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Union Bank shows resilience in a challenging environment

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Union Bank recorded a resilient performance within the first six months of 2020 amidst many challenges triggered by the Covid-19 outbreak in Sri Lanka from March this year.

Commencing from April 2020, the Bank began to immediately roll out the customer financial relief programmes recommended by the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) with special focus on affected customers in the Corporate, SME and Retail Banking segments.

Within the review period, the Bank had approved debt moratoria worth Rs. 22.2 Bn under the CBSL recommended debt relief scheme providing extensions for repayment of capital and interest on loans granted. Loan facilities for approximately Rs. 40 Bn were granted with payment extensions for two months. Further, a significant number of affected customers have been granted debt relief schemes outside the CBSL defined criteria, in–line with the Bank’s internal credit policy guidelines. Amongst the schemes that were considered for moratoria are Loans and Leases, Overdrafts, Pawning and Trade Finance facilities. Additionally, non-performing borrowers who had requested for relief schemes have also been provided customised re-schedulements, inclusive of waivers on accrued interest whilst withholding further recovery action.

Union Bank’s core banking activities compressed in the second quarter amidst the country-wide lock-down that prevailed in the month of April up until mid-May.

Amidst the challenging economic landscape, the average prime lending rate (AWPLR) dropped by approximately 250bps and the Treasury Bill rates too showed a declining trend. The Bank implemented a downward revision of interest rates on various lending schemes including credit cards in line with the directives of the Central Bank. Union Bank has also taken measures to provide loans at concessionary rates for Working Capital requirements of SMEs and exporters by participating in the CBSL credit schemes including the Saubhagya Covid-19 Renaissance Facility.

Maintaining healthy liquidity levels within the Bank, and employee and customer safety remained key management priorities while rolling out relief schemes to mitigate the negative impact of Covid-19 on the diverse customer segments of the Bank. Within the period under review from January to June 2020, the average fixed deposits remained stable whereas total average CASA ended at Rs. 21,444 Mn, an increase of 13% over last year. Efforts of maintaining a healthy CASA inflow was supported through focused acquisition strategies driven by retail, corporate and SME banking segments. The CASA ratio of the Bank was 25.8% by end of the reporting period.

Accordingly, Union Bank’s Net Interest Margin declined from 3.4% to 3.2% within the review period. Credit Card late payment fee and other fee waivers issued to customers until September 2020 in-line with the CBSL guidelines aiming to support the customers affected by the pandemic coupled with a decline in economic activity caused a reduction of the overall fee income by about 26% during this period.

The Bank’s Treasury recorded a notable performance with a significant YoY increase of 68% in capital gains. Other Operating Income of the Bank increased on the back of exchange rate deflation by 6% during the said period.

 



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Salon owners contemplating pulling the plug, putting more than 300,000 jobs at risk

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  • = Ban on imported cosmetic products hampers industry
  • = Marked decrease in consumers patronising salons
  • = Developing Sri Lanka as a wedding-hub ‘fading away’
  • = Urges President to help protect the self-reliant industry

By Sanath Nanayakkare

Ninety percent of salons across Sri Lanka are at the risk of closure unless the temporary ban on imported cosmetic products is lifted soon, Jackie Aponso, president, Hair and Beauty Cluster (HBC) said last week addressing a press conference in Colombo.

She claimed that such an eventuality could lead to 75%-80% job losses of industry personnel. “That’s a large number as HBC is a unification of many associations in the beauty and personal care sector with 450,000 members,” she said.According to the figures given by her if the situation persists, 337,500 – 360,000 jobs would be lost for employees in the industry.

‘Yes, there is a sound fiscal argument for the government’s temporary ban on imported cosmetic products in the tight foreign exchange reserves backdrop. But if the ban is not lifted by the end of this month to facilitate the availability of international cosmetic brands in the market for upcoming Christmas and New Year, its impact will take a devastating toll on the 450,000 self-employed individuals engaged in the industry and 1.5 million of their dependents”, Jackie said.

‘Most foreign and local customers prefer international brands for their hair and skin treatments. Although a number of home-grown cosmetic brands have emerged, customers prefer their hair and facials done with brands that have been frontrunners in the market which they have relied on for years. Being a highly customer-centric business, we have to work with formulas that customers are comfortable with, because they are concerned about what we put on their face and hair.”

“It’s a relief to hear that the import ban is temporary. But it needs to be lifted quickly to allow sufficient lead time for cosmetics importers to place orders and bring the products to Sri Lanka. It was no secret that our industry was heavily battered by the Covid-19 pandemic and somehow we braved up to this point safeguarding our businesses. And we all have been looking forward to this season to offset the losses we suffered in the past two and a half years. If the ban is lifted by end of this month, imported brands will be available in the market by mid or end of November, and salons will be well-positioned to start work diligently as the season kicks off. But if the imported products reach here as late as mid-December, then this year also will be marked as another unfortunate business year for the salon industry, “she said.

