Bulk of loans in S.Africa's COVID crisis scheme to stay untapped, say banks

JOHANNESBURG, Feb 3 (Reuters) – A credit scheme central to South Africa’s efforts to counter the economic impact of the coronavirus is on course to pay out less than a tenth of the loans it is offering, the country’s banking association said on Wednesday.

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced the scheme, worth up to 200 billion rand ($13.4 billion) in bank loans partly guaranteed by the government, in April.

It aims to encourage banks to lend more, on more favourable terms, to businesses whose operations have been affected by the pandemic, which has hit South Africa far harder than any other African nation.

But so far it has paid out just 17.84 billion rand, said the Banking Association South Africa (BASA), admitting that a scheme “conceived and implemented at great speed in a time of crisis has not achieved all it set out to do”.

With banks having approved little more than a quarter of applications for loans under the scheme, Ramaphosa admitted last month that it needed to be “fundamentally restructured to improve its accessibility”.

BASA and other finance industry experts have cited flawed design features, a reluctance to incur debt by businesses low on confidence and a preference for lenders’ other relief measures as reasons for the low take-up by would-be borrowers.

BASA said it expected total payments from the scheme, which was tweaked in July in an attempt to drum up more interest, to reach just 18.9 billion rand overall.

Lenders have rejected 46% of the 48,366 applications received, because they either did not meet the eligibility criteria set by the Treasury and central bank or the bank’s own risk criteria, BASA said.

Only 27% of applications have been approved while 5% are still being assessed. In some cases, clients have turned down offers.

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