Private banks stifle SME credit support scheme

Private banks have been far less supportive than state banks in the provision of the Government’s new credit support scheme announced last month, The Sunday Morning Business learns.
Two leading business chambers which have a large number of small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) members revealed to us that this has interfered with the fulfilment of the original objectives of the scheme.

An official from the Confederation of Micro, Small, and Medium Industries (COSMI) noted that state banks were supportive as the scheme was announced by the Government, whereas private banks were not very keen on supporting.

“Banks have to be supportive as this is a measure taken by the Ministry of Finance and the Central Bank. But what happens now is that state banks restructure the loans while private banks restructure it only for their established customers,” the official added.

A senior official from another business chamber, who wished to remain anonymous, told us that unlike state-owned banks, private banks have been hesitant about issuing applications and providing information on this scheme.

“Private banks have not been supportive at all. Only the government banks are willing to provide this scheme,” the official noted.

However, in spite of these issues, the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) is rumoured to be expecting around or over 20,000 applications from SMEs requesting the credit support scheme. With the revised deadline of the scheme ending last Monday (10), Sri Lanka’s leading private and state-owned banks were said to have received over 3,000 applications each.

According to the officials, the hesitation from private banks has been due to the fact that banks have to manage their credit and prioritise their shareholders.

The CBSL is expected to calculate the exact number of applications from each bank by Thursday (20), as certain banks are still in the process of compiling the received applications, The Sunday Morning Business learns.

A leading private bank confirmed to us last Tuesday (11) that they had received a considerable number of applications and was in the process of collecting and compiling applications from all of its branches.

According to the circular, banks have been given time until 31 March 2020 to review the applications. However, COSMI said it would prefer the review and processing time period to be extended by another three months.

Senior figures in the banking industry, however, told us that even though banks have gone out of their way to issue this scheme, they faced several problems and that was merely because of the lack of awareness of applicants.

Despite the requirements clearly being mentioned in the relevant circular in Sinhala, Tamil, and English and wide publicity given to the scheme, applicants who do not meet the required criteria are said to have been requesting information and applications from the banks.

Our sources added that apart from this issue faced by the banks, they were supportive of the scheme as the Central Bank requested the banks to help implement the scheme. This is because the implementation of the scheme was a decision taken following discussions with chief executive officers of banks, and this scheme is beneficial for both SMEs and banks.

With a view of accelerating economic growth in the country, the Ministry of Finance issued the credit support scheme circular on 13 January this year, providing time until 31 January 2020 to submit applications.

Accordingly, SMEs that earned an annual turnover between Rs. 16 million to Rs. 750 million for the year ended 31 December 2019 were eligible for this scheme. The scheme excluded import facilities for imports other than machinery and equipment, as well as facilities for importation of vehicles.

Following continuous requests from SMEs, the Central Bank extended the initial deadline by further 10 days until 10 February.

Issuing a press release on 10 February, the Central Bank noted that licensed commercial banks and licensed specialised banks have agreed to provide a special credit support scheme to eligible SME borrowers of respective licensed banks, with a view to complement the fiscal incentives already announced by the Government.

According to CBSL Deputy Governor H.A. Karunaratne, total advances for the banking sector would be Rs. 8 trillion and the maximum possible SME exposure would be around 10-12% of that.