“When we don’t have wedding makeup essentials, a number of other industries also will get affected; such as hotels, wedding and event planners, wedding florists, bridal photographers, Poruwa suppliers, hall decorators and so on. As a result of the import ban, a black market has emerged where the prices of cosmetics have gone up by 6-7 folds. This has put 90% of our beauty and personal care parlours in great difficulty. A hair spray which was about Rs. 2,000, now costs Rs. 12,000. Can we pass that cost burden to the customer? No, we can’t. It is the same with all other products. There are a few salons that can afford such high costs and charge high prices, but the majority of our members are not so, and they are at the risk of closing their businesses. As there has been a marked decrease in customers patronizing salons, some members even called us and asked for help to sell their equipment and exit the industry. Such a situation may create an unemployment problem as they are all self-employed individuals.”

According to HBC, the industry’s cosmetics import bill accounts for 0.08% of the total national import bill. They also highlighted the fact that all registered cosmetics importers and HBC members pay their due taxes to the government.

Salon entrepreneur Bernie Balasuriya said: “Our industry brings in foreign exchange to the country. When foreigners and expatriates come to Sri Lanka for weddings, their families stay in hotels for about a week. Sometimes we set up salon space inside the hotel to cater to beauty and personal care needs of these visitors. They want us to use international cosmetic brands. This is an industry which earns foreign exchange and which therefore demands best industry practices.”

Theekshani Kariyawasam, Gold medal winner at OMC Hairworld in France in the category of bridal makeup, who successfully competed against contestants from more than 60 countries, said that the situation is so sad especially because Sri Lankan beauty artistes and entrepreneurs have never been a burden on the economy. We have always relied on our own talent and commitment. We need international cosmetic products to work with and be recognized for highest standards on par with other destinations.”

Asoka Thilakaratna who boasts 35-years of experience in the industry said,”Skilled Sri Lankan hairdressers and beauticians get overseas jobs because they have a lot of knowledge and experience in working with international cosmetic brands and techniques. That serves as a plus point for them at job interviews with prospective foreign employers. Further, I heard the good news that there would be some Indian weddings taking place here in Sri Lanka in November, December and January. I know from my experience that they come as groups about a week before the wedding and get all their beauty treatments done in Sri Lanka. If we don’t have cosmetic brands they love and trust, we could miss out on these business opportunities because they make it a point to stay away from lesser known products and fake products.”

Concluding the comments, Jackie Aponso said,” We have made an appeal to President Ranil Wickremasinghe to consider the lifting of the ban with the objective of protecting this self-reliant industry and its self-employments. We look forward to a favourable solution in time to get back to business.”

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Sri Lanka eyes $2.9 billion IMF loan finalised in December 2022

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Sri Lanka expects the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Board to approve a $2.9 billion loan by year-end, according to a news report by Reuters.The IMF Board approval of the loan is expected by mid-December. From now until mid-November, the country aims to get financing assurances from public- and private-sector creditors.

The country earlier this month reached a staff-level agreement with the IMF for the loan of about $2.9 billion, contingent on it receiving financing assurances from official creditors and negotiations with private creditors.

“It’s going be very tough, but so much of it depends on China, basically one creditor, so maybe it can be done,” a bondholder told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

The virtual presentation to investors on Friday marks the first time the Sri Lankan government has formally engaged with private bondholders after deciding earlier this year that it would restructure $13 billion in international sovereign bonds, held by private creditors such as asset managers BlackRock and Ashmore.Central Bank Governor Nandalal Weerasinghe and Treasury Secretary Mahinda Siriwardena participated in the virtual presentation on Friday, along with representatives of financial and legal advisers Lazard and Clifford Chance.

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SLIM launches SLIM DIGIS for 4th consecutive year

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Sri Lanka Institute of Marketing (SLIM), the apex body for Sri Lankan Marketers, has opened entries for the 2022 edition of SLIM DIGIS from the 23rd of September until the 25th of October 2022. SLIM DIGIS celebrates and rewards outstanding work and talent within the digital sphere. This year’s competition, SLIM DIGIS 2.2, features two awards categories; the special awards category and the main awards category, under which multiple awards are poised to recognize the Best Digital Marketing campaigns from a range of categories chosen specifically to reflect the development and growth of Sri Lanka’s digital marketing sector.

Nuwan Gamage, President of SLIM, stated, “During the last 3 years, as a nation, we have faced numerous challenges than we have ever faced in our history. Consumer behavior changed dramatically, and companies that acted quickly were able to thrive despite the changing economic backdrop. In those agile approaches, we have seen digital marketing play a vital role and I firmly believe that it will continue to play a very prominent role in the nation’s branding national initiative that we are running currently to position Sri Lanka globally to travel, invest and live. I would like to invite all the digital marketers and brand owners to showcase great digital execution that they have done in this challenging environment.”

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