and educate the public, the individual companies too have been encouraged to promote their products and services, as well as to carry knowledge building pieces of communication on their own platforms. Through this, we are witnessing a heightened level of activity and dialogue across social media channels.”

Giving further insight into the current insurance marketing landscape prevalent in the country, Dinesh Yogaratnam stated, “The insurance industry has grown in 2021 by approximately 14% in terms of Gross Written Premium as of the end of the 1st quarter; while long term insurance has seen significant growth, general insurance has contacted very marginally. As an industry, we are confident that the growth trajectory we have witnessed in the first half will continue to the end of the year.

“With the pandemic impeding movement, insurers had to very quickly realign themselves to front the customer both for new business acquisition as well as for premium collection, equipping themselves with various digital assets and recalibrating their sales teams to embrace a new hybrid model of interacting with and engaging the customer. From a servicing perspective; industry players have infused many digital interventions as part of their customer touchpoint strategy so that customers are able to seamlessly interact with them and obtain whatever services they require, regarding their policies. On the customer’s side, the pandemic has made people appreciate the need for a meaningful health insurance plan and they have also begun to appreciate the need for long-term insurance. The Sri Lankan insurance industry has always stood by society not only during times of normalcy but more so during times of widespread calamity and dire need. In this respect, the industry has come forward to pay COVID-related claims, irrespective of the fact that pandemics are excluded as part of insurance contracts.”

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SL’s Kithul-based treacle and jaggery for Gulf markets

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By Hiran H.Senewiratne

A local company is now in the process of venturing into the lucrative export Gulf market through its flagship product, Kithul based treacle and jaggery. Initially, the company will target the UAE market and afterwards other Arab countries.

“Both our products were introduced to the local market as niche products one year ago and are already exporting to Australia and several other countries, chairman, C-lon Kitchen & Healthy Foods, Rohan Wijeweera told The Island Financial Review.

‘The Gulf region is a lucrative market and there is a big demand for pure Kithul treacle among Arabs, which could be harnessed if we supply quality products, he said.

Wijeweera adds: “Now we have secured an order from a Gulf online sales company to market these products under the tag, ‘Made in Sri Lanka’ under the “Deegayush” brand and initially two containers will be exported to Dubai most probably next month. After that we will be targeting Canada and the UK markets.

“Kithul treacle and jaggery are made from the sap harvested directly by tappers living in border areas of the Sinharaja forest in the Rathnapura district. We have come to a forward buying agreement with around 250 tappers in this region, whom we also support by paying a premium price and also by some other CSR initiatives.

“The sap is then brought to our processing plant in Piliyandala where we process it. Kithul treacle is known to contain polyphenols, which are antioxidants, organic acids which are bioactive, amino acids that have many functions, beta carotenes that produce vitamin A and ascorbic acid or vitamin C that improves immunity.

“Thus, it is known to yield as many health benefits as Kithul jaggery. It prevents arthritis, improves complexion, alleviates constipation, aids weight loss and combats blood sugar. For nearly the same reasons as Kithul jaggery, Kithul treacle or syrup is witnessing massive demand locally as well as internationally.

“Today the demand for pure and natural Kithul products far outstrips the supply and due to lack of sap many local manufactures add sugar and other artificial sweeteners to the products thereby diluting the health benefits of it. However, we ensure not to add artificial ingredients and due to this our products are sold at a premium price from leading super markets under the brand name, “Deegayush”.

“Behind the scarcity of Kithul products there are several reasons, such as the shortage of tappable jaggery palms, fewer people being engaged in this industry due to the inherent risks and the profession not being accepted among the youth.

“Also less numbers are involved in jaggery palm planting since the tree takes around 7 years to mature before being fit for tapping.

“I am also looking at making Kithul treacle and jaggery from sugarcane, once again, targeting the export market as well.

“We are also manufacturing several immune boosters from locally sourced material. We next plan to introduce a curd to the market. More details could be obtained from, ceykitchen@gmail.com”

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Ideal Finance further ramps up branch network in rapid expansion drive

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Opens branches in Chunnakam, Nelliady, Ja-Ela and Kaduwela

Adding momentum to its expansion drive, a key component of the company’s growth strategy, Ideal Finance Limited (IFL) opened four branches in strategic locations in the Western and Northern Provinces, strengthening its network to 17 locations.

IFL, which earlier announced plans to more than double its branch network within the current financial year, by adding 16 new locations, opened the new branches in Chunnakam, Nelliady, Ja-Ela and Kaduwela. These branches will offer IFL’s comprehensive suite of financial solutions including Fixed Deposits, Leasing Facilities and Gold Loans.

“The timely expansion of Ideal Finance’s footprint in key rural, urban and semi-urban areas enables our customers to access our services more easily, while also positioning the company to benefit from economic transitions taking place within the country,” Ideal Finance Deputy Chairman, Aravinda De Silva said. “The strengthening of the branch network will support in achieving the company’s growth strategy, which we are confident will propel Ideal Finance to the next phase in its progression.”

The opening of the new branches enhances IFL’s presence in significant commercial centres with high-growth potential within the Northern and Western provinces.

IFL’s rapid expansion drive follows the company attracting LKR 2 billion in Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) from India’s Mahindra & Mahindra Financial Services Limited (MMFSL). MMFSL is now Ideal’s finance’s largest shareholder with a 58.2% stake. This provides IFL the backing of a massive financial giant with over USD 11 billion assets under management, which far exceeds that of Sri Lanka’s entire banking industry.

Reflecting the enhanced stability of Ideal Finance following the receipt of the investment from MMFSL, Fitch Ratings upgraded IFL’s rating (from ‘BB-(lka)’ to ‘AA-(lka)’), with a stable outlook.

IFL also announced its best-ever annual financial performance in the last financial year (ended 31st March 2021), emphatically overcoming the impact of the pandemic. The company improved all key financial indicators from the previous year. Profit Before Tax (PBT) increased by 76% to LKR 288.4 million, on a year-on-year (YoY) basis. Profit After Tax (PAT) grew by 74% to LKR 183.8 million YoY. Gross Non-Performing Loans (NPL) ratio improved to 3.3% for the financial year, from 5.2% in the previous year.

Ideal Finance Ltd. (IFL), a NBFI registered with Central Bank of Sri Lanka, commenced operations in March 2012 with a clear focus on the rural and semi-urban sectors. Its lending portfolio consists of gold loans, SME loans, personal loans, leasing facilities for motor cars, three wheelers, agriculture vehicles and commercial vehicles. IFL has developed a quality lending portfolio, while recording sustainable annual growth in profitability.

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