3.4 CSR Expenditures by Banks

The banking sector of Bangladesh has a long history of involvement in benevolent activities like donations to different charitable organizations, to poor people and religious institutions, city beautification and patronizing art & culture, etc. Recent trends of these engagement indicates that banks are gradually organizing these involvements in more structured CSR initiative format, in line with BB Guidance in DOS circular no. 01 of 2008.

The June 2008 BB Guidance circular suggested that banks could begin reporting their CSR initiatives in a modest way as supplements to usual annual financial reports, eventually to develop into full blown comprehensive reports in GRI format. Information on CSR expenditure available from annual reports of banks, compiled together, bring up the following picture of sectoral patterns:

Table 1: Sectoral pattern of CSR expenditure reported by Banks

Taka in million

Segments

2007

2008

2009

Disaster relief

127.7

58.6

125.1

Education

14.3

30.5

94.8

Health

68.6

112.1

245.5

Sports

02.7

49.8

1.2

Arts & Culture

0.0

0.8

0.3

Others

13.1

158.9

86.9

Total

226.4

410.7

553.8


In the year 2007, large concentration in the field of disaster relief, both in participation and expenditure wise, was observed mainly because of the cyclone ‘Sidr’. Whereas, in the year 2009, the ‘Education’ and ‘Health’ sectors were getting more attention and appeared to be the most popular area for CSR activities as huge investments are being made by several banks in these segments. These shifts point to the responsiveness of the banking community to the changing need of the society.

Following are some notable features observed from the CSR activities carried out by the banks:

In a natural calamity-prone area like Bangladesh, there remains an existing and distinctive CSR agenda focused on the business contribution to tackling social crises in the affected area. Disaster relief and rehabilitation became the segment where the highest number of banks participated to help ease the sufferings of the affected people. In the current context, a desired move from the traditionally popular fields of education or health.

In the education segment, more and more banks have taken long-term or renewable scholarship programs for under-privileged but meritorious students for the persuasion of their studies instead of providing one time recognition awards to good performers.

Some banks choose to provide continued financial support for maintaining operating costs of health care organizations. A bank undertook a continuous program called ‘Smile Brighter Program’ to perform as many operations possible per year on cleft-lipped boys and girls to bring back smile on their face.

Several banks have taken steps and introduced investment schemes to cater the needs of self-employment and poverty alleviation under which micro-finance is channeled to the target groups, such as poor farmers, landless peasants, women entrepreneurs, rootless slum people, handicapped people, etc.

A few banks have taken steps to introduce Interest-free Education Loan to poor and meritorious students to help bear monthly educational expenditure including food, accommodation etc. The loan is distributed to the selected students in monthly installments till their completion of studies upto the Masters Degree level.

A good number of banks have created separate Foundation/Trusts as non-profitable, nongovernmental organization, solely devoted to the cause of charity, social welfare and other benevolent activities towards the promotion CSR objectives. These banks are providing a certain percentage of the pre-tax profit/net profit each year towards its CSR activities.

3.5 Institutionalizing CSR at Corporate Level

The BB guidance circular suggested embracing of CSR with decisions taken at the highest corporate level (board of directors of the bank), and to choose action programs and performance targets through a consultative processes involving the internal and external stakeholders concerned. As seen in the following table, 12 PCBs and 3 FCBs reported to have embraced CSR with decision at the highest corporate level, none of the SCBs and DFIs reported to have done anything in this regard. A total of 16 out of 30 PCBs and 1 out of 9 FCBs have formed separate Foundations or Trusts as non-profitable, non-governmental organization, solely devoted to the cause of charity, social welfare and other benevolent activities towards the promotion CSR objectives. These banks have also resolved to provide a certain percentage of the pre-tax profit/net profit each year towards its CSR activities. However, none of the banks reported to have adopted action programs and performance targets through consultative processes involving the internal and external stakeholders concerned as suggested in the guideline of June 1, 2008.

