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Business

Araliya Group takes bold stride towards expanding its hotel chain

Araliya Group of companies is now ready to expand its hotel room capacity to 1,014 rooms following the opening of 304 roomed Unawatuna luxury beach hotel in Galle on March 20.

The 14 storied new luxury beach resort and spa was built at a cost of USD 17.12 million in the back drop of world renowned Rumassala sanctuary, Unawatuna beach and exotic coral reef with the aim of becoming the number one iconic hotel in Asia, Araliya rice brand business tycoon Dudley Sirisena said.

Unawatuna is one of the ten best and most charming seashores in the world and it was one of the reasons of proving the claim of Asia’s number one hotel, he ascertained.  

"There is simply no way around it as COVID-19 will continue to figure in Sri Lanka‘s future of the hospitality industry amidst zero tourist arrivals for eight consecutive months since the end March last year. Somebody should dare to come up with positive mind set pinning hope for the initial rebound in travel demand pick up slowly, but surely in many destinations including Sri Lanka within a month or two," he said.

Therefore, hoteliers should take necessary, measures to be well prepared for recovery, while also devising proper revival strategy with positive expectations, he added.

“Providing an upscale, luxury hotel experience while implementing safety measures during Covid-19 pandemic is no minor matter," he said, adding that he has already opened Araliya Red Hotel in the picturesque surroundings and the natural beauty of Nuwara Eliya and its race course.

The Araliya Group continues its hotel network expansion with the plan of building 40 room extension to Milton hotel in Unwatuna, Galle with a day/night food court and Irish pub especially for the benefit of local travelers.

The modern food court with all facilities will cater to the needs of travelers using Galle road to visit their home villages and towns in the South, Sirisena said, adding that this will be most probably his last project before bidding adieu to his business empire.

However, environmentalists and politicians are vehemently protesting against these mega hotel projects claiming that an environmentally exotic and highly receptive areas  in the South and Up country were being severely devastated by these initiatives.

Rejecting allegations of environmental destruction, Dudley Sirisena noted that these projects had been carried out following all environmental conservation guidelines with the clearance and approval of relevant government institutions including the coast conservation department.

He told the Business Times that “every good or bad thing has an equal and opposite reaction and he has nothing more to say other than the present plight of Sri Lankans was the result of that reaction."

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HNB Group demonstrates resilience, strength and stability

Hatton National Bank PLC (HNB) demonstrated resilience and an unwavering focus on sustainable business performance as it posted Rs 13.7 Bn in Group Profit After Tax during 2020, a year laden with unprecedented circumstances and challenges. Bank level Profit After Taxes amounted to Rs 11.5 Bn Commenting on the performance, Chairman of HNB Dinesh Weerakkody stated that “2020 has been a year unlike any other in recent memory as the COVID-19 Pandemic transformed the socioeconomic landscape dramatically, elevating uncertainty and risks at every level, both locally and globally. We proved our ability to adjust rapidly as we leveraged technology and adapted to the new normal, sharing the responsibility to stay safe as well as keep our communities safe and empowered. “

He added that “even before the onset of the pandemic, our economy was adversely affected due to the Easter Sunday bombings of 2019. The onset of the pandemic aggravated our economic woes, straining cash flows, at Individual, Entity and National levels while paving the way for a disruptive transformation that vaulted us to a new era of exciting possibilities. At HNB, we have reset our agenda and will continue to do so going forward, embedding the new-found speed and agility into our ways of working and identify the best ways to respond, making sure we sustain such best practices in our operations. Unlike ever before, we, as a leading bank, have a crucial role to play in the task of restoring and supporting the livelihoods of our communities.”

Jonathan Alles, Managing Director/CEO of the Bank commenting on the performance stated that “in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, we reprioritised our focus to ensure that we navigate the uncertainties and risks effectively to safeguard the interests of all our stakeholders. Health and safety, business sustainability and supporting the customers in need were at the core.”

He added that “our dedicated team of 4,800+ members rallied around together to provide the much needed financial relief and banking needs despite lockdowns. During the first phase we provided debt moratoria to customers covering approximately 40% of our loan book. With lockdowns being limited to few localities during the second wave of the pandemic and most industries recommencing their operations, the moratoria extended under the second phase has reduced to approximately 15% of the loan book which is a positive sign for the economy. We also extended working capital finance of over Rs 24Bn to affected sectors at concessionary interest rates under the CBSL relief scheme and set up a Rs 5Bn fund through our own funds to support SMEs. A microfinance grant of Rs 20Mn was also distributed among 200 needy customers. Apart from financial relief we facilitated customer transactions without any disruption, through our branches, digital channels and payment solutions such as SOLO, MOMO, IPG and Appigo.”

