Network News: April 2020

Every month, the Financial Alliance for Women publishes a roundup of the latest updates from network partners and members. Take a look at what’s new below:

Centenary Bank, Uganda 

Alliance member Centenary Bank in Uganda alleviated loan restructuring conditions and charges to support small- and medium-sized businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. The bank has temporarily suspended payment of arrears as a precondition for restructuring for the coming 12-month period and will capitalize and recover it without penalties. 


The bank has also instituted a grace period of up to 12 months on loans for individuals affected by the pandemic from April 2020 through March 2021. In addition to supporting clients on refinancing and restructuring their loans, the bank has removed transaction fees on payments using digital channels and on account-to-wallet transfers. 


Ninety-five percent of its branches remain open to the public, and the bank is engaging business loan customers with advisory services. It has also contributed USD$52.5K to support the fight against COVID-19. 


Itau, Brazil

Itau launched a series of initiatives to support SMEs, including a two-month payroll financing scheme; an extension of the credit payment term up to 180 days; special conditions on payments, such as receiving credit sales in cash within two business days at any bank; and offering additional POS machines rent-free for 60 days. 


To support the food and beverage sector, the bank will pay sales for March, April and May within seven days to owners of establishments versus the usual 30 days.


In terms of non-financial services, Itau has placed special content on its platform for female entrepreneurs,, to help overcome the crisis. It includes advice on marketing, sales and finance strategies.  


For individuals, the bank has extended credit payment terms by 120 days. It has also committed to extend new credit to approximately eight million individuals and companies (depending on the risk of borrowers and with priority given to those with real collateral).


On the CSR front, Itau distributed 15 million masks in conjunction with other banks to state governments and vulnerable communities. The masks were made by women micro-entrepreneurs.


Itau also made a series of monetary donations—including to micro-entrepreneurs—in vulnerable communities and to the health sector to combat COVID-19. It also donated food and hygiene products to 324,000 people, as well as five million rapid tests, and CT scanners and respirators.


Learn more about Itau’s COVID-19 response by registering for a special “Ask the Expert” session on doing business in times of crisis on May 14 at 9:00 AM Eastern Standard Time.



RBS/NatWest Group, UK

To help its clients navigate the storm, RBS/NatWest Group put together a comprehensive response plan that included:

·       Doubling its call center capacity to deal with exceptionally high volumes of requests.

·       Dedicating helplines for the National Health Service to help vulnerable and self-isolating customers.

·       Approving more CBILS (Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme) applications than any other bank, starting as low as £5,000, without taking personal guarantees.

·       Approving capital repayment holidays on 20,000 loans for up to six months. 

·       Facilitating more than £2 billion of drawdowns for larger businesses.

·       Processing more than 70,000 mortgage repayment holidays.

·       Removing late fees on credit cards.

·       Launching a cash delivery service to the homes of vulnerable customers and National Health Service workers.

·       Donating more than £1 million to help eight not-for-profit debt management partners.


For employees, the bank has guaranteed base pay for six months and moved 47,000+ employees to work from home. Branches remain open, with social distancing measures in place, but for reduced working hours. Branch staff have no reduction in pay. 


Discover more actions taken by RBS/NatWest Group by viewing our special “Ask the Expert” session dedicated to doing business in times of crisis


FCMB, Nigeria

FCMB held an online interactive session, “Supporting Your Business Through the COVID-19 Crisis,” to address customer concerns and highlight measures undertaken to support them, such as:

  1. Providing marketing and communication templates for small businesses at no cost
  2. Partnering with Microsoft to provide an online employee engagement tool, “TEAMS,” for businesses
  3. Making a FAST Cash consumer loan product to meet short-term cash flow needs of SME employees
  4. Extending loan tenors and creating new repayment structures
  5.  Maintaining financing for certain sectors (hospitals, pharmaceuticals, supermarketsfood companiesagriculture and logistics)
  6. Creating digital channels to help interactions. FCMB Business Zone:
  • Provides an opportunity to learn new skills
  • Offers access to business tools
  • Helps set up a contactless collection solution
  • Connects clients with other customers and helps them share experiences

Santander Argentina

Alliance member Santander Argentina launched a new Help [credit] Line for MSMEs, MiPyme, to help finance the payment of salaries and the purchase of supplies, merchandise, additional stock, or the technology needed to work remotely during the pandemic. It also supports working capital and investments, with some features designed for specific sub-sectors, such as agriculture, as well as specific tailored benefits and a concierge line for the health sector.  The bank also set up a helpline for employees to provide psychological and legal advice.