3.6 Ingraining CSR Practices within the Organization & Client Businesses

Against the suggestion in the BB guidance circular for ingraining environmentally and socially responsible practices within the organization, only four banks (1 DFI and 3 PCBs) reported having taken steps for adoption of socially and environmentally responsible practices in their own internal operations. The DFI mentioned that they have taken actions towards providing a modern, healthy and safe workplace and creating an environment conducive to learning and development. Regarding reducing the environmental impact as a result of their operation and business activity, 1 DFI and 3 PCBs reported to have taken positive actions towards it.

As shown in the above table, 1 SCB, 2 DFIs and 8 PCBs have taken steps to foster CSR in their client businesses in various economic sectors, assessing the social and environmental impacts of the enterprises/projects seeking finance. These banks reported that they try to ensure compliance with environmental standards while financing industrial projects, and that they have formulated environment policies in accordance with guidelines issued by the Government, in terms of which the environmental impacts are considered at the time of conducting Credit and Lending Risks Analysis. Projects likely to have adverse impact on environment are strongly discouraged by them. Some banks have also introduced guidelines requiring assessment of environmental and social impacts of the projects to ensure that operations of the projects would be eco-friendly. It is understood that, banks in Bangladesh in general try to ensure that enterprises/projects seeking finance comply with the environmental and social requirements that are compulsorily mandated by laws and regulations. However, most of the banks did not report this in their annual reports.

3.7 Financial Inclusion

The CSR guidelines issued by Bangladesh Bank put special emphasis on reaching out with financial services to the less well-off population segments of the community in order to speed up financial inclusion of the large socially disadvantaged rural and urban population segments; drawing them in with appropriate financial service packages and with financing programs innovatively designed to generate new employment, output and income.
It was observed that 4 SCBs, 3 DFIs, 29 PCBs and 3 FCBs have responded positively to this call and undertaken programs for speeding up financial inclusion of the large socially disadvantaged rural and urban population segments. Out of these programs-

1.    4 SCBs, 3 DFIs, 28 PCBs and 3 FCBs were engaged in self-employment credit and Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) lending programs, taken up solo or in association with locally active Micro Finance Institutions (MFIs). These programs were mainly designed to create productive new on-farm/off-farm employment. The banks also formally recognized their philanthropic obligation towards the promotion and development of small and medium industries sector.

2.    1 DFI has financed programs for installation of biomass processing plants and for Effluent Treatment Plants (ETPs) in manufacturing establishments.

3.    In order to provide support to small landholder farmers of Bangladesh who play a crucial role in the development of the country, 4 SCBs, 3 DFIs, 25 PCBs and 3 FCBs have disbursed agricultural loans mainly through their rural branches for diversified production of crops, oilseeds, spices, vegetables, fruits etc. by rural households, financing the growers directly or through suitable intermediaries in the value chain, and have provided credit support for combinations of farming activities. Concurrently, credit lines are also extended to different NGOs to support the initiatives for agricultural development and alleviation of poverty in the rural areas.

4.    Two banks reported taking up initiatives aimed at prompt delivery of remittances from migrant workers to recipients in remote rural households, or programs for card based mobile phone based delivery of financial services to such households. Among bank financed self-employment & SME projects; dairy, fishery, poultry, goat rearing & cow fattening projects and financing of NGOs for enhancing the flow of micro-credit under NGO Linkage Loan were more prominent. Among the four classes of bank, DFIs were the most important participant in the SME sector. From chart 3 below it can be seen that, during the year 2008, the DFIs had the dominant share of SME credit outstanding during 2008 and 2009. Involvements of SCBs in SME lending do not show signs of stable upward trend. The engagements of PCBs however, have been in significant upward trend. Involvement of FCBs even though small in absolute size, is also showing signs of steady  increase.

The volume of credit outstanding is no firm evidence of extent of financial inclusion per se however, chart 5 plots the trend of number of small sized bank loan accounts, a plausible proxy for increase in number of agricultural and small enterprise loan accounts and hence for financial inclusion. Trend lines in the chart indicate that the positive results from the CSR and other current initiatives for broadening financial inclusion are yet to show up with prominence.