The accommodative monetary policy adopted by the CBSL to drive economic growth saw AWPLR dropping sharply by over 400bps during the year. Nevertheless, the demand for credit did not pick up as anticipated due to prevailing uncertainty. As a result, the Bank’s interest income declined by 10% YoY to Rs 103.9 Bn. The outstanding growth of approx. Rs 99 Bn in CASA deposits during the year coupled with low interest rates eased pressure on interest costs to a certain extent. However, Net Interest Income of the Bank dropped by 9% YoY to Rs 44.7 Bn.

Net fee income declined more steeply by 16% YoY to Rs 7.5 Bn as Import restrictions, depressed demand in export markets, lower card spends, particularly during the first wave of COVID, the slow-down in economic activity as well the directions imposed by CBSL to waive off certain fees until September 2020 collectively impacted this channel of income.

Lower swap costs and volumes along with exchange rate movements during the year lead to an improvement of Rs 2.2 Bn in net trading gains compared to 2019. The Bank also recorded a capital gain of Rs 1.1 Bn through disposal of government securities during the final quarter of 2020.

A facility of over Rs 11.5Bn to an SOE which was classified as NPA in 2019 was regularized during the last quarter of 2020. This together with the Bank’s concerted efforts on improving asset quality enabled HNB to record a marked improvement in its NPA ratio to 4.3% from 5.9% reported as at end of 2019 despite the stressed market conditions. Nevertheless, the Bank made prudent provisions taking in to consideration factors such as elevated risks in certain sectors and the deterioration in economic conditions. Furthermore, the Bank recognised substantial impairment charges on account of its investments in dollar denominated government securities due to the sovereign downgrade by rating agencies. These factors resulted in provisions increasing by 58% to Rs 15.3Bn for the year ended December 2020.

Given the negative impact on the top line the Bank focused on cost optimization opportunities. This enabled the Bank to record a drop of Rs 1.6 Bn in total operating expenses compared to the previous year, Accordingly, the Cost to Income ratio improved to 39.3% despite the drop in operating income, without any downsizing or compromise on staff salaries.

The removal of debt repayment levy and NBT proved to be timely as the banking sector stepped into support the economic revival. Profit Before Tax (PBT) amounted to Rs 15.1 Bn while the PAT of Rs 11.5 Bn was 18.3% YoY lower than that reported in 2019.

The Bank’s asset base expanded by Rs 167 Bn to Rs 1.3 trillion while the loan book recorded a moderate growth of 5.5%, The CASA ratio improved to 40% from 35% recorded a year ago, as CASA deposits grew by 35% to Rs 384Bn. The funding side of the balance sheet was also bolstered by the USD 60 Mn long term loan from PROPARCO, the French Development Agency. This borrowing will be utilized to fund SME growth in 2021. Despite the substantial moratoria granted, the liquidity levels remained strong with LAR at 39.6% and LCR at 290.3% against the regulatory requirement of 20% and 90% respectively. HNB is also among the best capitalized banks with Tier I and Total Capital Adequacy Ratios of 14.73% and 17.98% respectively well above the statutory requirement.

Insurance and Investment Banking led contributions from subsidiaries as the HNB Group made Profit Before Taxes of Rs 17.6 Bn. Total Group assets rose by 14.5% YoY to Rs 1.4 Trillion

The Bank declared a final dividend of Rs 8.00 per share consisting of a cash dividend of Rs 4.50 and a scrip dividend of Rs 3.50 per share.

Jonathan Alles further stated that “through our strategic refocus we were able to demonstrate resilience, strength and stability in a year that posed unprecedented challenges. I would like to extend my heartfelt gratitude to the entire team for their untiring efforts and dedication in an extremely difficult year and to all other stakeholders for continuing to place their trust and confidence in us.”

He added that, “with vaccines being administered among the general public currently we look at the future with hope and optimism. As the ‘partner in progress’ for generations of Sri Lankans, and our roots in serving micro, small and medium enterprises, we have strengthened our structures, systems and processes internally to play a catalytic role in the resurgence of our nation.”

