Jonathan Alles, the Chief Executive Officer/ Managing Director of Hatton National Bank PLC, believes that opportunity is always present, even in conditions as challenging and uncertain as what we face in the present day, and those who are open minded to identify them and determined to pursue, will succeed in the long run.

Speaking about the rapid upsurge in digitalisation in the Banking industry, Jonathan affirmed that the COVID-19 pandemic has encouraged the acceptance of digitally accessible services, and hence he anticipates a strong uptake in digital products and services in the year 2021, to better serve the customers in a more responsible manner.

“HNB’s focus on future readiness, proved to be invaluable during the pandemic, as our customers were able to strictly comply with social distancing guidelines while enjoying  access to our full spectrum of banking services – leveraging our robust internet and mobile banking platforms, as well as breakthrough digital payment and e-commerce facilitating solutions like SOLO, MOMO, IPG and AppiGo.  

“The Bank is currently in the process of implementing a digital layer, which will enable the bank to introduce an even broader spectrum of innovative digital products and services in collaboration with tech companies. At the same time, we will also be continuously adding  value to SOLO to guarantee a far superior experience for our customers.  

“As highlighted in the national budget for 2021, the Government is focusing on support to key segments such as agriculture, dairy, pharmaceutical, vehicle repair, IT, renewable energy and strongly emphasizing on local manufacturing, exports and entrepreneurship. As such, we see great opportunities in partnering with these critical sectors of the economy in order  to support a grassroots-led resurgence in 2021.”

The COVID-19 has affected many businesses worldwide, especially it has been quite challenging to the Banking sector, however, Jonathan, who is successfully steering the bank to achieve great heights, strongly believes that HNB needs to continue its transformation journey to be future ready. 

“We have continued to invest in critical  projects. The implementation of the Core Banking System was completed in August while the upgrade of the new Loan Origination System and the implementation of the digital layer is underway.

“Given the rising level of digitalisation, ensuring cyber/ information security has become a  greater priority than ever before. Accordingly, we have enhanced our focus on this area. A  Chief Information Security Officer was appointed in July 2020; in addition to the data loss  prevention system and the privileged access management system that were implemented,  plans are under way to invest further in this area.

“One of the key focus areas in 2021 will be to maintain asset quality. While we would  concentrate as much support as possible to support customers who are affected by the  pandemic to revive their businesses and livelihoods, we would also focus on quality  lending and efficient recoveries.

“Further we would continue to focus on improving our processes while aggressively pursuing opportunities for cost optimisation during these uncertain times in order to mitigate top-line constraints.  

“Ultimately, the success of any transformation project comes down to how our employees adapt. As an industry that is built on the value of service to customers, our employees are at the heart of our business, therefore, we will also continue to channel resources towards  continuous development of their skills and technical capabilities.”

Building public trust and confidence in the face of a global economic downturn is a tough grind to the Banking industry.

Explaining how the CEO can cultivate public confidence, he stated, “It has been over one year into the pandemic, and as per the World Bank, the global economy is heading towards a 4.4% contraction in 2020. While it is anticipated that there  would be recovery in 2021, the time taken for the domestic economy would largely depend  on how fast the adequate levels of vaccines would reach Sri Lanka and the revival of the global economy.

“Since mid-2019, the banking sector has been providing moratoriums to tourism and SME  sectors. Under the guidelines issued by the CBSL, the Banking sector stepped in to provide relief to the customers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and a significant portion of the Banking sector assets were under moratorium. With the  emergence of the second wave, the Banking sector is currently in the process of extending  relief to these aggrieved customers.  

“At HNB, we strongly believe that it is our duty to stand by our customers, and stakeholders  during good times and bad. Moratoriums offered to over 85,000 customers and working  capital loans granted under the CBSL schemes and through our own funds over the past  few months, demonstrate our efforts in this regard. 

“While ensuring the financial health of our customers, during these unprecedented times, it  is critically important to ensure the physical health and safety of all our stakeholders in  conducting our business. In this regard, as an essential service in the country, we take all  necessary steps in line with the guidelines issued by the health authorities to safeguard the  interests of our stakeholders.  

“Together, as a nation, Sri Lanka can overcome any current and future challenge and we  strongly believe in the growth potential of our country. The Banking sector will have to play  a critical role in the economic resurgence of Sri Lanka, and HNB, as always, will remain focused on being a catalyst in driving the revival of our nation.”