The National Bank of Rwanda (BNR) has clarified on the advice by Rwanda Bankers’ Association (RBA) to banks to close some of their branches in the City of Kigali as part of the measures to curb the spread of New Coronavirus.
The Central Bank said that indeed some banks will close some of their branches in the city as transactions mainly go cashless despite earlier announcements that banks will remain operational in the 15 day lockdown aimed at averting a possible spread of the virus.
“The Central Bank is working closely with Rwanda Bankers Association during this difficult period. We seek everyone’s understanding and collaboration as we are all called upon to make some adjustments to our “business as usual” in order to combat this crisis,”
“In consultation with RBA and in the spirit of #StayAtHome campaign as well as social distancing, we seek to clarify that; Banks remain operational during this period,”
“However, in order to minimize the number of people making movements, only a few branches will be operational in Kigali,” BNR said.
BNR further said that each bank will communicate which of its branches will be open and which ones will be temporarily closed.
“Customers are urged to use e-channels and only visit a bank branch when it is absolutely necessary. Branches up-country will remain operational,”
“The public is assured that there will be enough branches to provide all required services. But we strongly advise the public to use electronic means of payments and only go to banks when absolutely necessary,” the Central Bank further clarified.
In a statement signed by the Chairman Robin Bairstow, RBA advised banks to temporarily close some of their branches, especially those located in Kigali in order to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
“Every bank will inform its esteemed customers through its usual channel of communication,” the statement said, adding that RBA will continue to monitor the situation closely.
Bairstow, who is the CEO of I&M Bank Rwanda on Twitter cleared the air saying that there is confusion that banks will close.
“We are open for business. Banks with branches which overlap may decide to close overlapping branches. Today is business as usual across the country,” he tweeted.
Some banks which had already downsized branches in the city like Bank of Kigali say they will not close existing branches which serve particular areas but will continue to exercise caution and encourage cashless transactions.
“We are not planning to close any branch for now. Traffic has been moderate but we expect it to pick up with salaries in these coming days. Our branches have been facilitating customers to register for online services, and clients are embracing new ways of transacting,” said Diane Karusisi, CEO Bank of Kigali.
She said the bank has put in place measures to ensure safety and social distancing as the country continues to observe measures to avoid the spread of the virus. So far Rwanda has confirmed 40 cases of COVID -19.
“We have hands sanitizers in all branches and ATMs, we are trying to observe the minimum distance of 1 metre between clients where there are queues,”
In regard to the bank supporting business or clients who might struggle to meet their obligations during this period, Karusis said they are discussing proposed measures with RBA to support clients affected, adding it is an industry effort.
Hannington Namara, the CEO of Equity Bank Rwanda said that the bank is considering to close 3 of its 8 branches in Kigali as part of the precautionary measures, particularly those that have low traffic at the moment.
“We are considering to temporarily close our Gisozi-Gacinjiro branch which at the moment has limited traffic due to restricted movement and closure of businesses,”
“We will also close Giporoso branch and leave Remera-Gisimenti branch operational. We are also going to close the head office and leave Nyarugenge Market branch open. We will review how effective this will be on Sunday,” Namara told KT Press.
He said that since the introduction of the measures, some branches have been experiencing low traffic but the bank has encourage clients to use cashless methods.
“We want to encourage people to understand the importance of using cashless transaction in this period when we are focus on stopping the spread of Coronavirus. We can assure them that they will continue to access all services but we all need to understand the measures put in place and play our role,” Namara said.
Following the announcement by the government over the weekend, BNR urged citizens not to panic because banks, Microfinance Institutions and SACCOS will remain open but working hours changed to 8am to 3pm.
BNR however urged banks to focus on using digital and electronic channels while encouraging people to switch to cashless transactions.
In an interview with KT Press last week, the Governor of the Central Bank John Rwangombwa said that the government had put in place measures to ensure that the financial sector does not suffer major shocks from the measures put in place to control the spread of COVID-19.
“As you might have seen in the statement issued by the Central Bank, we expect that the New Coronavirus outbreak will negatively affect the global economy, Rwanda inclusive, which is why we came up with these measures to safeguard the financial sector from these shocks,”
“We are giving ourselves six months to assess what kind of impact this will have on our economies as we remain vigilant but what we have done so far is to ensure that the banks continue to operate and provide the services to their clients without any impediment,” Rwangombwa said.
He pointed out that among other things, the Central Bank introduced an extended lending facility of up to Rwf50bn which will help cushion banks from liquidity challenges, by ensuring that they can borrow from BNR and continue operating normally. The facility will be available for 6 months.
Rwangombwa said that during this period, banks will be given a lee way to restructure loans of borrowers, mainly businesses which could suffer from cashflow challenges as a result of the lockdown.
The Central Bank Governor said that BNR will continue to offer liquidity support to banks by reviewing the existing Treasury Bonds rediscounting window through buying back bonds at the existing market rates while the waiting period 1f one fails to sell the bond at the secondary market will be reduced from 30 days to 15 days.