Brian Hayes, BPFI CEO
The Covid-19 pandemic has placed all of us in unprecedented circumstances, and exceptional measures are required from all of us to get through it.
As the Taoiseach so aptly put it in his address to the nation: “In years to come, let them say of us, when things were at their worst, we were at our best.”
Just as our healthcare workers, our emergency and public transport services and our food retail staff are demonstrating, bank staff too are striving to do their best to support customers and the economy.
Many of the 28,000 people who work across financial institutions in Banking and Payments Federation Ireland (BPFI) member firms are working on the front line.
They are helping to ensure continuity of service in the day-to-day banking and payments services that we readily take for granted – whether we avail of those services through the branch, telephone, internet or mobile device.
These are the people who help facilitate the 3.5 million debit and credit card payments, 406,000 ATM transactions and 73,000 cash-based transactions in bank branches that typically take place here daily.
Continuity of service is just one key challenge.
Another is the capacity of our customers to sustain themselves financially in the face of growing unemployment. Uniquely, all of the main retail banks have come together to provide a range of supports for personal and business customers whose circumstances have been impacted by the virus crisis.
These important measures include:
- A payment break for up to three months, which is available to personal and business customers. Such breaks can be followed by further reviews, depending on the extent of the customer’s financial difficulties. Customers seeking a payment break should contact their bank. Each is implementing a streamlined application process.
- Banks deferring court proceedings for three months.
- Provision of working capital facilities and supply-chain supports to businesses.
Following discussions with the Central Bank, we are satisfied a repayment break of up to three months will not adversely impact on the customer’s credit record or on the bank’s reporting of this facility. Further discussions are taking place with the Central Bank regarding the implications of any longer-term repayment break.
Mortgage-related payment breaks and deferrals of court proceedings are also being made available by the non-bank mortgage lenders and main credit-servicing firms. This effectively means the vast majority of mortgage holders in Ireland can seek these support measures.
I would urge customers to contact their bank if they feel the need for any of the supports I have outlined. Many people are facing reduced household income through no fault of their own. Our banks are standing by to assist them wherever possible.
Early engagement is key. It trumps unilateral action by the customer any day. Those fortunate enough to continue making their repayments should do so, otherwise debt will be built up unnecessarily.
Our member firms are working flat out to honour their commitments by putting in place streamlined systems to facilitate customer applications efficiently and to deliver appropriate solutions over the weeks and months ahead.
However, banks’ call centres are experiencing a 200-fold increase in the volumes of call.
So while people’s anxiety to find ways to quickly deal with their financial difficulties is perfectly understandable, patience is needed to make sure we get these things right.
At BPFI we have put in place several cross-sector co- ordinating groups drawn from across our member firms. These are working daily to provide continuity of existing services and to develop and manage contingency plans for all sorts of challenges which may lie ahead.
Undertaken in close consultation with the Central Bank of Ireland, the Government and other stakeholders, this work will mitigate, as much as is humanly possible, any service disruptions for customers.
In this regard, the statement by Central Bank governor Gabriel Makhlouf in the ‘Sunday Independent’ – that no effort will be spared to protect consumers, households and firms from the economic effects of this crisis – is very reassuring.
So is the commitment of the Central Bank to work with BPFI and our member firms to provide financial breathing space to our customers.
Which brings me back to people. Yes, automated systems deliver a great deal, not least in the financial sector.
But we still depend hugely on our people to take decisions, to implement them and to deliver them across the range of banking services.
The commitment and capacity of our people are our strongest resources in this battle against the coronavirus and in our sector’s determined efforts to play the best role we can in supporting others.
Brian Hayes is chief executive of the Banking and Payments Federation Ireland. BPFI represents the interests of 100 member firms, including licensed domestic and foreign banks, non-bank mortgage lenders and credit-servicing firms.