By Rusiripala Tennakoon –
Plagues have historically transformed social, economic, cultural and more than anything else the political landscapes of the countries, as the impacts, pushing towards new global trends. Several are the Interesting revelations with many controversies trailing. While making passing references to those I wish to deal more emphatically with some of the current and possible future developments associated with the COVID-19 pandemic the world is now facing with a special focus on the Banking Industry.
In the 13th century (1346) the TANA port city area of the Black Sea situated near the estuary of river DON was hit with a plague which later came to be known as the Black Death disease. It was believed to be transmitted through the Chinese Traders travelling along the main sea route, the Silk Road. By 1347 this plague spread into the European countries around the Mediterranean through France and North Africa to Italy. It was a devastating epidemic which eventually wiped out over 50% of the population of any country it hit. Some Italian writers who managed to survive the deadly attack wrote down as follows; “…..many people began to find dark blotches and bruises on all parts of their bodies. ..All the power of medicine were profitless and unavailing. In most cases death occurred within three days from the appearance of symptoms…..”.It reached England and wiped out about half the English population. Some of the social effects it brought about are maddening. The write ups about the situation go on to explain the social fantasies associated such as, they started believing…., “An infallible way of warding off the appalling evil was to drink heavily and enjoy life……..going round merrymaking and gratify all cravings whenever the opportunity offered,…..” It is said that those women who recovered were less chaste in the aftermath. Even the economic order of the society underwent drastic changes shaking the foundations of a feudal order that prevailed before, mainly due to the peasants gaining the upper hand. The limitation of available labor encouraged them to demand changes to their advantage. The revolts launched by peasants compelled the feudal masters and the governments to offer fixed and higher wages to them eventually leading to wage legislations. The Black Death plague definitely brought about new critical socio-economic conditions revolutionizing existing political structures, breaking a long- standing cycle of extractive institutions to the emergence of more inclusive ones. It is accepted that it is the Black Death Plague that led to the establishment of the famous Wages Act.
History is full of periods of other pandemics that caused similar devastations from time to time, which too were followed by significant socio-economic changes in their wake. Flu that broke out in 1918, later came to be known as the ‘Spanish Flu’ which spread fast across the world. killing an estimated number exceeding 50 million. The Spanish flu, also known as the 1918 influenza pandemic, was an unusually deadly influenza pandemic caused by the H1N1 influenza A virus. Lasting from February 1918 to April 1920, it infected 500 million people – about a third of the world’s population at the time – in four successive waves.
“The ILO arose in the ravages of the Spanish flu and the ruins of the first world war. The preceding period had been one of profound social, economic and political upheaval. Increased competition, industrialization and unprecedented growth were achieved at the expense of workers. Poverty, inequality, discrimination and poor conditions of work meant that Europe was on the brink of what the ILO constitution termed – unrest so great that the peace and harmony of the world are imperiled -”
The latest pandemic disaster COVID -19, sweeping across the globe has already infected about 169 million people causing 3.52 million confirmed deaths and has assumed proportions of one of the deadliest pandemics in human history. The First out – break was in Wuhan – China on or about December 2019. Quoting International references, it’s impact could be short summarized as follows;
“The pandemic has resulted in significant global social and economic disruption, including the largest global recession since the Great Depression. It has led to widespread supply shortages exacerbated by panic buying, agricultural disruption, and food shortages……. Numerous educational institutions and public areas have been partially or fully closed, and many events have been cancelled or postponed. Misinformation has circulated through social media and mass media, and political tensions have been exacerbated. The pandemic has raised issues of racial and geographic discrimination, health equity, and the balance between public health imperatives and individual rights.”
The economic recession following COVID-19 pandemic has negatively affected many things including general health , people’s mental health and education. Closures of universities and loss of income and many other pandemic-related consequences experienced by a number of young adults may further contribute to poor mental health. The developing situation is so complex to be summarily narrated; However, in order to explain the current situation even in outline, the following format is considered, preferable.
COVID-19 has affected many countries with major economic consequences.
* Job Loss or Income Insecurity Experienced by adults;
* Schools and childcare centers across all countries in the world have been forced to close and transitioned to virtual instruction as makeshift arrangements to help slow the spread of coronavirus;(education)
* has caused direct impacts on income due to premature deaths, workplace absenteeism, and reduction in productivity,
* has caused, slowing down of production disrupting global supply chains and factory closures,
* service industries such as tourism, hospitality, and transportation remain worse affected due to reduction in travel.