HNB continues to be recognized locally and internationally and is ranked among the Banker Magazine UK Top 1000 Banks of the year for the fourth consecutive year. HNB was also awarded as the Best Retail Bank in Sri Lanka by the Asian Banker Magazine in 2020, making it the 11th occasion it has been bestowed with the honour. The Asian Banker also adjudged HNB as the Best Managed Bank during COVID 19 and chose MD/CEO of the Bank Mr. Jonathan Alles as the Best CEO during the pandemic. Locally the Bank was ranked among the Top 10 most Admired Corporates of the country by CIMA/ICCSL/DailyFT while the “Business Today” ranked HNB among the Top Three Corporates in the Country.

HNB has 252 branches Island wide and a Credit Rating of AA- (lka) assigned by Fitch Ratings.

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Ceylinco Life records income of Rs. 36.98 bn in 2020

Ceylinco Life has achieved consolidated income of Rs. 36.98 billion for FY 2020 showing the company’s ability to grow business volumes and investment returns even in the most challenging conditions.

This top line growth of 15.2 per cent was made possible by Gross Written Premium Income of Rs. 22.07 billion for the 12 months ending December 2020 – an increase of 17.9 per cent over 2019 – and investment and other income of Rs 14.9 billion, which was up 11.3 per cent, Sri Lanka’s top life insurance leader said in a media release.

The growth in life insurance business resulted in Ceylinco Life retaining its position as the market leader in Sri Lanka’s life insurance sector for the 17th consecutive year, it said.

Ceylinco Life paid Rs. 12.2 billion in net claims and benefits to policyholders for the year under review, an increase of 15.7 per cent over the preceding year, and transferred Rs. 9.42 billion to its life fund, which grew by 10.94 per cent to Rs. 106.74 billion as at end December 2020.

The company’s total assets grew by Rs. 17.6 billion over the year at a monthly average of more than Rs. 1.4 billion to cross the milestone of Rs. 150 billion at the end of the year, while its investment portfolio recorded an increase of 14.36 per cent in value over the 12 months to reach Rs. 133.7 billion as at end December 2020.

“We attribute our strong top line growth to the company’s agile and speedy acclimatisation to the so-called new normal environment thrust upon us by the global pandemic,” Ceylinco Life Managing Director/CEO Thushara Ranasinghe said. “Technology, determination and innovation kicked in at very short notice, enabling us to keep selling life insurance, process and settle claims, and develop new products, while managing our investments strategically and tactically for best returns. The effects of the pandemic continue to impact the business, but we are confident that our systems and the team’s spirit will keep us on the path of growth.”

Ceylinco Life transferred Rs. 4.1 billion to the shareholders’ fund in respect of the 12 months, increasing the shareholder fund to Rs. 38.1 billion at the end of the year.

The company posted profit before tax of Rs. 8.77 billion for FY 2020, reflecting an increase of 6.75 per cent over the previous year. Net profit after tax for FY 2020 was Rs. 6.93 billion and reflected an increase of 3.93 per cent over the previous year

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BOC’s strategic HR efforts ensure strength amidst Covid-19

Bank of Ceylon (BOC) has implemented the purpose-designed HR plans  at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, BOC Senior Deputy General Manager K.E.D Sumanasiri disclosed.

The bank has managed to ensure a safe and dynamic environment for the successful mobilization of staff plus continuous provision of services, despite ongoing restrictions and safety concerns, he added.  

In managing the early part of the pandemic, BOC’s HR function proactively engaged all employees, drawing on a novel method of delegation, seeing that it would be the most effective and efficient way forward in handling an unprecedented situation posing similarly unseen challenges.

This draws from BOC’s culture of smart delegation, a core component of its HRM and operational philosophy.  

To mobilize a team exceeding 8,000 staff members in the initial months of the global pandemic, required the bank’s HR department to give trust and confidence, to all employees across the organization, in their capabilities and decision-making power.

The system of delegation adopted was driven by this empowering of staff, where managers and employees at every level were instructed to take decisions in their respective positions, using their discretion to act and delegate as necessary.  

BOC adopted a two-tiered strategy, where the primary objective included the protection of all employees, and secondly ensuring business would go on as normal even with the restrictions.

Therein, employee adherence to all Health Department enforced regulations and orders remained a key HR goal, complemented by its own initiatives to drive employee safety and continuity of operations.  

The bank continues to bear all costs for quarantine procedures and PCR tests to be performed by employees. Apart from essentials such as providing PPE for all employees, BOC also adopted a roster system and offered free transport, to ensure its 8,000 strong staff have been able to progressively resume work.  

Accounting for the many impacts of COVID-19 on the bank’s HRM function, BOC has adopted numerous changes in its delivery of HR services including digitalization.

