By Hiran H.Senewiratne
Sri Lanka will come out stronger with more resilience with an exuberant private sector that can withstand shocks, State Minister of Money and Capital Market and State Enterprise Reforms Ajith Nivard Cabraal said.
“Local investors and the business community have faith in a turnaround of the economy and in Sri Lanka’s fortunes, as the new government has already set these in motion. The government will implement in the future favourable measures and policies,” Cabraal told an investor forum titled, “Twenty 21 and Beyond”, organised by Softlogic Stockbrokers. The event was held at Movenpick Hotel on Tuesday.
Post-COVID-19, Cabraal said, exports have bounced back to near-normal, remittances were back on track and a lower oil bill was compensating for zero earnings from tourism. “I will say the external account today is not as bleak as it looked during COVID-19,” Cabraal said. “We have put and are putting in place the building blocks for high growth, despite challenges. We want the private sector to brace itself for a take-off, rather than losing hope, because there are plenty of positives of late, the state minister said.
Cabraal said the government is confident of high growth in the next five years, despite the challenges.
Cabraal said that between 2015 and 2019, the country suffered stagnant growth, rising unemployment, a dwindling rupee, low reserves with the export sector struggling and market capitalisation halving from $ 25 billion to $ 12.5 billion. “This wasn’t an aberration, but real, and everyone felt it,” he said. “These achievements are things which we couldn’t be proud of, but the resilience of the private sector, which is a hallmark, ensured Sri Lanka survived,” Cabraal said He said the previous government budget showed Rs. 2.2 trillion government revenue, but in reality the actual collection was Rs. 1.8 trillion, reflecting a Rs. 400 billion shortfall. “This was due to the downfall of the economy, and everyone felt it,” he opined.
Cabraal said that following the election of Gotabaya Rajapaksa as the President in November 2019, the new administration set its sights on key priorities, including stabilising the rupee (which fell from Rs. 131 to the dollar to Rs. 185 between 2015 and 2019), reducing interest rates and taxes etc. This was critical, though Sri Lanka and the rest of the world was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020. He said that post-COVID-19, the government had to take difficult steps and make a call whether to default on its sovereign debt, versus curbing forex guzzling jobs and lifestyle-impacting imports. “We opted for the latter, because we wanted to send a positive message to the rest of the world that we are a responsible government.
LOLC, first Sri Lankan company to be recognised with CIO 100 Award
The LOLC Group technology team with the CIO 100 Award
LOLC Holdings PLC has been listed among 100 honourees for 2020 among a list of esteemed global organisations at the annual CIO 100 Awards. It is the first time that a Sri Lankan company has been bestowed with the CIO 100 Award.
Meanwhile, Conrad Dias, LOLC’s former Group Chief Information Officer and current Director/CEO of LOLC Finance PLC and Director LOLC Holdings PLC was selected as one of the 11 CIO Hall of Fame inductees for 2020 out of a pool of global CIOs, becoming the 1st Sri Lankan CIO to be recognised to the Global CIO Hall of Fame.
The CIO 100 Awards celebrates 100 organizations and the teams within them that are using technology in novel ways to deliver innovative and ground-breaking solutions to customers. The award is a global hallmark of enterprise excellence. This year, LOLC was listed among some of the most renowned global corporates such as Bank of America Corporation, General Electric, GSK, JP Morgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, Mastercard, Nestle, Schniederand and many more. According to CIO 100, this year’s honourees exemplify what it means to deliver business value through the innovative use of technology. While announcing the winners, CIO 100’s editors noted that LOLC and other honourees “exemplify what it means to deliver business value through the innovative use of technology. This elite group is creating competitive advantage in their organizations, improving business processes, enabling growth and improving relationships with customers”.
The LOLC Group, which is primarily involved in providing financial services for customers at the bottom of the wealth pyramid has always been at the forefront of technological innovations. As part of this ‘digital-drive’, the company understood the need to disrupt its own business model and adopt technological capabilities to innovate and challenge traditional business models, in order to stay ahead of its competition, both locally and internationally. The foundation was laid with the creation of a ‘digital twin’ to our existing business model, challenging the status-quo and driving towards a digital transformation of our business. The result was the launch of iPay – a platform beyond payments that has revolutionised the Fin-Tech space for both customers and merchants. The iPay ecosystem operates with the vision of democratising payments, money transfers, electronic commerce, banking, lending, insurance, advertising and many other services. It also empowers merchants, providing them with a low-cost digital marketing and selling platform, allowing start-ups and other small scale businesses to play a more active role in the economy. Today, iPay has reached beyond Sri Lanka to other geographies, slowly becoming a regional platform, which can be identified as the LOLC Group’s Fin-Tech Playbook.
