By Sifiso Sibandze
The Farmers Bank will only be allowed to open its doors to the public once it has satisfactorily complied with the operational requirements of the banking industry, the Central Bank Governor, Dr Phil Mnisi has stressed.
In an interview with the Eswatini Financial Times, the Governor made it clear that even though Farmers Bank was issued with a licence last year, it cannot open its doors to customers lest they adhere to the compliance issues raised with them.
“I want to make it very clear; the Farmers Bank was issued with a licence. So, they have a licence. We have assessed them but there are operational compliance issues that they must sort out so that they can be able to open their bank to the public and operate within their licence,” Dr Mnisi said.
As they have the licence that was granted by the Central Bank, the Governor said: “we are waiting for them to comply with the operational requirements that are needed to run a bank, for example, they need to have employees that have a banking experience, they need to have banking systems, they need to have tellers and all the usual requirements.”
The Governor went on to say the Central Bank is at an operational stage with Farmers Bank and there is no argument whether there are in the country.
“The only thing that we are not going to compromise, not only with farmers bank but also with all the other banks operating within the Eswatini’s economy are compliance and meeting the standards required for running and managing a bank,” the Governor said.
Interestingly, the Governor said the CBE will walk the journey with them because they are a new institution in the banking sector “and what we do to farmers bank is not exceptional as we also do same to other banks that we regulate.”
Mnisi detailed that the Central Bank did due diligence and investigations were carried out which necessitated that they should give them a licence. “Like the other banks, their licence is renewed every year,” the Governor said.
The Governor highlighted that now they are at a stage to operationalize the bank and make sure that it complies with all regulatory compliance standards which are required in Eswatini, regionally, internationally, and everywhere you operate as a bank.
“So, I want to take it to that level. I do not want to even unpack if they have the right management. But as a Governor I am saying to them, for you to run a bank have the necessary board that is qualified to run the bank, have management with the right necessary skills, have your processes and have the systems,” the Governor said.
Dr Mnisi reiterated that Farmers Bank will only be allowed to run the bank once he is satisfied as a Governor that they have complied with the required standards.
“That is the principle of a regulator. It does not mean that there will be no weaknesses and limitations but you handhold because compliance is again evolving. We have to say compliance is progressive, you need to meet the minimum standards for you to operate and upgrade your system, for example even hiring. You cannot hire all CA’s at once in your organization but demonstrate that you have got one and you are training another. That is compliance because it must be a principle not ticking the box. You must have compliance as a principle,” Dr Mnisi said emphatically.
The Central Bank granted Farmers Bank the licence in 2018 but was later revoked in October 2020 allegedly because the bank did not submit the required information about its source of funds or wealth of its initial start-up capital. After having the licence revoked, the Farmers Bank exercised its appeal option and won over the CBE and the latter was directed to reinstate the licence in January 2021.
Against this backdrop, the Farmers Bank is making notable headways towards opening its doors to the public. During a visit to the bank’s premises in November, the structure appeared set to resume business. Setting eyes at the entrance, one was attracted by the displayed posters detailing the services which the bank aspires to offer and the targeted clients. By then, over 10 people believed to be employees were seen seated in different well-furnished offices.
Earlier on, the Chairman of the Board of Directors Prince Nhlonipho told the Eswatini Financial Times that operations were expected to start soon. Dlamini said it was gratifying to note that the investors had been in the country doing all that was required by the Central Bank to be re-granted the licence.