The bank has also launched Virtual Classrooms and is actively supporting the economic development of women, including a powerful International Women’s Day campaign in March highlighting senior executives with progressive messages. 


Stanbic Bank Kenya

Stanbic Bank Kenya, through its DADA program, is supporting women-owned businesses during this difficult time through:

  1. Instituting a loan repayment holiday for SME clients
  2. Waiving all cash transfer fees on digital platforms
  3. Launching a four-part webinar series for DADA clients in partnership with IFC, three of which already took place
    • Surviving today/to thrive tomorrow
    • How to communicate during the COVID-19 crisis
    • Revisiting your business plan
  4. Planning a number of webinars on health and safety.
  5. Carrying out webinars for female staff members on resilience, titled, “Intentional Self Awareness and Resilience
  6. During a Global Disruption” across Standard Bank Group.


Banco Nacional, Costa Rica

Banco Nacional has implemented a series of measures to alleviate implications of COVID-19 for all consumers, MSME owners and corporates and medium size business clients. For small business and microenterprise borrowers (regardless of sector), a payment holiday of four months will be automatic, which will be transferred to the final loan installment. Interestingly, the bank is doing this automatically for customers who then have to ‘Opt out’ if they don’t want it to increase uptake. All non-salaried borrowers will receive a payment holiday of three months. This applies to business, housing, car and personal loans as well as credit cards.

 For corporate banking and medium business clients in the tourism and commerce sectors, the payment holiday extends from three to nine months, which will be transferred to the final installment of the loan. Clients in other economic sectors will be handled on a case-by-case basis. 

Starting April 2020, for all non-salaried credit card holders, the minimum payments of installment will be automatically payable starting in the fourth month only.

As a gesture of solidarity during COVID-19, Banco Nacional is offering to the general public a six-month free membership to its online courses through NAUTA Pyme digital training platform, which is usually limited to the bank’s SME clients. The bank also launched a platform to support entrepreneurs to sell online through free advisory and access to online tools. 

Beyond COVID-19: Banco Nacional had an active program aimed at the women’s segment:

  1. In celebration of the first anniversary of having made its own commitment, BN promoted the UN Women’s Empowerment Principles as as part of its International Women’s Day activities, calling for more companies to join the initiative. “Equity practices increase employee performance and productivity, are a good thing for companies’ reputations, and improve their ability to compete and succeed.” said Cinthya Morera, Director of the Women’s Segment at Banco Nacional.
  2. BN Woman celebrated International Women’s Day with more than 200 female leaders during a gathering with the theme “Why Not,” representing an important personal challenge that leads women to question: Why not start? Why not have my own home? Why not venture into a non-traditional career? The event hosted a panel, “The First to Dare” with five pioneering women who shared their experiences and the struggles they had to overcome.
  3. BN Woman launched a new Instagram channel called “Vamos a Contarte,” (“Let’s Tell You”), as a space for women to express themselves, tell their stories and receive useful information, and for the bank to promote empowerment, leadership and inspiration. Most recently, BN Women has hosted a number of live programs targeting women during the Covid crisis.

Discover more actions taken by Banco Nacional by viewing our special “Ask the Expert” session dedicated to doing business in times of crisis


City Bank, Bangladesh

City Bank’s retail and business teams are continuously connecting with customers during this challenging period and are participating in different video conferencing sessions to stay up-to-date with the newest products and processes.

The bank is also implementing the subsidy programs launched by the Central Bank for COVID-19 affected micro, small and medium enterprises. This includes reducing interest rates on working capital loans, whereby of the nine-percent interest rate, four percent is borne by the borrower and five percent by the government.

The Central Bank has also introduced a special refinance scheme of USD$600 million for working capital in the agriculture sector. The refinancing period will be up to 18 months, including a six-month grace period. Banks will pay a one-percent interest rate on the loan amount to the Central Bank, and customers will get the loan facilities at a four-percent interest rate.

In addition, City Bank has deferred loan instalments and credit card payments by three months and waived charges and penalties for late payments. The bank has also organized an upcoming webinar, “Back to Business,” on their Facebook page with the participation of notable female dignitaries from the country.

