The coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic is a major disruptive event for the global economy. Banks and financial institutions are facing the most difficult test since the 2008 financial crisis. To mitigate the immediate impact on the real economy, extraordinary fiscal and monetary measures have been introduced from the very beginning of the crisis.
HSBC was among the banks that acted quickly to ensure providing consistent, competitive banking services to its customers, while abiding to precautionary measures to guarantee safety and health of both customers and employees.
Daily News Egypt interviewed Jacques-Emmanuel Blanchet, HSBC Group General Manager, Deputy Chairperson, and CEO HSBC Bank Egypt, to know about the bank’s efforts to deal with the current circumstances.
He stressed that 100% of HSBC branch network continue to serve customers at the same pace and capacity without any service disruptions, along with actively promoting the use of digital channels for retail banking.
How did you respond at the start of the pandemic to limit the virus spread and ensure operations continuity from a bank prospective?
Our top priority was to care for all our employees, so we immediately expanded our existing remote working capabilities to allow 90% of our head office staff to work from home and reorganised ourselves without compromising our usual high levels of client experience for all our customers.
Our existing infrastructure and investments in IT allowed us to roll out our plans in just a few days. We also provided laptops to all our staff with technical support to ensure they could all connect to our network safely and recreate their working environment at home.
With just a small population at our head office, we were able to create a safe environment for the 10% of our staff who needed to be at our premises to fulfil some of the bank’s critical tasks. This included ensuring proper social distancing and deep cleaning measures. In addition, and for contingency purposes, we decided to operate a split site arrangement out of our Maadi Head Office and Smart Village Building
For our staff working from home, we have focused on ensuring they are getting the required support to maintain their well-being and to stay engaged and motivated to best serve our customers. We provided guidance to all our managers to connect personally with all their team members on a daily basis and we introduced new ways of working, which included regular virtual huddles, coffee connections, staff meetings, and virtual town halls.
Our top executives and managers held a series of virtual events and have played a key role over the last few months, ensuring teams have felt engaged and connected to the bank’s priorities, while reinforcing the need for their teams to focus even more on supporting clients through this challenging period.
In parallel, we proactively reached out to corporate clients who were not yet on-boarded on our digital platforms and we introduced them to our online banking services, ensuring they were always connected to their finances and able to manage all their transactions.
Has the bank closed any of its branches during the pandemic?
For our retail customers, 100% of our branch network continued to serve our clients at the same pace and capacity without any service disruptions, despite the shortened opening hours.
We had to think carefully about how to protect the health and safety of our customers and colleagues in branches. We took a number of steps to minimise physical contact and maintain social distancing, including limiting the number of people allowed in our branches at the same time; ensuring everybody respects social distancing with line markers; increasing the frequency of deep cleaning; and making hand sanitisers, masks and gloves readily available in branches.
We have also actively promoted the use of our digital channels with our retail customers. To help with this, we appointed ‘Welcome Ambassadors’, who guide our clients through our various digital channels.
Meanwhile, by introducing Zoom video conferencing technology for our wealth and corporate relationship managers, we have been able to have more personal discussions with our clients, helping them with their individual banking requirements, which has been highly appreciated by all our clients.
All these measures were rolled out in the space of just a few days, with no negative impact on our operations or customer experience, and all the transactions of our clients have been processed on a business as usual basis.
What are your plans to support your clients to get through the COVID-19 crisis?
The COVID-19 pandemic has created a great deal of uncertainty and disruption for the people, businesses, and communities we serve across all segments and sectors. We are conscious that it is affecting everyone in different ways.
Having robust levels of capital, funding, and liquidity, we are able to support our customers from a position of strength.
As an immediate response, we implemented a series of measures to help our customers and we have made a strong contribution to all the initiatives announced by the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) to support the economy in these difficult times.
For our retail customers, this includes payment holidays for loans as well as credit card payment deferments. We have also taken additional steps beyond the packages announced by the CBE, including the waiving of some fees and charges.
In parallel, we have made thousands of courtesy calls and Zoom video conference calls to customers with the aim of checking on their well-being and making sure they know how to get the banking help they need.
We’ve had a fantastic response from our customers, with one long-standing customer thanking us for being ‘the only bank to call and check on their well-being.’ Many others have thanked us for proactively explaining the details of the new payment rules introduced by the CBE.
Many customers have told me directly how important our support has been to them, whether it came from colleagues in HSBC branches – who are doing a fantastic job and showing outstanding resilience – or from colleagues working from home, and I know that for some of them it is a very challenging experience.
