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Flexibility within limits – the underlying premise driving the NBFI sector

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By Niroshan Udage

Council Member of The Finance Houses Association of Sri Lanka

As an integral part of the Country’s financial system, Licensed Finance Companies (LFCs) and registered leasing companies play a vital role in the development of the national economy. Collectively known as the Non-Bank financial (NBFI) sector, they offer a gamut of financial solutions to cater to individuals, proprietors, partnerships, corporates or business conglomerates. Most NBFI’s have also invested in developing an extensive island-wide presence that allows them to reach all sectors, social backgrounds and economic levels. Their ability to serve a wider cross section of the market makes the NBFI sector a key contributor towards the development of the SME and Micro enterprise segment in Sri Lanka. Leveraging on the expertise gained by serving the local SME and Micro segment, a few NBFI’s have even ventured outside Sri Lanka to set up operations overseas.

Regulatory supervision, governance and compliance

Dealing with the SME / Micro segment has resulted in NBFI’s being subject to increasing regulatory controls in the past few years.

As the words ‘Licensed Finance Companies’ denote LFCs are licensed and regulated by the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL).

LFCs conduct their business in conformity with the provisions of the Finance Business Act No.42 of 2011, Finance Leasing Act No.56 of 2000, Directions, Rules and Guidelines issued the said Acts, Consumer Credit Act, No.29 of 1982, Financial Transactions Reporting Act No.6 of 2006 and Prevention of Money Laundering Act, No.5 of 2006, under the direct supervision of CBSL and other applicable Statutes. Through these Statutes and regulations CBSL regulates the finance business and the finance leasing business to ensure the orderly function of the financial system.

In addition, LFC’s are required to abide by the Corporate Governance Directions issued by the CBSL. This helps to create an environment of trust, transparency and accountability, which is required to foster long-term investment, financial stability and enhance the business integrity of LFCs.

Another Direction noteworthy of mention is the Financial Customer Protection Framework outlined in Finance Business Act Direction No.01 of 2018 and the detailed Guidelines thereon. This direction provides the platform for customers of LFCs to assert their rights and to ensure that their rights are safeguarded. The key objective of the said Direction is to safeguard the interests of the customers and build trust in order to strengthen customer confidence in the sector. Since being introduced in 2018, the Financial Customer Protection Framework has become an integral part of the corporate governance culture and strategic decision making of the Boards of LFCs.

To ensure compliance with the applicable laws and regulations, LFCs have established a very strong and robust Compliance function, which is subject to regular reporting and monitoring by the CBSL.

The Challenge

Despite the stringent business and regulatory environment governing the NBFI’s, it is unfortunate that there is still a segment of the general public who have a negative perception towards the sector. Such unfounded perceptions appear to have arisen primarily due to the lack of awareness regarding the pricing mechanism and the foreclosure process followed by the NBFI sector. The purpose of this article is to provide some much needed clarity on these topics.

The Pricing Mechanism adopted by the NBFI sector

It is no secret that compared to the banking sector, the pricing structure of the NBFI sector for similar products is relatively higher. There are several fundamental reasons for this. Firstly, it is important to understand that the NBFI caters mainly to the SME and Micro segment of the market. Based on their profiles, SME and Micro segment customers fall into the high-risk category.

The typical SME / Micro customer who is often overlooked by the banking system due to their lack of credentials and financial sophistication, is then motivated to approach the NBFI sector with the expectation that their credit applications will be processed expeditiously even without necessary documentary proof or credentials. This puts NBFI’s in a tough spot. On the one hand NBFI’s are expected to be more flexible in their decision making process in order to secure their customer, while on the other hand they need to comply with established risk appetite limits in order to safeguard the business. Amidst this backdrop, the only rational way for NBFI’s to strike a balance is by building in a higher risk premium into their pricing structure. And with SME / Micro customers also likely to be more vulnerable to economic shocks, especially given their position at the lower end of the pyramid, NBFI’s are compelled to factor-in additional risk premiums into their pricing structure. Meanwhile being in the high-risk category, the cost of managing SME / Micro customers is also comparatively higher. From the additional background checks to site visits and managerial oversight to encourage customers to adopt proper financial control and discipline, NBFI’s incur significantly higher operational costs per customer, which leaves these companies with no option but to build cost buffers into their pricing structure.

Another key element that drives up the NBFI’s pricing structure is their high cost of funding. Unlike Banks, which have access to low cost funds through their CASA (Current and Savings Accounts) base, NBFI’s are funded largely by public deposits and often have to pay higher rates in order to attract deposits away from the banking system. On average more than 50% of the total interest costs of NBFI’s go towards servicing deposits. Lowering these cost elements is an extremely difficult task since NBFI’s do not have access to free funds such as current accounts.