Banco BHD León, Dominican Republic

To help its clients during this crisis, Banco BHD León took a series of initiatives, including both financial and non-financial support. These include:

  • A payment holiday of three months on loans
  • Zero interest for 60 days past due on personal and commercial loans
  • Eight-percent interest on commercial loans with a fixed rate of up to one year
  • Zero commission on payments to third parties by internet banking business
  • Zero commission on tax payments
  • Zero commission on electronic payrolls through internet banking
  • Zero commission on cash advance of credit cards via internet or mobile personal banking
  • No late payment fees or past-due credit management fees on credit cards
  • No minimum payments on BHD León credit cards for three months
  • Up to 28 days to pay credit cards from the cut-off date with no charges
  • Twenty-percent refund when paying with credit and debit cards on home delivery platforms
  • Twenty-percent refund when paying with credit cards in pharmacies
  • Three instalments without interest for purchases by credit card at main supermarkets

 Non-financial services:

  • Created a website section dedicated to COVID-19
  • Generated a virtual video library with more than 21 hours of training in business topics available to the general public
  • Organized a webinar with the vice minister of industry and commerce for MSMEs to discuss the measures implemented by the government that directly affect SMEs
  • Organized a campaign to raise awareness of domestic violence and promote the special hotline

Learn more about Banco BHD León’s COVID-19 response to gender-based violence by registering for a special “Ask the Expert” session on May 7 at 8 am Eastern Standard Time.

Access Bank, Nigeria:

To align with the expectations of WSMEs and young female professionals, the W Initiative introduced the “W Webinar Series,” with curated speakers to address:

  • How to Digitally Transform your Business Processes During the COVID-19 Pandemic
  • Making your Career Foolproof: Optimizing Productivity
  • Balancing your Home for Business and Career Effectiveness
  • Redesigning your Business Model for Resilience
  • Demystifying Bank Loans

More than 2,362 people from 15 countries across 4 continents took part in the Series. Recordings can be accessed here.

The bank also launched the W Xtra Cash, a campaign encouraging a savings culture among female customers during lockdown, with rewards to be earned at the end of the campaign through an electronic raffle draw.

Finally, the bank adopted a moratorium of 90 days on SME loan repayment to ensure businesses remain stable during this period. 

Beyond COVID-19:  W Initiative welcomes 70th baby through MHSS

Since 2014, The W Initiative, through its Maternal Health Service Support (MHSS) health financing program, has supported the advancement of the Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) to enable challenged couples’ access to fertility treatment such as IVF. The W Initiative remains committed to supporting more women and families by restoring hope and saving lives through its health financing scheme.

Stanbic Bank Zambia

Understanding the challenges of social distancing, Stanbic Bank Zambia, through its Enterprise Online service, allows its clients to process salaries for staff from anywhere, pay suppliers, make bill payments for electricity, pay TV bills and buy airtime for their mobile phones. The platform also allows clients to view owned accounts and conduct seamless transfers between accounts within Stanbic or at other banks. Most of these services are also available on the bank’s mobile banking platform.

The Chilimba Savings platform grants female Anakazi Banking clients 24/7 access to digital and mobile banking platforms, allowing them to actively participate in their Village Banking group activities. The platform comes with free financial literacy and investment classes at no monthly charges and with two free withdrawals monthly.

During Financial Literacy Week, the bank highlighted the importance of saving to women, focusing on planning finances to help make investments and managing a budget to pay bills and day-to-day expenses.


Banco Pichincha, Ecuador

Banco Pichincha in Ecuador has implemented a business continuity plan focused on seven key areas: human talent protection and management, business continuity, management of critical suppliers, technological continuity, data security, financial health and risk, and assessment of risks.

Internally, the bank created a new operations manual for all employees, implemented remote working across the sales force, supported staff and families with online medical visits, and guaranteed 50 percent of variable salaries for six months for the salesforce.

For MSMEs, the bank automatically deferred three payments for all loans and deferred two payments for personal and housing loans upon request. It also waived all online and mobile banking fees and conducted sales force training online.

On the CSR front, the bank also set up a fund with an initial contribution of $10 million to purchase medical equipment and support health workers.

Learn more about the detailed business continuity plan set forth by Pichincha by accessing our special “Ask the Expert” session with them dedicated to doing business in times of crisis.