Meanwhile, we have contacted nearly all our corporate clients over the last few weeks, not just to help them protect their businesses from the economic impact of COVID-19, but to also help them prepare for the future, adjust their supply chains, and help them leverage on our digital capabilities.
Our focus has been on ensuring that we can continue to provide consistent, competitive financing and transaction banking services to our corporate banking customers, helping them manage risk and maintaining the integrity of financial markets.
Over the past few weeks, we have also held 15 Navigating Business webinars to connect and engage with our customers on topics and solutions that matter most at this time. We have many more planned for the weeks ahead. Our customers are hearing from experts on digital solutions, changing macro dynamics and wider topics such as cash flow, debt, and more.
The economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is already significant and will continue over the coming weeks and months. HSBC has always been strong in times of crisis and this is no exception – we will continue supporting our clients during this unprecedented period of disruption.
To what extent has the outbreak of COVID-19 accelerated the shift towards digital transformation?
Connectivity is more important for our customers than ever right now. We have been investing and developing our digital infrastructure even before the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure that our banking services are always within their reach and that they continue to have the best possible experience of banking with us across everything from retail and commercial banking to trading and securities services.
Whether our customers are at home or in the office, we are always available through our online banking platforms, mobile apps, and phone banking.
COVID-19 has accelerated our efforts to implement digital services, and has ensured that our clients use more and more of these platforms.
In the corporate banking space, we have embarked on an ambitious programme to help customers with their business continuity efforts, enrolling hundreds of clients onto our digital platform, HSBCnet. In four days, we added as many customers to the system as we typically do in two months. Providing this digital lifeline has been crucial to company supply chains.
We witnessed an increase in transactions as an immediate response to COVID-19 as customers rerouted their business to HSBC, as using our global reach managed the risk of unforeseen disruption to payments. For example, our trade business in the Middle East, North Africa, and Turkey region witnessed a particular volume increase in the food and health care sectors, so we ramped up our transaction times to ensure uninterrupted flow of trade. We are currently processing most of the health care transactions and food sector transactions within 24 hours.
Across the bank, we have launched over 100 initiatives through our call centres and digital offerings, including accepting email instructions for certain transitions, which allows customers to transact remotely without the need to come to a branch.
Other operational procedures, which previously were done at branches, may now be done over the phone. For those customers that require face-to-face interaction, we have been able to do so through video calls on Zoom.
Here in Egypt, we launched last week HSBCnet mobile application, which would help our corporate customers access their accounts from the convenience of their mobile devices. The app includes ‘Mobile Device Authentication’, which removes the need to use a physical security token, helping customers access HSBCnet services while on the move. The app will also help businesses manage their trade financing by integrating key tools such as Trade Authorisation and Trade Transaction Tracker.
What role could banks play in assisting the Egyptian economy?
Banks such as HSBC have a key role to play in the development of Egypt’s economy. HSBC has been present in Egypt for over 38 years, supporting the economic development of the country in line with the strategic objectives of the government. Our presence in 64 markets around the world combined with our deep roots in Egypt give us a unique ability to connect Egypt to the global economy.
We were recently mandated as the Sole Financial Advisor for the monetisation of one of the largest power plants owned by the government, which is expected to support the government’s ambitions to attract foreign investment and enhance private sector participation in the economy.
We have also supported the government of Egypt by acting as a joint lead manager and joint bookrunner for Egypt’s most recent and largest-ever $5bn Eurobond issuance, for general budgetary purposes. The issuance achieved the largest ever orderbook for Egypt as well as the largest ever orderbook for an issuance by an African sovereign, with orderbooks peaking at $21.5bn which was four times oversubscribed.
In the sustainable finance space, HSBC was appointed as structuring advisor and joint lead manager for the region’s first sovereign green bond. This will see us support the Egyptian government through every step of the process, from finalising the green bond’s framework through to coordinating the syndication process, filling the order book, and attracting investors. This is a landmark transaction for Egypt and we are proud to support the government in managing the transition to a lower carbon economy.
This mandate came after helping Egypt attract investment from international debt capital markets through the sale of two $4bn bond issuances in 2018 and 2019, the latter of which attracted $21bn worth of orders from international investors.
Egypt’s green bond debut dovetails with the country’s Sustainable Development Strategy: Egypt Vision 2030, which envisions a greater role for the renewable energy sector in Egypt’s energy mix. By 2030, Egypt aims to increase solar and wind-powered electricity production to account for 30% of the total, compared to 1% currently
Egypt is a dynamic part of HSBC’s global network and our business is built on close to 40 years of on the ground experience supporting customers in a reform-minded government sector and an ambitiously entrepreneurial private sector.