Having prepared for two months, I thought we were as ready as we could be for the government’s implementation of the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) to fight Covid-19. But the ECQ has presented some unexpected challenges.
Prior to the lockdown, the steps we had taken included splitting our specialist teams, having units of bigger teams swap locations, and moving subsets of head office units to alternative sites. We were organized so that all of the bank’s critical head office functions could run even if some of our employees were to contract Covid-19. As for our branches, we believed that with over 850 of BPI/BPI Family Savings branches and 300 BPI BanKo branches, we could respond to an infection in any one branch by simply closing it, and our footprint would remain sizable.
The comprehensive lockdown revealed the limitations of our planning. When it was first announced, we were concerned that amongst the many bank functions, only ATMs would be allowed to operate. Fortunately, banking was appropriately classified as a critical industry. Our scenarios had contemplated reduced staffing, but not the skeleton staffing that the ECQ required. And so the first few days of the lockdown were spent trying to determine exactly who needed to comprise the skeleton staff in the head office units, and which of our branches would remain open. Having determined both, we then had to confront the challenge of getting our people to work every day. The absence of public transportation and the prevalence of check points made coming to work a challenge even for our most determined employees. There were days when we did not know which branches we could open until the staff actually turned up.
Fortunately, we quickly established a cadence that has allowed us to service the vast majority of your banking needs. Approximately one-third of our BPI/ BPI Family Savings branches and the vast majority of our BanKo branches that are open service customers from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m., and we continue to see a steady stream of transactions in these branches. The availability of our almost 2,800 ATMs and CAMs is at well over 90 percent. Interestingly, we are seeing clients of other banks account for a growing percentage of all our ATM transactions, a result of the high availability of our relatively large number of machines. The difficulties that we had early in the lockdown reloading our ATMs with cash have been overcome, a result of better coordination between our service providers and local governments.
We have also seen a significant increase in the number of our digital transactions, many from customers who waited for the ECQ to enroll. More and more of our customers are executing banking transactions from the safety of their homes. This is a trend that we expect to continue after the lifting of the ECQ. As one of the most digitalized banks in the country, we believe that our mobile and online channels are among the most used.
The BSP taking necessary steps to ensure the availability of cash and the sufficiency of liquidity has been very helpful. And after the passage of the Bayanihan Act, the release by the DOF of the regulations governing the lending activity of banks during the ECQ has also allowed banks to continue lending.
We are preparing ourselves for an ECQ that may be extended in its present or modified form beyond the end of April. We will continue to tweak our capacities, alter the number and locations of our open branches, and amend operating measures to address your banking needs and the requirements of safety. We have taken considerable safety precautions – face masks, social distancing, physical barriers, intensive cleaning. With over 8 million customers and almost 21,000 employees, we have to remain vigilant.
An institution like ours has to be at the forefront of good corporate citizenship in these challenging times. This means doing our best to protect our employees’ health and their livelihoods. This means contributing what we can to help the most marginalized in our society. This means reducing our fees where possible and buying some time for our clients to recover from the ravages of Covid-19 and the ECQ. This also means staying strong so that BPI can be a positive force in the country’s recovery. This is all about standing by our posts.
Banks are barometers of the economy, so the tough times that many of you now face – whether you are a corporate, SME, micro finance, or consumer client – will also impact us. But our financial strength is unquestioned, and our commitment to work for the greater good and the financial well being of you, our clients, is and will remain steadfast.
Thank you for your continued trust and understanding. We look forward to happier times.
Cezar P. Consing