The banking system remains on “solid footing” in terms of assets, loans, deposits, profitability, capital and liquidity buffers despite the COVID-19 health crisis, a report from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) said.
“The impact of the pandemic on the overall condition and performance of the banking system, which remains the core of the domestic financial system, has been manageable,” according to the BSP’s second semester report on the Philippine financial system. The total assets of the banking system account for 81.9 percent of the financial system’s total resources.
The banks remained resilient during the worst of the lockdown period because of the “timely, time-bound and crucial” regulatory relief measures that BSP granted to them during the most severe quarantine months of March until June. These relief measures “helped address the adverse repercussions of the pandemic.” One of these reprieves was the suspension of the submission of some bank reports while most of the country was on enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) restrictions.
Banks have had to adjust operations and deal with the slowdown in economic activities that affected their borrowers’ capacity to pay.
Based on a set of financial soundness indicators (FSI) to assess banks’ health and soundness, it noted that the banking system is “stable and resilient despite global uncertainties related to the extent and path of COVID-19 menace.”
But, the BSP said that the FSI analysis also implies that “consequent risks from lending should be monitored especially in the event of excessive uncertainties that could place additional pressures on the banking system in the short and medium run.”
As of the report timeline, banks surveyed have yet to determine the total impact of the grace periods under the Bayanihan law but generally, based on the BSP’s comprehensive baseline survey conducted in April, banks have proactive control measures that will ensure the continued delivery of financial services to the general public and also to protect their personnel, said the BSP.
Banks’ business continuity plans, and previous efforts at digitalization, also helped them to respond quickly to conditions brought about by the ECQ.
Despite the economy in recession due to the pandemic, the banking system’s total assets reached P18.6 trillion as of end-June, 98.8 percent of the GDP. The end-June tally was 7.9 percent higher year-on-year but was slower than the 9.8 percent growth recorded in June 2019 and the 8.4 percent growth as of end-December 2019.
Assets continue to grow because of the expansion of funds that went to lending activities while funding came from deposits, bond issuances and capital infusion.
In the meantime, the report said banks’ profitability or net income fell by 22.5 percent to P86.5 billion as of end-June 2020 because of higher provisioning requirements. This was a reversal of the 27.7 percent growth in earnings same time in 2019.
“Provisions on credit losses for loans and financial assets significantly increased, weighing heavily on bank profitability. Other income sources are expected to slow down due to lower volume of transactions, waiver of inter-branch and interbank fees as well as the temporary grace period moratorium on the imposition of bank fees, penalties and charges under the Bayanihan Act,” said the BSP.
Based on the BSP survey, banks have measures to cushion the adverse impact of the pandemic on profitability such as banks’ plans to impose cost-cutting measures that includes deferred capital spending and freeze hiring of non-critical positions.
The BSP said banks have also intensified loan collection activities and its loan monitoring. They have also become more prudent in loan releases, reduced the cost of funds and at the same time boosted marketing campaigns for new loans and deposits.
“Across banking groups, (the big banks) also intend to reduce their exposures to vulnerable sectors and to increase ancillary or fee-based business while thrift banks and rural/cooperative banks plan to fast track digitization initiatives to reduce operating expenses,” said the BSP.