Despite these challenges however, some NBFI’s have adopted dynamic pricing strategies in line with their business model and risk appetite, enabling them to offer very competitive rates, often on par with the banks. In this manner, the NBFI sector has remained firm in its commitment to nurture the SME / Micro segment – the “infants” of the economy, to the level of bankable customers, thereby contributing towards improving the Country’s overall credit culture over time.

Regulated foreclosure process

In the interest of protecting the rights of both Lessees and Lessors, NBFI’s follow a highly regulated foreclosure process for the repossession of assets. They cannot deviate from the repossession guidelines set out under the Finance Leasing Act, No.56 of 2000. The Finance Leasing Act was enacted in the year 2000 to provide for the regulation and monitoring of finance leasing businesses, to specify the rights and duties of Lessors and Lessees and suppliers of equipment and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto. It is mandatory that all NBFI’s strictly adhere to the provisions of the Finance Leasing Act when engaging in the business of leasing.

Accordingly, a repossession notice can be issued only if the installments are in arrears more than the limit of substantial failure. However as directed by the Act, repossession is sought only as the last resort for the recovery of outstanding installments. Repossession orders are issued only after sending reminders, notices and notices of termination to Lessees and Guarantors according to the Act, within the stipulated timelines.

During the period leading up to the issue of a repossession order, NBFI’s are expected to make every endeavor to collect the installments in arrears, by visiting the customer, through telephone calls etc. The Act further states that if the Lessee is genuinely in a difficulty due to an unforeseen event, they are always welcome to visit the respective NBFI and make a formal request for deferment of recovery action. At this point NBFI’s are required to look into every avenue to offer relief to the customer including granting of concessions / deferment, whenever they are warranted.

Meanwhile if the leased property is repossessed, it is disposed of quickly in order to recover the outstanding according to the auction procedure that is laid down in the Act. Once the vehicle is repossessed, the final notice is sent to the Lessee giving a further 14 days for settlement. A newspaper advertisement is published in all 3 languages advertising the sale. At the same time, another letter is sent to the Lessee allowing a further 7 days for settlement of the outstanding. Finally, when the time period lapses, the repossessed vehicle is sold through tender process or at a public auction. Prior to the public auctions another paper advertisement is published which is the end point of the auction procedure.

Conclusion

It is hoped that this article provides some reasonable clarity regarding the framework within which NBFI’s operate, while also helping to alleviate some of the persistent misconceptions that have plagued the sector. Going forward, it is imperative that NBFI’s continue to serve the target market in utmost good faith. It is equally important that all players collaborate with the regulatory authorities to uphold the integrity of the NBFI sector at all times.

The writer is an Executive Director of LB Finance PLC with 30 years of experience in the Finance industry.

 

 



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HNB Finance inks partnership with HNB Assurance

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Sri Lanka’s leading integrated financial services provider, HNB Finance PLC, has entered into an exclusive partnership with HNB Assurance PLC, making it significantly easier and faster for HNB Finance customers to obtain insurances required for most of the offerings from the company.A memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed recently by the two companies enables HNB Finance customers to obtain the insurances they require for personal and other offerings from the company, without even having to leave the premises of HNB Finance. Since representatives of HNB Assurance will now be stationed at the offices of HNB Finance, the process of obtaining the necessary insurance policies will be both more convenient and faster, further enhancing the overall customer experience.

“HNB Finance constantly strives to elevate our customer experience, particularly via partnerships with reputed organisations of the calibre of HNB Assurance,” HNB Finance PLC Managing Director/CEO Chaminda Prabhath said. “This also serves as an example of the synergies and strengths that HNB Finance benefit from, by being part of one of Sri Lanka’s largest financial services conglomerates, the HNB Group.”

“We take pleasure in this partnership with another member of the HNB Group and in offering the customers of HNB Finance the highly customer-centric offering of HNB Assurance,” HNB Assurance PLC CEO Lasitha Wimalaratne said. “Superlative customer experience has always been a core pillar of our strategy and HNB Finance customers can now benefit from these capabilities.”

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Mega training programme in SL in ICT related skills by Trainocate

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By Hiran H.Senewiratne

Trainocate, being Asia’s largest IT and human capability development training provider, in a bid to create demand for future ICT related employees will be commencing a mega training program in Sri Lanka targeting youth and corporates.

“With the rapid advancements in digitalization and digital services driven by AI, the Internet of Things (IoT), cyber security and 5G, old paradigms and business models are being challenged. More organizations across sectors are now required to have an online-offline presence and operations, Trainocate’s CEO, South East Asia New Markets and the UAE Zafarullah Hashim told The Island Financial Review.

