By Lee C. Chipongian
Big and small banks in the country are giving their borrowers a short period of reprieve from paying loans and suspending fees and charges for online transactions under the coronavirus disease COVID-19 lockdown.
This is after the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) itself granted regulatory relief to banks to cope with “severely disrupted business operations” due to the lockdown situation, localized work suspension, and the “heightened health and safety risks faced by employees and customers.”
BDO Unibank Inc., the largest lender, is giving its borrowers a 60-day payment extension but only for qualified clients with credit card, auto, home, SME and personal loans, with due dates up to April 15, 2020.
Security Bank Corp., in its own advisory, said they are implementing a 30-day loan due date deferment and a “hold on loan applications”. Borrowers will be allowed to extend payments if they have no past due balance as of March 16, 2020.
Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. is also providing a 30-day option to delay payments from due date for what they will also deem as qualified customers.
Philippine National Bank (PNB), on the other hand, will give a 30-day extension for the payment of all PNB credit cards “without late fees” with due dates from March 18 to April 15, 2020. The relief is for all its clients. “(This) will apply to all qualified credit card customers of the bank. Kindly note that applicable finance charges will still be effected,” it said.
United Coconut Planters Bank (UCPB) is also extending the due date of their loan payments for 30 days. “We hope this will help ease their (borrowers) worries while they stay at home with their families during these uncertain and challenging times. With the 30-day payment holiday, it’s one less item to think about so they can focus more on staying well for their loved ones,” said UCPB Vice President Charina D. Balanquit.
All these banks have limited branches opened for regular operation during the COVID-19 lockdown, and with shortened banking hours, usually 9am until 3pm.
Suspended fees and charges
To encourage “bank from home”, Union Bank of the Philippines (UnionBank) said it has waived all fees for InstaPay transactions until April 14, 2020. This is to allow Filipinos to “easily make fund transfers and payments to others via the UnionBank Online App”. This 24×7 and “contactless banking app enables clients to do their transactions such as account opening, bills and tax payments, check deposits to accounts, viewing of balances and transaction history, funds transfers and locating ATMs, among others, in the palm of their hands,” said UnionBank.
InstaPay and PESONet are the BSP’s automated payment systems under the National Retail Payment System. InstaPay allows customers to send and receive funds or make payments in real time of up to P50,000 per transaction, without limit, in a day.
RCBC said it is waiving its interbranch fund transfers until April 14, 2020. It also said that fund transfers via InstaPay through RCBC Online Banking will be free of charge until April 15, 2020. Transfers via PESONet will also be free of charge starting March 18, 2020, covering both RCBC individual and corporate clients.
Security Bank is also not charging for its eGiveCash. “We understand that sending money to your loved ones could be difficult during this time which is why we are offering eGiveCash without fees until further notice. This will be applied to both retail (via Security Bank Online) and corporate clients (via Digibanker, excluding corporate clients with proprietary front-end systems),” the bank said. The bank is also waiving its ATM withdrawal fees.
PSBank is likewise temporarily stopping fund transfer fees via both InstaPay and PesoNet effective March 18 until further notice.
Government-owned Land Bank of the Philippines is pushing for the use of electronic and digital platforms or online banking services while on lockdown which effectively places everyone on 24-hour curfew.
Landbank President and CEO Cecilia C. Borromeo said cashless payments is the way to go these days. The bank is one of the first banks to adopt the national QR standard in its Mobile Banking App.
Security Bank said to practice social distancing, they are encouraging their clients to use online banking services such as their DIgibanker.
The Bankers Association of the Philippines (BAP) has committed to “help ensure the delivery of banking services” and in a statement earlier this week, the group said cash availability through ATMs will not ran out.
“To further alleviate the plight of our businesses and their workers, banks are also extending flexible arrangements to borrowers who need critical support during these extraordinary times,” said the BAP.
The Chamber of Thrift Banks (CTB), in the meantime, said Thursday that their member banks are extending debt relief to SME and individual clients “who may be suffering from the slowdown or closure of their businesses and /or employment because of the COVID-19 outbreak and enhanced community quarantine”. It said CTB members will offer payment arrangements.
“Payment arrangements will vary by bank and may be designed on a case-to-case basis to address their clients’ specific needs and cashflow situation. These may come in the form of waiver of penalties or late charges, discounted fees, reduced loan amortization, reprieve on principal payments, or extension of loan term, which may require restructuring of loans to provide for additional funds for consumption and /or working capital,” said CTB.
CTB member banks have established key plans to cope with the lockdown which includes operating on skeletal force and work from home, and to provide communication to deal with customers’ concerns and queries.
The BSP has issued guidelines to encourage banks and other supervised financial institutions to provide financial relief to their retail customers, corporate clients and employees affected by the outbreak of the COVID-19.
“This is part of our efforts to assist the Filipino people in these trying times,” said BSP Governor Benjamin E. Diokno.
The regulatory relief measures include: exclusion from the past due loan ratio of loans to affected borrowers for a period of one year; and staggered booking of provision for probable losses over a period of five years, subject to prior approval of the BSP.
Banks may also grant financial assistance to their employees that are affected by the COVID-19, subject to subsequent regularization with the BSP, if necessary.
“These measures aim to encourage our (banks) to grant a temporary grace period for loan payments or restructure loan accounts of their borrowers,” said Diokno.
“Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 may result in disruption in bank operations, the BSP will not impose monetary penalties on the delayed submission of their supervisory reports and on legal reserve deficiencies, with the latter subject to BSP approval,” he said.