Allianz Lanka raises awareness on benefits of insurance
The Allianz Lanka team at the on-ground community engagement program in Bandarawela
Allianz Lanka reaffirmed its commitment to raising greater awareness on the need for insurance and taking its benefits to more businesses and consumers around the island during this Insurance Awareness Month. The insurer seeks to apprise the public of the value delivered by insurance through a series of on ground community engagement programs in key towns across the country.
Teams from Allianz Lanka’s Life and General Insurance businesses kicked off this initiative with a town storming campaign in Bandarawela. They showcased a host of world-class insurance solutions from Allianz that provide greater protection and a wide range of benefits at economical rates. This included Allianz Universal Life Family that offers the protection of insurance for the entire family, Allianz PAB Plus affordable personal health insurance cover and Allianz Shopkeeper’s Insurance for business owners. This was followed by an educational and entertaining evening session with the active participation of the members of the community.
The program will also cover the towns of Matara, Ratnapura, Negombo and Jaffna during the month of September.
Commenting on this occasion, Gany Subramaniam, Director / Chief Executive Officer, Allianz Insurance Lanka Limited and Director, Allianz Life Insurance Lanka Limited said, “At Allianz, we are committed to helping secure people’s lives and giving them the courage for what’s ahead. Given the uncertain times the world is currently faced with, we believe that the security and peace of mind offered by insurance has become even more invaluable. Hence, this Insurance Awareness Month, our teams are actively engaging with people around Sri Lanka, educating them on the need for insurance and how they could secure their future with our world-class insurance solutions. We will continue to strive to deliver the protection of insurance to more businesses and consumers across the island.”
Introducing REITs in Sri Lanka: ‘An opportunity to benefit from real estate investment’
The Colombo Stock Exchange (CSE) and the Securities and Exchange Commission of Sri Lanka (SEC) announce the launch of Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) which now give average investors an opportunity to reap the benefits of real estate investment and the advantages associated with investing in publicly traded securities on the CSE. While investing in real estate appears to be a popular choice, the rising cost of property poses a significant challenge to individual investors who typically resort to bank loans to finance such investments. This timely introduction by the CSE and SEC provides greater access to all investor segments to commercial real estate projects and an opportunity to benefit from the recently observed spiraling property prices.
REITs were first introduced in the United States in 1960 creating a mechanism for individual investors’, especially middle-income earners, to generate income through investing in large commercial real estate. This product has made rapid progress within the Asian markets as well with its growing popularity especially in Thailand, Malaysia and India and is also viewed as a mechanism to broad base the real estate ownership within a country. A REIT is essentially a structure which typically owns and operates income-generating real estate. The income-generating real estate assets owned by a REIT may include office buildings, shopping malls, apartments, hotels, resorts, self-storage facilities and warehouses.
A REIT would enable unit holders to earn a portion of the income that is generated through renting, leasing or selling these properties which is required to be distributed directly to the unit holders of the REIT. The CSE and SEC have introduced a framework which mandates the distribution of 90% of the generated income to its investors.
This innovative introduction, which has been formulated specifically taking into consideration the local environment, would open up new horizons for real estate developers and owners to convert completed income generating projects into a REIT, have its units listed on the CSE following the mechanism now made available to them and have them publicly traded in the secondary market, similar to equity securities listed on the CSE.
The framework for REITs has been introduced by the SEC via rules made by the SEC in terms of section 53 and 13 of the SEC Act which came into effect from July 31, 2020 in the form of a gazette notification. The comprehensive formation of SEC rules will govern the overall mechanism of REITs in Sri Lanka. The CSE has also formulated listing rules for the listing of units of REITs. A REIT would enable investors to further diversify their portfolios by investing in this lucrative investment vehicle which would produce long-term returns. Investors would benefit from a stable stream of income, swift entry and exit route through the secondary market and also benefit from the returns of the overall real estate asset appreciation.
The economy at large would also benefit from the introduction of REITs with the anticipated creation of jobs, economic growth, increased tax revenues, liquidity through listing and would also attract foreign direct investments into the country. REITs would also require stronger corporate governance and increased transparency which would help the investor community and regulatory bodies to assess the viability and quality of projects.
Similar to any stock market investment, the investor is required to take into account his/her own financial status and also consult with an investment advisor prior to making an investment decision. A review can also be carried out on the REIT’s disclosure filings, including the annual and quarterly reports, prior to making a decision to invest in REITs.
The CSE and SEC will continue to focus on setting up a more conducive environment along with the regulatory authorities to facilitate greater company and investor participation.
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