Zafarullah added: ‘According to a recent World Economic Forum report, by 2022, close to 30 per cent of new job opportunities globally will be in data, artificial intelligence (AI), engineering and cloud computing for the future Digital Economy.

‘The pace of change over the past few years has been accelerated by the diffusion of technology, speed of innovation and rapidly evolving business needs. Jobs have changed and new ones have emerged and replaced existing ones. In tandem with this, the required skills and competencies have also rapidly evolved.

‘Many South Asian countries’ corporates as well as current employees and youth aspiring for employment are not reading this.

‘With a global presence in 15 countries, Trainocate SEANM, a pioneer in delivering cutting edge training and certifications which are industry recognized, will commence helping beginners and professionals to expedite their career advancement through our centers.

‘Trainocate also works with key government and private stakeholders to ensure that beginners and professionals have access to high quality and industry-specific training that meets the demands of different sectors of the economy for an innovative and productive workforce.

‘Knowing which skills are in demand has never been more important. With evolving consumer demands and disruptions brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, we function as the bridge between vendors, such as Microsoft, AWS, Google Cloud, and the partner. We are also the bridge between the partner and customers. We do partner enablement programs for partners through the vendors and then from the partner to the customer. A partner has to commit to the vision and the goals of a vendor. You also need to have product knowledge and become certified, which is where we come in.

‘Microsoft has been our main force and we have been providing free fundamental training sessions, as we believe that primary knowledge is key in building the country’s digital transformation journey. Our business operation is carried out between business to business, business to government and business to customers as well.

‘Digital skills are increasingly transferable across different sectors, as more enterprises embark on digital transformation and technology adoption. The Digital Economy entails different types of skills, depending on their job role applications. Tech-Lite roles are job roles that involve the use of foundational digital solutions at work; while Tech-Heavy roles are specialized roles responsible for the development, implementation and maintenance of more complex technological solutions and applications.

‘Trainocate SEANM focuses on developing skills, competency, ability and improving employee performances and organizational productivity. Organizations spend millions in acquiring and upgrading systems or hardware and give truly little thought to the training process. As a result, a vast majority of companies do not make maximum use of the features and benefits of the software in which they have invested. Proper training will increase productivity and reduce downtime which will complete IT projects faster.

‘Traincoate SEANM is rapidly reaching new heights by helping organizations that are going through a tough time and are in the transitioning period towards technology. Trainocate SEANM delivers well-informed and stable individuals who can provide their expertise towards the rise of these businesses. We have trained many blue-chip companies, along with their partners. Our goal is to develop individuals in tools that are already available that they don’t know how to use.

“Trainocate SEANM offers a range of resources, tools, certification and training programs and initiatives to help individuals and organizations identify and acquire the necessary skills to facilitate employment, improve job performance and adapt to job content changes in the midst of technological advancements and business operating model shifts.

‘We are not just a training company, but rather, a guidance company. We have been doing this for 25 plus years and have assessment tools that help us analyze and identify any skill gaps within organizations. We can use this to help the organizations’ HR and L&D teams streamline their training methods, as we can help identify these gaps and guide them on what they need the most.

‘Overall the company is helping organizations to think differently, plan strategically, save money and get the best out of technology. That is our secret to success.’

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Sunshine Healthcare appoints T. Sayandhan as CEO

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Sunshine Healthcare has appointed T. Sayandhan as the Chief Executive Officer of Lina Manufacturing, the pharmaceutical manufacturing segment of the diversified company. Sayandhan, currently CEO of Sunshine Medical Devices, has more than 30 years of experience in the healthcare industry. He joined Sunshine Healthcare in 2017 to spearhead Sunshine Medical Devices and has been instrumental in growing the healthcare business to be the key driver of the Group’s financial performance, helping Sunshine Healthcare to sustain its growth over the few years amidst tough macroeconomic conditions.

Commenting on the new appointment, Sunshine Healthcare Managing Director Shyam Sathasivam said, “As a responsible Sri Lankan conglomerate, we believe the local production of pharmaceuticals plays a vital role in maintaining the resilience of national healthcare systems. When escalating macroeconomic conditions are putting immense pressure on the local healthcare sector, producing pharmaceuticals locally will facilitate access to needed medicines and decrease exposure to imports and international supply chains. At this critical juncture, I believe Sayandhan has demonstrated the right combination of talent and drive to step into this key leadership role at the company.”

Commenting on his appointment, Sayandhan said, “It is a challenging yet exciting time to join Lina Manufacturing when the company is advancing its efforts to develop Sri Lankan-made, innovative healthcare solutions.”

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