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Cementing economic cooperation

An interview with M. T. Perera, Country Manager, Bank of Ceylon

Mar 26 - Apr 01, 2001

The cordial diplomatic relations between Sri Lanka and Pakistan has led to enhance economic cooperation between the two countries and Bank of Ceylon is further cementing this relationship. It has four overseas branches out of which one is operating in Karachi, Pakistan. While the Karachi branch offers full range of commercial banking, its special service is international banking handling export and import business between the two countries on priority basis. "We have been, ever since Karachi branch was opened, handling this business and the result is constant increase in volume of trade between Pakistan and Sri Lanka," said M. T. Perera, Country Manager, Bank of Ceylon.

The Bank accounted for over 28 per cent of the banking assets in Sri Lanka in 1999. It also has a dominant market share in deposits and advances and is a major player in the foreign exchange and money market. In addition, the Bank handles a large volume of international activities. Its performance during the year 1999 was noteworthy despite the growing competition and adverse economic environment in the country and the contagious effects of the Asian economic crisis. The Bank posted a profit before tax of over three billion rupees in 1999. The Bank is in the process of revamping its business strategies to meet the challenges of the changing global banking environment.

"The year 1999 also marked completing the 60th year of successful operations and celebrated 50th anniversary of its first overseas branch in London. During the year the internationally renowned 'Banker' magazine ranked Bank of Ceylon in the 966th position among the World's Top 1000 Banks. Similarly the 'Asia Week' magazine ranked the Bank at the 331st position among 500 largest banks in the Asian Region. The Bank of Ceylon continues to retain the number one position among commercial banks in Sri Lanka," were the jubilant expressions of Perera.

Dilating his point that Bank of Ceylon is the largest commercial bank of Sri Lanka, Perera said, "The total assets of the bank, at the end of the year 1999 were Rs 178.6 billion and gross loans and advances amounted nearly Rs 100 billion. The Bank held 25.65 per cent share in the total deposit market amounting to Rs 120 billion." With its presence in the UK, India, Pakistan and Maldives and with a worldwide network of correspondents, the Bank is able to provide a comprehensive range of banking products and services to a diverse customer base. At the end of 1999, the Bank had a network of 291 domestic branches, 4 overseas branches, 1000 correspondents of international repute in 115 countries around the globe.

The Bank of Ceylon group being a financial conglomerate had under its umbrella, nine subsidiary companies, five associate companies and one joint venture Nepal Bank of Ceylon. "Despite being a big entity, the Bank realizes the challenges ahead in the banking sector. The Bank is in the process of restructuring and reorganization with the assistance of Pricewaterhouse-Coopers to develop its sustainable capacity and capability in the global banking scenario," added Perera.

Trade finance is an important activity of the Bank. "The diplomatic relationship between the two countries are being fostered by close economic relationship. The bilateral cooperation, under the SAARC, has further cemented the economic and diplomatic relationship. Although, trade promotion may not be the mandate of Bank of Ceylon, but the business community of both the countries seek our assistance in locating buyers/sellers. In the recent past various trade delegations from Sri Lanka have visited Pakistan. Bank of Ceylon is proud to have assisted the Embassy, the delegates from Sri Lanka and Pakistani buyers of Sri Lankan products. I believe this will help the Bank in increasing its trade business," concluded Perera.

Sri Lanka's economy grew at a modest rate of 4.3 per cent in 1999 higher than the average rate of growth in developing countries. Although, the global economic turmoil continued to have adverse effects on the Sri Lankan economy, it showed clear signs of revival. All major sectors of the economy supported the overall growth; agriculture, forestry and fishing (4.5%), mining and quarrying (4.1%) manufacturing (4.4%), construction (4.8%) and services (4.2%). The key factors contributing to this success included prudent monetary policy, fiscal restraints, drop in international prices of some essential food items, rationalized tax and tariff structures and improved agricultural production. During the year, the Board of Investment signed agreements for 207 projects with an estimated investment of about Rs 68 billion.