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COVID-19 and bankers

The world still hasn’t quite come to terms with the outbreak of COVID-19. World governments have made extensive preparations, implementing total lockdowns and encouraging people to practice social distancing to curb the spread of the virus. As major organizations and businesses brace for long term closures, finance ministries and monetary bodies across the globe are evaluating the losses that can be expected. Most commodities, assets and holdings have begun to show declines while stock markets around the world including the NYSE, the Dow Jones and FTSE have all registered some of the biggest drops in history.

At a time like this, the world is turning its focus towards the few industries that are acting as buffers, injecting some normalcy into the cycle of things. Banking is one of these sectors. As the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to reverberate, banks have a role to play as systemic stabilizers.

Governments, businesses and even individuals around the world are heavily reliant on banking services and the active role of financial institutions. For household users, day to day banking operations have become a necessity and a way of life.

While the world is coming to terms with embracing extended quarantine, self-isolation and social distancing practices, banks continue to provide them with the resources to effectively do so. Elaborate digital payment mechanisms, minimal use of paper currency and usage of plastic money are a significant part of the equation for prevention of COVID-19. Banks and their employees have a responsibility in ensuring that these processes can function adequately.

In Pakistan, the banking sector is rapidly adjusting to changing market dynamics. The State Bank of Pakistan has issued directives to all banks to waive fees on digital payment platforms including Internet, Mobile and ATM banking to facilitate digital payments and give convenience to customers. Other efforts are being made to provided subsidized finance for healthcare facilities infrastructure and equipment.

Furthermore, the banking sector is taking efforts to protect its own people through implementation of safety measures including communication of safety measures, provision of respiratory masks and sanitizers and disinfection of operating locations. Furthermore, many banks took the lead in team safety by reducing on-ground presence to critical team members who were then divided into two work groups working on alternate 14 day stretches to limit chances of disease transmission. Digital options to shift to a fully work from home system for centralized teams are also being explored.

It is a challenging time for the financial industry, and we are striving to serve our customers and protect their interests as well as the health of our own people in the best possible manner. This pandemic may well be the impetus to drive adoption of digital financial services in true letter and spirit.

The financial situation around the world and in Pakistan is volatile. It is a difficult call to predict what the future holds but we remain hopeful that we will be able to cater to the needs of the people of Pakistan in the most efficient and effective manner.

MIQDAD SIBTAIN, "COVID-19 and bankers," Business recorder. 2020-03-28.
Keywords: Economics , Economic issues , Economic growth , Financial industry , State Bank , FTSE , ATM

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