Tuesday, 31 January 2023

CIB's Ezz Al-Arab: "Our job is to extend full support"

5 min read

By Hisham Ezz Al-Arab

As part of the series of CEO Perspectives on the impact of and response to COVID-19, Hisham Ezz Al-Arab, chairman and managing director of CIB discusses the bank’s efforts to keep clients and staff safe, help SMEs regain their footing and how being a more digitalised organisation has allowed it to withstand the pandemic.

  • CIB is actively supporting the central bank’s measures to help the economy withstand the effects of COVID-19
  • It is helping SMEs to get back on their feet by steps such as forgiving half of the principal on loans to nonperforming clients and to fully forgive unearned interest
  • It is also leveraging its digital capabilities to enable clients and staff to transact and operate remotely and to minimise travel from home

All industries the world over have been affected by COVID-19, an unprecedented global event. The extent of the losses will only be known after the world returns to a state of normalcy. In Egypt, the central bank took a number of measures to ensure that the economy can withstand these difficult times, cutting rates by 300 basis points to protect the economy.

The Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) also put forward decision to protect businesses and individuals alike such as postponing loan and credit card payments by six months; providing soft loans to tourism related companies to pay wages, commitments to suppliers, and maintenance; launching an industry stimulus package; in addition to temporarily setting daily limit on bank, ATM cash withdrawals and deposits to move Egyptians away from cash and reduce crowds in branches.

CIB has long been a core supporter of the CBE’s efforts to promote the development of digital, non-cash solutions for easy transfer of funds, purchases, bill payments and more. CIB’s clients can avoid public places by banking from the comfort of their homes, with access to internet banking, our smartphone app, the CIB mobile wallet, phone banking, and the chatbot. If clients deem it necessary to venture out, hand sanitiser dispensers are being installed at all of our ATMs.

We also recognise that this is a turbulent time for the global economy. Our job is to extend full support to our clients by rescheduling dues in affected industries and providing the finance needed for our clients to operate in a sustainable manner.

Efforts to keep clients and staff safe

For staff, CIB has activated its work-from-home plans. Half of the bank’s employees have been instructed to work from home, with priority given to those at greatest risk from the disease, to pregnant women and to mothers with unmet childcare needs. Some staff have been put on paid leave as a precaution. No days will be deducted from their vacation allowance.

We have prohibited all physical meetings, including internal meetings and meetings with vendors, and suspended all business trips. We have also cancelled all training programmes, both here and abroad.

The bank has instructed any staff member suffering symptoms, or who has been in close contact with family or friends who are suffering symptoms, or who has recently travelled, to take 14 days of paid leave and self-isolate at home. We have also notified any staff member who has been in close contact with personnel asked to self-isolate.

CIB has set up a dedicated 24/7 hotline for staff reporting any coronavirus symptoms. The bank will use this channel to direct any affected staff on next steps. All CIB staff and their families enjoy medical insurance provided by the nation’s top insurers. We have also reduced the number of employees operating at our branches, with no effect on our capacity to serve clients.

We have distributed hand sanitiser across all branches and other CIB premises. We have also applied extra hygiene measures across all service areas, including buffets, cafeterias, etc. The bank has now suspended all deliveries of food to its buildings and cafeterias.

Medical gloves have been distributed to all employees handling cash and working at central vaults. We have printed instructions for all employees and are regularly mounting awareness campaigns for all staff.

CIB has also suspended all product-focused campaigns. The bank’s marketing efforts are focused on driving traffic away from branches and towards digital channels and ATMs.

We are using all channels available to communicate messages on banking safely. We are rolling out videos to explain how to access and use our digital channels. Zaki, the chatbot on our website, now displays a sanitary mask and has been programmed to answer questions on banking safely.

Supporting SMEs to get back on their feet

CIB is working with the central bank to ensure that Egypt’s SMEs can chart this crisis quickly. We have taken several steps in this regard.

CIB will implement CBE directives to extend maturities and interest on SME loans for six months. Where our exposure amounts to less than EGP 10 million, we are implementing the CBE’s directive to forgive 50% of the principal on loans to nonperforming SME clients and to fully forgive unearned interest. Our interest is in helping our SME clients to get back on their feet. We are not interested in legal cases and look forward to regularising the credit history of nonperforming SME clients and returning any collateral.

Remedial management units are supporting our SME clients with assessments and developing tailored strategy and action Plans to aid clients through any debt restructuring.

Our SME clients can apply for any business banking product and submit all documents electronically and we have set up a fully dedicated, 24/7 SME contact centre.

Being digital helps

During this crisis, we have been encouraging our customers to use electronic payments, online transfers, our Smart Wallet, and our credit and debit cards to carry on their daily financial transactions. We think this period will help customers adapt to these electronic tools and normalise a move towards a cashless society, a change that will help bolster financial inclusion efforts on a national scale.


Hisham Ezz Al-Arab is the chairman and managing director of CIB, Commercial International Bank, Egypt’s largest private sector commercial bank.

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