Oman banks must be geared for COVID-19 disruptions: CBO

Muscat: The Central Bank of Oman (CBO) has instructed licensed banks in the Sultanate to ensure they are well-equipped and suitably geared to provide “critical” banking services to their corporate and retail customers notwithstanding any disruptions likely to be unleashed by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

In a circular issued earlier this week, the apex bank reiterated calls for all banks to put in place “robust business continuity plans” suited to various pandemic-related scenarios.
“As the services provided by banks are critical to individuals, business and the government, a certain minimum level of essential services should continue to be provided without any interruption,” CBO Executive President Tahir Salim al Amri (pictured) stated in the circular.
“Banks should identify the ‘most critical functions’, which need to be carried out without any disruption and provide suitable staff (and their backup) therefore, both at the premises and for work-at-home. While doing so, banks should identify other needed resources and provide them accordingly,” he stressed.
Importantly, the Central Bank has listed 10 “most critical functions” that all banks are mandated to provide at a minimum as part of their pandemic preparedness measures.  It includes electronic / digital payments (such as mobile / internet banking, phone banking, cards, POS and mobile wallets.
Also tagged as ‘most critical functions’ are: Online Services, International Payments / Remittances Processing of Salary Payments, Cheque Processing, ATM / CDM Services, Trade Transactions, Treasury Operations, Emergency Loans, Government Transactions, Call Centres, and Fraud / Cyber Risk Monitoring Services.

The CBO memo also urges banks to heed the recent advisories of the Supreme Committee on COVID-19 preparedness. Citing one such advisory on the need for the private sector to introduce work-at-home policies, the apex bank has called on banks to enable the provision of banking services through the adoption of remote-working strategies, wherever possible, while ensuring that the requisite controls, oversight and compliance protocols are adhered to.

Furthermore, in line with the Supreme Committee’s pandemic prevention guidelines, banks have been directed to restrict their functioning to normal banking hours.
Consequently, lenders offering ‘evening banking hour’ services are now obliged to suspend this facility.
Significantly, all banks have been directed to constitute a ‘quick response team’ to react to any unforeseen developments and contingencies arising out of the unfolding crisis.  The team should provide regular updates to the top management of the bank on significant developments, the Executive President noted.