Banking and Covid-19: Crisis leadership
This year's Awards for Excellence recognise the pivotal role banks have performed throughout the pandemic to address the impact on clients, both financial and emotional.
The extraordinary events of 2020 have had a brutal impact on financial activity around the world. While it is the human cost that is the hardest to bear, the economic and financial burden will also be felt for years to come.
Euromoney was in the early stages of planning its Awards for Excellence programme, which has been a key part of the editorial calendar for many years, as the true severity of the pandemic hit home.
With such extraordinary events unfolding before us, it was very clear that the industry we cover, banking, was going to be front and centre of the policy response, not only to the urgent healthcare funding needed to tackle the virus itself but also to the consequential – and at that stage almost unthinkable – cessation of much economic activity across the world.
Our Awards for Excellence needed to reflect that new reality. Therefore, this year’s awards incorporate at their core a recognition of the many innovative strategies, both large and small, that banks swiftly put in place to address the impact on clients, both financial and emotional, of this pandemic.
It is these strategies that we recognise this year through our new Excellence in Leadership awards.
The response to Covid-19 has covered everything that the banking industry is about. At the very highest levels of government, banking expertise has dictated the course of events.
In Europe, the very early recognition by certain institutions that government lending programmes would have to involve 100% guarantees influenced the national response across many countries.
By explaining that banks’ prudential responsibilities were such that even a guarantee of 85% would not be enough for the smallest companies, the industry promoted the fast distribution of 100% government-guaranteed loans in many jurisdictions as the scale of the crisis became apparent.
The banks’ responses to this crisis provided an opportunity to address some of the public vitriol that has come their way since the financial crash of 2008
The concept was quickly adopted across the region, speeding up the flow of vital state support to the businesses where it was so desperately needed.
At the other end of the scale, in many countries, banks acted as a financial lifeline to remote cash-reliant communities, now cut off from work, family and sources of income.
This necessitated quick thinking, from helping a large development agency in East Africa cover its payroll when the suspension of commercial flights impacted its ability to import physical cash, to the repurposing of a fleet of vans in Myanmar so that they could drive cash to remote towns and villages and act as full service mobile branches.
For many people, the most immediate problem they faced when the world shut down was how to get their money home. This often involved getting traditionally cash remittances into electronic form. The banks stepped up.
When Singapore suffered a second spike in coronavirus cases among the city state’s migrant labourers in April, a consumer lender linked up with the manpower ministry to enable these workers – who are usually paid in cash – to remit money overseas.
It was a similar story in Qatar, where one bank developed a contactless digital card to enable workers to send remittance payments home within 72 hours of foreign exchange houses being forced to close.
Fabric of society
The banks’ responses to this crisis provided an opportunity to address some of the public vitriol that has come their way since the financial crash of 2008.
Their role as the conduit through which emergency funding was delivered to individuals and businesses in the depth of the crisis has served to emphasise how intricately woven into the fabric of society banks are.
Many have been quick to emphasise this, from the big Wall Street lender that turned its NYC headquarters into a food bank production centre, distributing 1,000 meals a day across the city, to the lone bank employee in Ecuador who single-handedly opened his bank branch and handled as many transactions as he could when businesses across the hard-hit city had shut down.
Few in this industry, or any other, will be keen to relive the events of the first half of 2020. But for the winners of our regional and country awards this year, their part in not only managing, but leading, the response will be the most important legacy of their business over the last 12 months.
Euromoney Excellence in Leadership awards: regional winners
Asia CB Bank
Western Europe Barclays
North America Bank of America
Middle East Commercial Bank of Qatar
Central and Eastern Europe Alfa-Bank Belarus
Latin America BAC International