It has adopted unique methods of showing appreciation to employees in overcoming challenges to meeting in person, remote hiring and recruitment with video platform-based interviews to save time and ensure safety.

Towards this end, BOC has afforded much focus to ensuring a strong work-life balance for employees, in line with the increased need for work-from-home and flexible work arrangements organization-wide.

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Challenging times for Sampath Bank in 2020

Sampath Bank, despite the challenging conditions in 2020, has continued to prioritise the needs of all stakeholders.

And, notwithstanding the extraordinary difficulties encountered during the year, Sampath Bank continued to grow in 2020 with the bank’s asset base expanding by 15.4 per cent to cross the historical Rs. 1 trillion mark to reach Rs. 1.1 trillion as at end December 2020, from Rs. 962 billion reported as at end December 2019.

The bank saw its Profit After Tax (PAT) decline from Rs. 11.1 billion in 2019 to Rs. 8 billion for the year 2020. Despite the 28 per cent drop, it is nonetheless a noteworthy result against the backdrop of the COVID-19 induced economic slowdown locally and globally.

The bank registered a Profit Before Tax (PBT) of Rs.11.2 billion compared to Rs. 15.5 billion recorded in 2019, a decline of 27.9 per cent, the bank said in a media release.

The PBT and PAT of the group for the year ending December 2020 stood at Rs. 11.9 billion and Rs. 8.4 billion respectively, showing a decline of 27.2 per cent and 27.6 per cent respectively.

It said the combined impact of the lower interest regime and the concessionary interest rates charged during debt moratorium phase I, drove down the bank’s NII by 18.6 per cent from Rs. 41.6 billion in the previous year to Rs.33.8 billion in 2020.

The bank said it continued to closely monitor all variables affecting the NII supported by necessary follow up action to prudently manage the same throughout the year.

On net fee and commission income, the bank said its ability to generate fee based income was adversely affected by the 2-month long island-wide lockdown as well as due to region-wise mobility restrictions imposed by the authorities from time to time in order to control the spread of COVID-19.

The resulting low level of economic activity and restricted hours of business operations, had a sizable impact on the volume of fee based transactions carried out by the bank during the year. Further, suspending or refunding of certain charges by the bank, considering the current difficulties faced by customers due to the COVID-19 pandemic, also negatively impacted the bank’s fee based income.

Sampath Bank’s deposit base expanded by Rs. 168.6 billion or 23.5 per cent during the year to reach Rs. 886.9 billion as at end December 2020, compared to the Rs. 718.3 billion reported as at end December 2019. This growth was largely backed by the Current and Savings Account

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Dettol donates 3000 personal protective equipment kits for Use by PHIs

Reckitt Benckiser Lanka's Dettol has been actively contributing to the battle against Covid 19 by extending continuous support to the authorities. The brand completed yet another such initiative recently with the donation of 3000 Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) kits for use by the Public Health Inspectors (PHIs).

The official donation took place at the Ministry of Health with the participation of key officials representing the Health Ministry and Reckitt Benckiser Lanka Ltd.

One of the most prominent sanitary brands in the country and a household name for 5 decades, Dettol has always been a socially conscious brand with a heavy focus on CSR. With the outbreak of the pandemic in Sri Lanka last year, Dettol took an active role in the battle against Covid 19 by diverting all its CSR efforts and funds to support the authorities.

Over the last year, Dettol worked in partnership with the Health Ministry, Red Cross Sri Lanka, Education Ministry, PHI's Association, Railway Department and many more authorities and carried out multiple initiatives for this purpose. These initiatives included deployment of Dettol mobile hand washing units to hospitals and other public places, conducting awareness campaigns, donation of Dettol products to health authorities, carrying out disinfection projects in public locations such as police stations and places of worship like Dalada Maligawa in Kandy and Munneswaram temple in Chilaw etc.

In another noteworthy project, Dettol donated hand washing units to over 25 schools in Matale and Puttalam districts and carried out educational programmes, benefitting over 30,000 students. Cover Photo (From left to right) Dr. Thilina Wanigasekara, Director – Organizational Development, Ministry of Health, Dr. Indika Jagoda, Regional Director - Health Services / Colombo District, Ministry of Health, Dr. Asela Gunawardena, Director General - Health Services, Ministry of Health, Tehan Samarasinha, Product Group Manager – Health, Reckitt Benckiser Lanka Ltd, Shaminda Perera, Head of Marketing, Reckitt Benckiser Lanka Ltd.

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Dialog Axiata connects Sri Lanka and Maldives with new cable

The Maldives Sri Lanka Cable system (MSC) is set to deliver high speed broadband connectivity between the two nations.