Westpac, Australia

Westpac’s key priorities in response to COVID-19 were to look after its own people—specifically to move the 23,000 working at corporate sites to working remotely and to ramp up digital services to allow people to dial in from home. The bank was the first to announce a support package and implemented hospital-quality cleaning measures in all of its premises, in addition to glass screens, social distancing measures, temperature measurement, etc.

Westpac upped its unsecured product to meet the government set criteria, with latter guaranteeing 50 percent of the loan. The bank also reduced interest rates on overdrafts, deferred payments and helped women take advantage of asset write-offs and government depreciation changes. Westpac also developed a financial literacy model online through the Davidson Institute. It included bespoke materials for handling COVID-19, including the SME planning guide, developed within days of the lockdown period, and a cost-cutting checklist to help consumers who are impacted.

Discover more actions undertaken by Westpac by checking out our special “Ask the Expert” session dedicated to doing business in times Of crisis [this session is password protected: click here to request the password].

Sign up to learn more about Westpac’s COVID-19 response to gender-based violence by registering for a special “Ask the Expert” session on May 7 at 8 am Eastern Standard Time.

We Connect, USA/Global

This month, WEConnect International launched its quarterly COVID-19 Survey with responses collected from almost 600 women-owned businesses from around the world. Not surprisingly, 87 percent of those surveyed have been affected negatively by COVID-19, with 90 percent experiencing a decrease in sales and revenues. Many of them are adjusting their products or services to remain relevant in the changing economic climate and are trying to secure financing so that they can stay operational.

The good news is that female business owners are refocusing their businesses to adapt. Fifty-four percent have cut unnecessary expenses, 42 percent have shifted to a digital model, and 37 percent are growing in response to local or global needs. To learn more, click here.

BRAC Bank, Bangladesh

To support SMEs, BRAC Bank is offering three months payment deferment to COVID-19 impacted clients. It is also adopting the Bangladesh government’s stimulus package for SME customers and has waived the late payment fees for credit card holders. To encourage online payments, it is offering cash back on online grocery purchases.

To support clients during social distancing, the bank is encouraging the use of alternate banking channels (internet banking, ATMs and call centers) and has started accepting banking activity requests by registered email without the customer needing to visit the branch.

To serve clients who wish to visit a branch, BRAC Bank has kept 83 out of 187 branches open and adopted the use of infrared thermometers at entrances, provided foot baths to disinfect shoes, and placed glass barriers in cash area.

The bank has supported its TARA (Women’s Markets) customers with engaging articles and webinars to help them with strategy and business during a pandemic. It also made multiple donations, including contributing to the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund, an emergency food assistance fund, with monies raised from the bank’s employees. The bank also committed to giving away 10,000 sets of high-quality CE certified PPEs from China that will be used in the ICU of a prime healthcare center.


CDC recently issued a joint statement of the 2X Challenge and Gender Finance Collaborative (GFC) outlining their commitment to keeping women and girls central to the COVID-19 response. This recognizes that COVID-19 pandemic has and will continue to disproportionately affect women and girls—and that a collective response to the crisis should take these differences into account. The statement outlines rapid crisis response and longer-term measures to support recovery.  


IDRC, Canada

Earlier this month, IDRC supported a seminar with CGAP Findev gateway focused on Women financial inclusion strategies in the context of COVID-19. The edited recordings are now available here (in Spanish) and presentations and other materials are available here (in Spanish). 

Franz Gomez from Fundacion Capital shares lessons learned from IDRC-supported Proyecto Capital in the context of digitization of payments and the COVID-19 crisis. 


IFC, USA/Global

IFC’s Banking on Women team recently held interviews with two female entrepreneurs in Africa to understand how COVID-19 is affecting their businesses, distribution and supply chains. Both entrepreneurs felt an overwhelming responsibility to keep their customers safe, meet the immediate needs of their staff and honor the orders from local suppliers. They gave feedback that banks should step up to provide affordable financial services and digitally enabled non-financial solutions to ensure that their businesses are able to thrive Post COVID-19.  The interviews are found here. Subsequently, one of the entrepreneurs interviewed was also interviewed by CNN

We thank all our members and partners for sharing their COVID-19 responses with us so that we can all learn and get inspired. We invite you all to keep sending us updates about this and other timely topics and to attend our weekly “Ask The Expert: Business in Times of Crisis” webinars. Click here to register and see full details of upcoming and past sessions.