Playing our part in Namibia’s COVID-19 fight
By Vetumbuavi Mungunda, Chief Executive of Standard Bank Namibia
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented a unique set of challenges to communities, businesses and people’s livelihoods and caused severe disruptions to global value chains – Namibia being no exception.
With the economy shut down in April and May, movement was restricted and trade was significantly disrupted. Many businesses were forced to scale down operations, cut salaries, or retrench employees. Sadly, many enterprises closed forever due to the severity of the crisis.
Standard Bank confronted the pandemic on several fronts. We made the health and safety of our staff and clients a key priority and implemented several measures to minimise the risk of transmission. Social distancing protocols were immediately implemented at work and most employees started working from home.
All of the bank’s employees across the country were provided with sanitisers and immune boosters to keep them safe and healthy. Service areas, ATMs and other points of contact continue to be regularly deep-cleaned and decontaminated.
We also implemented several relief measures to assist clients, including payment holidays for the hardest-hit industries – most notably the SME, tourism and hunting sectors. Interest on student loans was waived from April to June, while other clients were engaged on a case-by-case basis with a view to finding the best solutions for their specific challenges. We are pleased to note that we have been able to provide assistance to over 95% of clients who applied for credit relief.
To assist clients and stimulate economic activity, the bank has also reduced the prime interest rate by a cumulative 275 basis points over the past 12 months. Other relief measures include waiving transactional fees relating to value-added services – such as TV subscriptions, electricity purchases, prepaid-airtime, and mobile contracts – and discounting cellphone banking and third-party payments fees by 25% from April to June.
Communities without access to water are at higher risk of contracting and spreading the virus. To assist in preventing community transmission, Standard Bank donated water tanks for use in informal settlements in Gobabis, Tsumeb and Grootfontein. Further, sanitisers were widely distributed.
The Walvisbay community, which was in the epicentre of the pandemic in June and July, was provided with food parcels and immune boosters. We are also in the process of building 20 houses in Kuisebmund for families whose houses were destroyed by a fire in the Twaloloka settlement. These houses are being built through the Buy-a-Brick initiative with the assistance of the Shack Dwellers Federation, and should be ready for occupation in November.
It is expected that COVID-19 and its aftershocks will be with us for some time to come, meaning we will need to learn to keep ourselves safe and healthy while supporting livelihoods and economic activity. Maintaining social distancing, regularly sanitising our hands, wearing masks in public places, and avoiding large gatherings will remain necessary practices for the foreseeable future.
Further, the lessons learned, including around workforce contingency plans, working remotely, conducting business online, and providing services virtually, will contribute to the development of an agile and resilient future-ready economy. More than 50% of our staff are still working from home, while continuing to provide uninterrupted, professional, safe, and secure services.
In our conversations with stakeholders, business leaders and clients, the key questions that arise relate to the duration of the COVID-19 outbreak – we are seeing new waves of infections flaring up in Europe and North America – the duration of global travel restrictions, the outlook for growth and the recovery, and whether there will be any lasting structural impact on the economy. It is clear that the economic impact of the pandemic, and the duration of the recovery period, remains uncertain.
Despite this, we would like to assure stakeholders that Standard Bank remains committed to providing the understanding and support that our employees, clients and communities will need in the period ahead. Standard Bank remains well capitalised and highly liquid, and we maintain capital and liquidity in excess of regulatory requirements. We remain rock-solid as we weather the crisis, and we commit to keeping businesses and lives on track.