With 44 years worth of banking experience, Nimal Tillekeratne, the Director/ Chief Executive Officer of Pan Asia Banking Corporation PLC, is an industry luminary.

Nimal’s leadership has transformed Pan Asia Bank into a next-of-a-kind, fast-paced bank while being a sustainable business partner. In addition, his hard work and dedication has helped the bank in a number of ways, particularly in shaping the bank’s brand philosophy-making it a truly Sri Lankan bank.

“I commenced my career in the Banking industry almost 44 years ago and still find that the industry has so much to offer. I was lucky to gain exposure to various disciplines in the industry, heading branch credit, commercial credit, credit card business and collections over the decades. As Senior DGM at Sampath Bank, I was proud to be instrumental in driving the bank’s branch presence within the Northern and Eastern Provinces in the country during challenging times. I was also on the Board of Sampath Information Technology Solutions Limited, a fully-owned subsidiary of Sampath Bank.

The most challenging and significant achievements of Nimal include the opening of 96 branches within three years, and the opening of 10 branches within one day.

“Thereafter, I did a short stint overseas and then returned home to join Cargills Bank to set up business processes at the newly-formed entity. Prior to being appointed  CEO of Pan Asia Bank, I served as the Senior DGM of Seylan Bank, where I oversaw the bank’s core operations, trade services, remittances business, alternate banking, self-service channels and process digitisation efforts in addition to leading the bank’s ambitious branch expansion initiative. I finally joined Pan Asia Bank in 2017 as Director/ CEO.”

Unlike past Asian and global (financial) crises, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected all industries, including the Financial industry. Therefore, banking institutions play an important role in ensuring a stable economic condition during the pandemic. Accordingly, Nimal stated that banks in Sri Lanka are supporting the government’s relief measures such as moratoriums and loan schemes for those affected.

“The Banking Industry will have a crucial role to play in partnering the government’s efforts to stimulate economic recovery and extend loans to people to rejuvenate their businesses. Going ahead, I believe that Banks will not expand brick and mortar branches as managing large staff is another challenge. I believe expansion of branches will slow and there will be more flexible working policies, with greater digital online banking activity,” he added.

There has been a sluggish economic growth due to Easter attacks, political uncertainty and a presidential election, and unfortunately, what promised to be a year of economic revival, 2020, brought the COVID-19 pandemic to Sri Lanka and it has continued to 2021 as well. Therefore, the Banking industry has to play a major role in cultivating renewed trust among people.

“The Sri Lankan Banking Industry is highly regulated, which should by itself build trust among customers. Since the Easter attacks in 2019 and the COVID-19 pandemic, the industry has been impacted – however, it remains resilient and ready to pick up no sooner economic recovery is seen. It is important to understand that contrary to perception, banks work with small margins, with an eye on the broader vision to make banking accessible to the people of the country. Return on assets for banks is 1%-1.5% whereas corporations make margins of 8%-15%. Banks have a critical role to play in any economy.”

On the topic of how the existing finance schemes could be more accessible to SMEs’, the industry expert mentioned that the programmes introduced by the government, such as the Saubhagya initiative and the scheme for the novel coronavirus affected sectors are notable and relieve pressure on banks. Furthermore, Nimal said that Pan Asia will aggressively push green lending in 2021 to enhance sustainability of SMEs.

“In its latest green lending initiative, Pan Asia Bank has provided irrigation facility to sugarcane farmers in Monaragala in partnership with the  Global Climate Partnership Fund (GCPF), Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research Training Institute (HARTI) and the Lanka Sugar Company Pelwatte – to set up a modern irrigation system along with energy efficient practices in great extent through the proposed irrigation system to improve productivity and yield. Pan Asia Bank is committed to support SMEs irrespective of their scale – big or small – as it considers them to be the lifeblood of our economy. For this purpose, the Bank continues to strengthen its regional presence and deploys more resources to support these segments. Pan Asia Bank identifies SMEs and then supports them through low cost funding and technical and business management skills.”

Pan Asia’s identity as ‘the Truly Sri Lankan Bank’ inspires it to cater to the most urgent needs of its customers and the wider society. Outperforming the industry average in the face of the challenges seen in the 2019-20 year reflects its effective business model and financial expertise.

He continued: “In order to ease the burden of the pandemic on SME customers who have been badly hit, the Bank organised webinars to help 250 SMEs understand strategies for a post-pandemic world. Pan Asia also became the proud recipient of the first USD 7.75 million Green Bond launched by the Switzerland-based Symbiotics, which will be utilised to support and promote local agriculture with special emphasis on encouraging use of indigenous seeds, sustainable agriculture, renewable energy and energy efficiency projects.

“Pan Asia Bank was also recognised as the Runner-up in the ‘Product Innovation’ category of the #ClientInnovationAwards2020, held by Infosys Finacle. The bank took centre-stage at the high-profile ‘Presidential Environment Awards 2019’. Most recently, Pan Asia Bank was recognised once again in Business Today’ Top 30 ranking for 2019-20 and was as rewarded as the ‘Best Green Bank’ by the prestigious Global Banking and Finance Review Awards 2020. I have great faith in Pan Asia Bank to evolve further on the occasion of our 25th anniversary in 2020.”In conclusion, the CEO affirmed that Pan Asia will focus on productivity rather than expansion and also on digitalisation. “We will do more with less to become an even more sustainable operation while riding on the wave of higher adoption of digital banking channels witnessed in 2020. The Bank will definitely enhance its presence on digital channels. Process digitisation and automation is the way forward for quality customer service, cost control and growth in the Retail Banking sphere going ahead.”