Doreen C. Khama
Botswana was not spared from the COVID-19 impact, which saw unprecedented levels of disruption in the country’s socioeconomic scene, like rest of the world.
All major sectors of the economy were severely impacted, and GDP was 8% down. As a business, we focused on protecting our clients, staff and communities and spent P5 million in the process of doing so. We scaled up on our digital channels to preserve convenience for clients, We discounted client fees on digital platforms by 25% to support curtailed movements to our physical channels. Additionally, we offered repayment holidays and loan extensions to 359 clients on exposures amounting to just under a billion Pula. This relief was offered to individuals, small businesses and corporates who were severely and evidently impacted by the COVID-19 scourge.
It goes without saying, we have had to invoke our Business Continuity Plans and operated in that mode for the better part of 2020. Our colleagues predominantly worked from home, with the frontline staff whose jobs demanded physical presence working from offices and branches on rotational basis. Indeed, this turned out to be an opportunity for us to test our resilience as a business, and the adequacy of our investments into technology over the years and we are satisfied with the outcome, although the pandemic has infused more urgency into our technology and investment initiative path.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, we remained focused in protecting the business, and defending the gains from the past 3 years to the best extent possible. Amidst a substantially softened interest rate environment, our overall top line was up 4%. The growth in income was itself broad based as both our primary business segments delivered improved results. Apart from our lending business, good performance on our primary product and service lines like corporate finance, currency trading and transactional banking offset the impact of reduced volumes on retail transactions, and as a result protecting the non- Funded Income.
We remained focused on efficiencies, underlying costs edged up only by 1% mainly as a result of the need to promote and protect the health and safety of colleagues, clients and communities in this phase of COVID-19. However, our 2020 numbers carry an additional, but once off provision related to a planned business restructuring, and this resulted in an overall 6% increase in costs.
We defended our growth path
Notwithstanding the extraordinary circumstances we operated under, our statutory profits were at P102 million, 47% up from prior year. Backing this decent performance is a strong balance sheet which delivered improved margins despite a depressed interest environment. The capital position remains strong both in terms of adequacy and composition. The Capital Adequacy Ratio remained above 17% throughout the year, against a normal regulatory threshold of 15% (lowered to 12.5% as part of the broader COVID-19 relief measured extended to regulated banks by Bank of Botswana).
We remain optimistic
We maintain some optimism around the economic outlook for the year ahead, of course with some caution. The Global economy will rebound in 2021 and could post growth in the region of 5.4% driven by lesser interruptions to trade and associated supply chains. The benefits of an improving global economy will have positive impact on the Sub-Saharan economy, which we expect to register a 3.2% growth. Likewise, the local economy will post a strong recovery from a steep contraction we witnessed in 2020, with early signs of recovery supporting preliminary views that suggest a GDP growth rate just shy of 9%. A successful implementation of the Economic Recovery and Transformation Plan by Government could deliver the desired turn around particularly within the non-mining sector.
Extreme uncertainties remain as the coronavirus resurgence causes panic the world over,exacerbated by mutation of the virus into an increasing number of variants. Much will depend on the effective roll out and efficacy of vaccination evenly across the globe and if these two come right, 2021 could be a better year than 2020, but economic activity is unlikely to return to pre-COVID -19 levels within the year.
It has been a tough year, one filled with uncertainties and pain, and as we remember those who have unfortunately lost their lives, as well as those who lost their loved ones, I want to sincerely thank all colleagues for the passion to serve they have displayed. Special thanks go to our frontline colleagues who showed selflessness and bravery in ensuring clients’ needs are taken care of during what could be the most difficult times we have ever experienced as a nation. As we continued to be a better bank for tomorrow, we will be forever grateful for the patronage of our clients, and we maintain the promise for a world class experience across all our client channels.