During the pandemic, South Africa’s 35 banks began to coordinate some of their Covid-19 relief efforts, becoming aware of critical gaps in the CSI landscape that still leave many communities in jeopardy. We spoke to Khulekani Mathe, Head of Financial Inclusion at the Banking Association South Africa, to find out what the banking industry had done, were still doing, and planned to do as part of their social responsibility to a country badly in need of a boost. What had they done to help?
Thus far, South African banks have provided just under R50 billion in financial relief, mostly in the form of credit payment holidays for small businesses and individuals as well as government-backed loans to South African businesses affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. In addition, they spent over R300 million on direct efforts that supported the Covid-19 response as part of their corporate social investment.
The lockdown stopped economic activity resulting in many people losing their incomes and being unable to repay their loans; this necessitated massive debt relief efforts leading to a huge decline in bank revenues, which will naturally have a long-term effect on the banking sector’s profitability. Bad debts are likely to increase as a result of the over 2 million jobs lost due to the pandemic.
But despite the banking sector’s challenges, banks are fully aware of their critical role in getting South Africa on its feet again.
‘From a CSI perspective, at the initial stage of lockdown, our focus was on supporting and donating to NGOs that distributed food parcels. Many people were unable to earn an income during this time and children who used to get their meals from school were left hungry. However, as government grants came into place, this cushioned the vulnerable from the worst effects of lockdown’.
‘Funds were also donated to support the health response — helping hospitals and other facilities acquire the necessary PPEs. We also donated funds to research centres that were studying the virus, to help us better understand it and develop a vaccine.
‘Thirdly, we supported education initiatives. Saving the matric year was a big priority, as the workload of Grade 12s was not adjusted like the rest of the Grades. We supported institutions and initiatives that made online learning available to learners. We also supported university students and their institutions with the necessary equipment and infrastructure to provide and access online learning.’
As has been remarked on by many, Covid-19 revealed the faultlines in our society. One of these is the lack of coordination among corporates with regard to their CSI. Everybody is doing everything – resulting in some massive inefficiencies.
The banking sector has begun work on a mapping tool to coordinate CSI activities.
‘During lockdown, we realised that the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing. This meant many areas did not get the support they needed. Our mapping tool is still in its initial stages, but we aim to offer it as a resource to the CSI industry; it will be a repository of information and a means of coordinating efforts. Users will log in to gain access to all the necessary information about a specific area, including what support they have received so far, using geolocation technology.’
With rising needs in the country and shrinking budgets among South Africa’s corporates, the emphasis now has to be on efficiency and thinking smarter in the CSI sector.
‘We have put strategies in place that will ensure that smaller budgets stretch further. The best CSI for our country at the moment is to increase economic activity. We have to get people working, so that they can support themselves and their families. The banking sector’s future CSI strategies will have a strong focus on job creation and entrepreneurship.’