The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic needs no introduction. While discussions and debates about the respiratory disease started off with dismissing it as a slightly stronger version of the flu, here we are a couple of months later, with more than 400,000 reported cases globally and roughly one-third of the world’s population in quarantine.
Bahrain was first introduced to the virus late February, and at the time of writing this article, the Kingdom is at 1003 active cases and controlled opening of retail outlets till the 23rd of April.
What are the effects of coronavirus in the financial sector?
Online services – cashless, interaction-free, virtual, all of these have become buzzwords over a fortnight, so have sanitation and hygiene. Many have resorted to using only electronic money transfers to avoid handling cash after WHO’s warning that coronavirus could be transferred from handling cash – as it passes so many hands. For those who still use currency notes on a regular basis, the instructions are simple – wash your hands with soap after handling currency.
The light of these circumstances, the Central Bank of Bahrain (CBB) has instructed money changers to disinfect all incoming currency notes and wholesale imported notes with Ultraviolet Germicidal Irradition (UVGI) or isolate them for 72 hours.
The CBB has also issued 6 regulatory measures to contain the financial repercussions of the coronavirus.
They are as follows:
According to the recently published Bahrain Annual Economic Report 2019, financial services is the Kingdom’s largest non-oil sector, contributing 16.5 per cent to GDP, followed by manufacturing at 14.5 per cent and government services at 11.8 per cent.
As such a crucial segment of the economy, we looked at the measures banks and other financial institutions in Bahrain have been taking to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
The National Bank of Bahrain (NBB) while increasingly shifting towards a ‘work from home’ environment, implemented a sanitization regime across NBB’s entire network, in addition to providing all customer-facing employees with the necessary personal protective equipment, such as gloves, masks and sanitizers.
Bahrain Islamic Bank (BISB) has adopted measures like cancelling all business trips, temporarily closing the bank’s Budaiya branch, taking the bank’s Annual General Meeting virtual, apart from instructing over 60% of its employees to work from home. Ithmaar Bank is allowing only a limited number of customers in its branches, and has completely stopped receiving customers in its Seef Head Office.
Many banks have also come up with creative ideas to keep customers engaged. For example, Al Baraka Bank has announced an Instagram live of their upcoming “alBarakat Draw” while Al Salam Bank recently announced the winner of their Danat Al Salam Grand Winner remotely, contacting the winner through video conferencing. Al Salam has also announced a #StrongerTogether initiative to support customers, their families, and families of quarantined individuals.
Standard Chartered Bank limited working hours from 8 am to 2 pm, while the Bank of Bahrain and Kuwait (BBK) reminded customers to take their banking online, through the bank’s mobile banking app. Ahi United Bank (AUB) is encouraging the use of mobile banking by offering customers a chance to win BD 10,000. Arab Bank’s array of services is also available online.
Finally, while all its services are available online for customers, Bank Ila, Bahrain’s first fully digital online bank also implemented a remote working policy for its employees.
While most branches remain open, all the banks in Bahrain have strengthened their online banking platforms, and are urging customers to choose digital banking over traditional banking channels.
There’s no better time than this to pack away your currency notes and take your banking online. While doing so, make sure to keep an eye out for scams and phishing activities, and never share your sensitive information with unverified sources.