Mbabane: The First National Bank Eswatini (FNB) has issued an order directing its customers who applied for the bank’s Covid-19 temporary Credit Relief Program to start paying back their loans as from this month of July.
This comes after the Bank’s implementation of several measures to cushion possible impact which included the relief program in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, which strained business operations in Eswatini and globally. The Debt Relief Program started on April 16 and ended on June 30, 2020, and covered home loans, personal loans and WesBank loans.
Noteworthy is that the Bank did not charge repayment relief granted over the period for retail customers who applied for the relief. The Bank also issued that interest and fees would continue to accumulate on outstanding balances. Customers who applied for the Payment Holiday did so by adding a dedicated icon (COVID-19) on the FNB App which allowed them to apply with ease and got feedback on their application quicker without visiting the branch –an initiative which saw an overwhelming response from customers.
FNB Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Dennis Mbingo, mentioned that that many individual customers in the Bank’s retail segment had successfully contacted the Bank and provision was made for the foreseeable future. Mbingo said due to the pandemic the Bank’s customers had been impacted differently, and the Bank had considered personalized support as paramount. He added that as a leading Bank in the country with a wide range and variety of customers they valued their clients and were committed to taking time to ensure adequate, affordable help where customers needed it the most.
The CEO thanked the Bank’s customers for their continued understanding and support, saying the level of agility the industry had shown over this period would not be possible without the leadership of government and that of the Central Bank of Eswatini (CBE), whose continuous engagement with banks had allowed space for providing tailor-made banking solutions for customers.
FNB Head of Business Banking, Nozizwe Mulela, mentioned that FNB trusted that the 3-month Payment Holiday granted to customers’ businesses on its current WesBank/Business CPF facility had assisted in easing the financial burden in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, and had allowed time for broader business continuity measures to be adopted. “The payments will be reinstated in alignment with dates agreed on in the initial loan agreement between customers and the Bank,” said Mulela, adding that for further information and clarity customers must contact their FNB Relationship Manager. She said as Eswatini continues to intensify efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19, FNB Eswatini says its efforts to help customers whose financial positions were adversely impacted by the pandemic are on-going, and the bank remains committed to helping the nation time and beyond. The head of banking business said they appreciated customers who demonstrated sound banking behaviour and their interventions would assist them even in the future.
Reached for comment, FESBEC’s Hezekiel Mabuza lauded the move on the part of FNB saying their gesture was expected yet a surprise to its many customers. Mabuza said it was without doubt that businesses benefitted a lot from the Payment Holiday, which were negatively impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. The virus caught everyone off guard and it was only humane that organisations including financial institutions such as FNB could extend relief initiatives to their clientele, said Mabuza. Said Mabuza; “We do understand that the FNB is a business itself and looks to make profit from engaging its customers, and now, we call upon the Bank’s customers to honour their obligation and start paying back what is due to the financial institution,” said Mabuza, adding that as a business community they appeal to the Bank to consider the incumbency of the pandemic and perhaps prolong such relief initiatives. Mabuza mentioned that they are aware of the Bank’s promise to engage its clientele in the future through similar initiatives, going on to laud the Bank for its innovative technological endeavours which made it easy for the Bank’s customers to access the Payment Holiday Credit Relief program. The Bank’s Customers who applied for the Payment Holiday did so by adding a dedicated icon (COVID-19) on the FNB App which allowed them to apply with ease and got feedback on their application quicker without visiting the branch.
Business Eswatini Chief Executive Officer (CEO), E. Nathi Dlamini, said Business Eswatini is most pleased to hear of FNB’s Covid-19 temporary Credit Relief Program which helped support businesses which were already in dire straits, saying times such as these call for everyone to rise and to meet the challenge. “We give credit to the Bank for coming to the rescue of the business community,” said the CEO, adding that FNB is a fully-paid up member of Business Eswatini, and as an organization, they appreciate the relationship shared between the two entities. The CEO said their partnership with the Bank in coordinating efforts in their tireless endeavour to help build a vibrant economic landscape in the kingdom has borne fruits over the years. “We also appreciate other financial institutions that have followed suit in this regard, while acknowledging that it will take fiscal firepower to make a difference,” said the Business Eswatini CEO.
Dlamini said the FNB’s Credit Relief Program came when the business community found itself in unprecedented economic times, the likes of which were unrivalled in recent recorded history, adding that companies were being pummelled in all areas, with no end in sight and that others were beginning to cave in into the sustained pressure.
Said the CEO; “What we are witnessing right now is nothing short of an economic bloodbath and we have every reason to be worried sick, as we see more layoffs taking place and retrenchments looming large at a time when unemployment is already at alarming levels in the country,” said the CEO. He said what compounds the problem is that it’s not known how long the pandemic will last as well as how deep it will affect the very fabric of society, calling for the Bank to abide by its promise to look beyond the end of the recently elapsed 3-month relief initiative and seek to do more. Dlamini said, however, even if the outbreak were to end abruptly, the damage has already been done and too severe to be calculable.The CEO mentioned that they are about expecting more businesses especially financial institutions to extend a helping hand to their customers who are involuntarily affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, saying a healthy working relationship between businesses and customers is necessary if advancing profit is anything to go by.
On a parting shot, the CEO implored FNB customers to honour their obligation to start paying back, saying it was without doubt that the Bank’s customers benefitted immensely from the Payment Holiday Credit Relief Program and they could only show appreciation by honouring the other end of the bargain.
Businesses that were visited by the Independent News expressed their gratitude at the Bank’s gesture to provide the credit relief program, saying they were able to make it through the three months feeling a lot better.
Most of the businesses asked not to be named saying their businesses were still grappling with the pandemic which has left their companies’ operations hanging in the balance. They said they are forever indebted to FNB for extending such gestures through such exceptional times.