How to streamline banks' non-performing assets

M S Siddiqui | Published: July 06, 2019 21:03:47 | Updated: July 09, 2019 21:24:30

Dr. Junaid Kamal Ahmad, a Bangladeshi economist and Country Director of World Bank in India, recently delivered the 18th Nurul Matin Memorial Lecture at Bangladesh Institute of Bank Management (BIBM), Dhaka on 'Ethics in Banking'.  Dr Junaid categorically told the distinguished audience that default loan situation is a management failure of banks. The local media was silent over the opinion of the eminent economist. Interestingly, all other speakers of the same memorial lectures in the last 17 occasions had blamed the borrowers for default loan, and not the lending banks.

Recently, the government rescued Farmers Bank after partial rehabilitation of BASIC Bank. The government is also set to cure the problem of AB Bank. The government has allocated Tk 50 billion in this fiscal year reportedly as per a recommendation by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) under its extended credit facility (ECF) programme in a bid to re-capitalise four ailing state-owned banks. According to the policy-makers, the government had no other choice but to allocate the fund in the budget to heal the financial health of four state-owned commercial banks -- Sonali, Janata, Agrani and Rupali.

Banks are in credit crunch due to non-performing assets (NPAs) and provisioning of huge amounts for the NPAs which limit the fund for extending credits. The solution is not in financing through budgetary allocation from tax-payers' money. Other countries separate the NPAs from banks and transfer those to other organisations for taking care of such assets to come out of credit crunch.

The Legal Department of IMF in a paper in 1999 titled 'Orderly and Effective Insolvency Procedures: Key Issues' suggested that in most countries when a debtor fails to meet his liabilities, the insolvency system provides the creditors (and sometimes the debtors) with the option to initiate either liquidation or rehabilitation procedures. Creditors often opt for rehabilitation when restructuring of the operations (company reorganisation, downsizing and so on) or balance sheets of the debtor will enable the creditors to recover more than what they would expect through liquidation. Rehabilitation may also serve a broader social interest, for example, by granting the debtor a second chance as well as protecting the jobs of the employees of the debtor. But the policy of the IMF is different than the suggestion given to Bangladesh.

The original policy of the IMF suggested to other countries and its experiences in Korea, China and all ASEAN countries succeeded in the creation of the Asset Management Company (AMC). In many respects, these measures -- the AMCs and development of out-of-court centralised corporate debt workout frameworks --have come to define asset management in these countries. Around 20 years back, IMF suggested Bangladesh Bank to set up AMC but BB declined the proposal saying that banks can resolve the default loan issue with Artho Rin Adalat Act. This loan recovery law is known as a black law and violates the constitutional rights of the borrowers; still banks are not able to recover default loans.

Bangladesh needs a successful NPA management policy guided by well-defined objectives. The policy should aim at restoring liquidity and solvency in financial institutions, restoring confidence in their valuation and enhancing credit discipline. A high rate of recovery is primarily an equity objective, restoring to holders of assets what is owed to them. In addition, a high rate of recovery performs a signaling function, reassuring lenders at large as to the prospects of any outstanding and new credits.

Asset management is the process whereby non-performing assets are first identified and organised into one of four categories of actions (1) selling, (2) recovering, (3) restructuring, and (4) writing off according to their individual characteristics and then resolved. Asset management policies are institutional arrangements or techniques that facilitate this process in the following manner:

- To sell a non-performing asset, the market for such an asset must exist, and if there is no such market, it must be organised. The sale of non-performing assets facilitates diversification of risks and reallocation of resources (our law permits such sale but does not evaluate the market demands for such assets).

- To recover a non-performing asset, the asset management company (AMC) initiates a process, often legal, by which a part or the whole of the value of the asset can be recouped through seizure and liquidation of its collateral and/or through sale of other assets in possession of the borrower. The effective functioning of this process largely depends on the existing legal frameworks and procedures, the perceived working of which often will have a significant influence on market valuation of asset and assets in general.

 - To restructure a non-performing asset, the holder enters into negotiation with the asset's obligor with the aim of strengthening his ability to service and eventually repay the principal. This usually involves redefining of the terms of the original contract, a process that often entails some concessions on the part of both the holder and the obligor. Successful debt restructuring can benefit both creditors and debtors. However, the process should be initiated only if economic return from the rehabilitation of the asset exceeds that of its liquidation.

- To write off a non-performing asset, the holder takes a loss equivalent to its book value and removes it from the balance sheet. The holder will normally only do so when the prospect of recovery is very low and when the cost of recovery or maintenance of the asset exceeds its value (banks sometimes write off such loans for some influential borrowers but not within their policy or not under the law of the country).

Bangladesh may have a law to set up AMCs entrusting the responsibility of (1) selling, (2) recovering, (3) restructuring, and (4) writing off some loans.

AMCs may be public or private entities, whose main function should be to take over the non-performing assets of distressed financial institutions. These are generally founded on the supposition that they can help facilitate financial restructuring and maximize the recovery of non-performing assets at the same time.

On the other hand, rehabilitation of non-performing assets may be beneficial not only to borrowers and banks but may also produce welfare gains on a wider social scale. For these reasons, policymakers in Asian crisis countries have increasingly focused their attention on debt restructuring, and to facilitate the process, they have implemented out-of-court centralised debt workout frameworks.

To minimise the fiscal and/or private cost associated with the restructuring of distressed financial institutions, financial restructuring programmes should aim at maximising the value of restructured financial institutions and that of the assets of closed financial institutions over time. To achieve these objectives, it has sometimes been suggested that good assets of distressed financial institutions should be separated from the bad ones and that AMCs should be set up as vehicles to take over the latter.

In the USA, the legal provision is to take action against the banks. For example, the US Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) is obliged by law to take over the assets (in addition to the liabilities) of failed banks. In its role, the FDIC is to undertake liquidation of assets of these banks and issue receivership certificates to depositors with uninsured funds and to other creditors of failed institutions, entitling them to a share of the net proceeds from the liquidation.

The policy in Bangladesh is to file case against the borrowers, blame the legal system and the existing laws for 'failure' to recover the money for banks. This should not be considered the proper approach. Instead, it is important to look into the weaknesses of management, banking policy and different options to solve the issue.

The government, according to reliable sources, is contemplating to set up AMC but there are many issues related to its formation and operation. It should not be another bank managed by unsuccessful bankers or bureaucrats.

M S Siddiqui is a Legal Economist.


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