* unemployment rates have already reached record high levels,
* In many countries the informal employment sectors will suffer as a result of reduction in work due to health- related restrictions and low demands for their services,
* disruptions caused to the economic activities negatively impact manufacturing and service industries, and the financial markets continue to be volatile.
* The effect of COVID-19 spread has heavily impacted Global financial markets.
In this context there is a growing concern whether this crisis too will pave the way towards some kind of global consensus for a lasting structural adjustment program which would serve to commonly address the issues of the global economy. There is no doubt that emphasis should be on measures to contain the virus and minimize it’s spreading risks by concerted international collective action with the development and distribution of vaccines. But as it is unlikely for things to come back to normal in the near future, proactive international actions are required not only to save lives but also to protect economic prosperity.
World has reacted the same way even before, looking for general solutions in their collective effort to eliminate the perils that arise after natural as well as man- made disasters. The global polarization of forces to establish common International Bodies to assist the humanity to face the consequences of the second world war is an example.
Bretton Woods Agreement was negotiated in July 1944 by delegates from 44 countries at the United Nations Monetary and Financial Conference held in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire. Its principal goal was creating an efficient foreign exchange system, preventing competitive devaluations of currencies, and promoting international economic growth. The Bretton Woods Agreement and System were central to these goals and it also created two important organizations—the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. The initial task of the World Bank was to fund the reconstruction of countries affected by the war, but its work was soon dominated by the long-term objective of spurring development across the globe.
In the complex monetary system that has now evolved and in the context of the economic devastation the world is facing due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we see a crisis demanding a more permanent solution under a collective effort going beyond the limited actions taken by regulators as temporary facilitative measures. Such a move should have a special focus on the global banking Industry.
Some developments taking place in the Banking Industry will be of importance in this regard. In the pandemic situation banks are the most looked up- to, recognized as critically important for Economic recovery, while it is also the sector facing worse challenges making it the most negatively affected, due to the Pandemic. Restrictive measures taken in respect of the Covid prevention have serious repercussions on the banking operations and the consequential limitations imposed on the business activities adversely affect all normal operations of the banks.
Regulators have taken steps as immediate relief measures to ease the restrictions earlier imposed on liquidity and capital of banks to enable them to meet the demands of the economy during the crisis;
However due to the prolonged effect of the pandemic situation and its future unpredictability, the relaxations offered/granted by the regulators need to be revisited due to the following;
* banks may need to readjust their lending portfolios arising out of the growing need of loan facilities required by clients;
* Banks witness an increase in their expected loan loss provision.
* With the rise of non-performing loans, the credit exposure of banks will get affected unless adequately supplemented by capital adequacies;
* Due to the regulated low interest policies the interest margins and profitability remains adversely impacted;
This gives rise to a situation where the banks are faced with great uncertainties beyond their control and assessment. The corporates and firms face difficulties in servicing the loans taken by them. Even the household borrowers are unable to repay their loans. As a result the banks experience losses in their revenues undermining their profitability negatively affecting their capital position.
Banks are facing threatening consequences and highly competitive pressures due to ;
a) The low interest regimes introduced by governments and regulators,
b) The switch over tendencies created due to needs arising out of the pandemic situations such as social distancing, limited business hours etc. which make the customers to choose other options such as internet banking and new trends in the norms of Digitalisation;
c) Emergence and competition that would be posed by financial technology companies known as ‘Fintech’ which have already grappled and intruded into, the financial intermediation services by companies such as Alibaba, Tencent, Amazon and Apple .
Let us see some of the developments that have taken place within our reach in the banking industry in response to this situation.
1. A tendency of withdrawing from Asia as displayed by some Multi National banks;
Eg City Bank now confines its Asian operations to Dubai, Hongkong and Singapore and withdraw operations in many other countries;
There is a strong possibility that other Multi Nationals follow suit;,
2. The work from home policy encouraged by banks as a saving measure to be soon followed by closures of branches,
3. Monetary Authority of Singapore has already issued 4 Digital banking Licenses. Ali Baba and Ant Finace have secured Digital bank licenses in Singapore,
4. In Indonesia ‘Fintec’ operations are thriving with Ride-hailing business dominating. Indonesia even used the E-Commerce platform for distributing government help assistance to people,
Amidst these trends there is a growing concern about the need for an initiative for collective action to address this Global Banking Crisis and COVID-19 has created a compulsory ethical obligation for all Central and Reserve Banks to address this with immediate effect.