What are your responsibilities, and how have these been affected by the pandemic?
At BNP Paribas, Transaction Banking Asia Pacific provides trade finance, supply chain and cash management solutions for our clients across 12 markets. We deliver local expertise, dedicated on-the-ground service, market access and strong local client franchise. We ‘connect the dots’ across APAC to structure complex regional deals.
We have all been deeply affected by COVID-19 this year, and I believe that many of the changes we’ve had to adjust to, such as working remotely, are here to stay. Our relationships with our colleagues and our clients have obviously also changed as a result of the pandemic.
In a business like transaction banking, where interaction and collaboration are key, we’ve all had to step up. First of all, we have focused on making sure everyone is safe and can continue to work in the new normal of social distancing and remote working. Second, more than ever, we have had to stay close to our clients to make sure they were receiving the appropriate level of support to face the challenges brought by the pandemic.
What have the biggest challenges been for your clients this year? And how has BNP Paribas helped APAC clients navigate the challenges of COVID-19?
As the pandemic unfolded, short-term liquidity and operational disruption have been important challenges. During this time, we have helped clients with our full range of transaction banking services – from trade finance to supply chain to cash management.
Continued uncertainty and volatile markets mean that we have to continue to be vigilant and adaptive to ensure our clients can navigate through this period. Helping our clients find solutions to optimise their working capital has been the core of our recent activity. Our overarching approach was – and is – to help clients adapt to evolving real trade flows and the acceleration of digital transformation in payments.
For example, in trade finance, BNP Paribas accommodated delays in the physical trade flow by providing our clients with trade finance extensions to match those delays. In documentary trade, physical transactional and operational instructions were not possible in some instances, so we processed those instructions electronically, while maintaining a strong governance.
Worldwide lockdowns and social distancing requirements have changed purchasing and payment behaviour for both consumers and businesses. Anything that required a high level of physical touch – like cheques, brick-and-mortar shops and paper-based instructions with wet signatures – became obsolete.
As a result, we had to work closely with our clients to support their transition to a digital world and proactively embrace newer payment channels and digital reconciliation tools. For example, in Indonesia we partnered with a local fintech firm to enhance the cash collections solution and provide our clients with an Electronic Invoice Presentment and Payment (EIPP) solution.
As we near the end of 2020, what would you highlight as your main learning curve this year?
Humanity is going through one of the deepest challenges in modern history. One of my key learnings this year is how adaptable we can be if pushed. I am still amazed at how fast and widely we adopted remote working, digital tokens, e-signatures and virtual events. These connections will not replace the human touch in physical meetings, but they have helped us stay close to our staff, collaborators and clients.
As we look towards 2021, what are you working towards – and what are your plans for Transaction Banking APAC in the year to come?
Beyond serving our customers, we consider it our duty to ‘contribute to a better future’, which has been BNP Paribas’ company engagement manifesto since 2018. This is more than ever on point: sustainability has been in the spotlight through the COVID-19 crisis and must be at the forefront of the world’s recovery.
In November 2020, BNP Paribas was the first bank to participate in the Monetary Authority of Singapore’s Green and Sustainability-Linked Loan Grant Scheme, the first of its kind globally. We provided our sustainability expertise to design the KPIs together with buyers, and implemented the program with suppliers.