With investment from Dialog Axiata, the 840km submarine fibre optic system will provide high speed, low latency connectivity between Hulhumale in the Maldives and Mount Lavinia in Sri Lanka.

Working with its consortium partners Ooredoo and the Maldives’ Dhiraagu as well as supplier HMN, Dialog Axiata was able to design and implement the system swiftly despite the logistical challenges and limitations enforced by the pandemic, reported The Island.

“The MSC system will facilitate the growing demand for internet in the Maldives, while increasing our submarine cable network reliability by providing route diversity. The system also caters for additional capacity required to enhance the digital ecosystem and provide modern digital services,” said Ismail Rasheed, CEO and Managing Director of Dhiraagu.

“Our close partnership and cooperation between all MSC consortium members and HMN Tech has achieved a timely system completion,” said Najib Khan, Managing Director & CEO of Ooredoo Maldives PLC.

“The system further enhances our submarine network infrastructure to support the increasing communication needs of customers and power key digital innovations in the 5G era. This benefits all regional enterprises and consumers,” he added.

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National Savings Bank raises international funding of USD 35 million

National Savings Bank has recently raised a USD 35 million loan facility supported by Indian Bank & Indian Overseas Bank, NSB media release revealed.

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AIA insurance policy at your fingertips with the all new Customer Portal

Asia’s leading insurer, AIA, is proud to announce the launch of the all-new AIA Customer Portal, a one stop digital solution to access and manage your AIA policies anytime, anywhere.

This revamped and improved version of the previous portal enables AIA’s customers to have full online access to their insurance policy, payment details, claims information and much more. The new Customer Portal which is more secure and uses the latest technology is tri-lingual and allows customers more control of their policies. It is a fast and convenient real time platform that enables customers to connect with AIA with ease.

Customers can use this platform to pay premiums, check policy status, access policy details and initiate service requests all from the safety and comfort of their homes. So, no more having to visit AIA offices or spend time on the phone with the call centre-All their policy information is now at their fingertips.

The new portal has been designed to work seamlessly with mobile phones, tablets and personal computers. The new Customer Portal also serves to make agent interactions with customers more efficient while creating a platform for easier engagement.

It reduces wait times at service touchpoints while enabling faster processing speeds and easy access to customer information.

At the end of the day it saves time, increases convenience and makes customer service more efficient and accurate, benefiting the customers and ensuring a smooth experience for them. If you are an AIA Customer, make sure you register for this brand-new portal that will certainly make your life so much easier. Visit the AIA Website <www.aialife.com.lk > and click on ‘AIA Customer Portal’ found under ‘My AIA’ tab. Or call AIA on 0112 310310.

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SLT Group garners 25% PAT in 2020 despite COVID challenges

The Sri Lanka Telecom PLC (SLT) Group ended the 2020 financial year on a high note with a significant 25 per cent YoY growth in profit after tax to LKR 7.9 billion despite many challenges faced arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Fonterra improves smallholder dairy farm productivity

Fonterra Brands Lanka, in a move to help its smallholder dairy farmers improve dairy cattle health and increase milk yield, has enabled sustained market access to high-nutrition minerals mix packs.

In a media release, Managing Director of Fonterra Brands Lanka and Indian Subcontinent, Ms. Vidya Sivaraja said: “We are pleased to make these locally-produced, high nutrition Minerals Mix packs accessible for the first time to our farmer base spanning our North Western, Western and Central Province dairy communities. This solution is in line with national imperatives called out by the Presidential Task Force for Economic Revival and Poverty Eradication.”

Access to the right quality cattle feed remains a critical challenge felt by dairy farmers.

Mineral supplementation plays a significant role in livestock development programmes as it improves general health and growth rate, increases the efficiency of feed utilization on-farm and improves immune response, which gives cows more resistance against infectious diseases.

Fonterra Brands Lanka’s smallholder dairy farmer network supplies milk for its Anchor and Anchor Newdale brands, including set yoghurt, stirred yoghurt, drinking yoghurt, fresh milk, UHT milk and flavoured milk, manufactured at its local dairy processing facility in Biyagama.

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Coca-Cola installs mega rooftop solar panels in green energy drive

Coca-Cola Beverages Sri Lanka Ltd (CCBSL) successfully installed one of the largest single location rooftop solar projects in Sri Lanka at its facility in Biyagama, as part of the company’s pledge towards sourcing renewable energy, and combating climate change through the reduction of its carbon footprint by approximately 1.94 Mt per annum.

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