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Press release of Banco de Portugal on the COVID-19 response measures

Given that the World Health Organisation declared a public health emergency of international concern on 30 January 2020 and it officially designated the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) a global pandemic on 11 March 2020, financial institutions have been making decisions on the functioning of their branches to protect the health of their customers and staff. 

Overall, the various banks have very prudently advised customers to use digital channels for their banking transactions. Except in very exceptional situations, branches continue to serve customers, although, in some cases, the number of people allowed at any one time inside premises has been limited. 

To date, no problems relating to difficulties in physical customer service have been reported to Banco de Portugal. As such, there is no reason to be concerned about the provision of banking services.

Banco de Portugal considers that the measures that have been taken by banks are fully in line with public guidance on social distancing and preventive isolation, are in line with the contingency and business continuity plans submitted to the supervisor and are certainly understood by bank customers and by the public in general in view of the exceptional circumstances we find ourselves in. 

Bank customers have full access to the money available in their accounts, either through the Multibanco (ATM) network, by making payment transactions via digital channels or, if necessary, at their counters. In the best interest of customers and the general public, Banco de Portugal urges everyone to limit their visits to bank branches to the strictly necessary.

Banco de Portugal is taking all necessary steps to ensure the smooth operation of payment infrastructures, in close coordination with banks and SIBS (the payment services provider).

Bank customers also have available solutions such as opening accounts by videoconference, so that they can open a bank account via digital channels if necessary. In this respect, it is important to underline that banks are required to fulfil several data security and validation requirements, but customers will be able to use expired identification documents under the legislation recently adopted by the Government. According to the measure approved by the Council of Ministers on 12 March, public authorities are allowed to accept, for all legal purposes, documents that expire while this law is in effect, in the 15 days prior to its application or in the 15 days after it ceases to apply.

In parallel to the monitoring of how financial institutions are dealing with the novel coronavirus in the relationship with their customers and with the general public, Banco de Portugal has taken a variety of initiatives relating to its supervisory powers. The aim of these initiatives is to ensure that banks continue to play their role in financing the real economy, at a time when the economic repercussions of the novel coronavirus already manifest themselves. These measures are in line with the decisions also adopted and communicated by the European Central Bank (ECB) and the European Banking Authority (EBA). 

Banco de Portugal will allow less significant credit institutions subject to its supervision to operate temporarily below the level of capital defined by the Pillar 2 Guidance, the combined buffer requirement, and with liquidity levels below the liquidity coverage requirement (“LCR”), something the ECB already allowed significant institutions to do.

In line with the European Banking Authority’s decision to postpone the 2020 EU-wide stress test, Banco de Portugal has suspended work of the same nature that was in progress regarding less significant institutions. In addition, in-person activity related to supervision has been postponed and deadlines for financial institutions to report to Banco de Portugal and to answer customer complaints have been extended.

In order to ensure that banking services are available at all times and to preserve financial stability, banks are required, under the Legal Framework of Credit Institutions and Financial Companies, to have contingency and business continuity plans in place. These are meant to ensure their ability to operate on an ongoing basis and limit losses in the event of severe business disruption. Under the law, banks must report to Banco de Portugal any events with a relevant adverse impact on earnings or capital, especially those related to operational incidents. 

Against this background, Banco de Portugal has asked in due time that all less significant banking institutions take appropriate preventive measures to ensure the continuity of their business and the containment of financial losses in a pandemic. Relevant deficiencies detected as a result of procedures to verify these institutions’ readiness to cope with the current circumstances must be immediately reported, as well as the occurrence of coronavirus-related events with a significant negative impact on the institution.

These measures add to those taken by the Governing Council of the ECB on 12 March in order to ensure the maintenance of ample liquidity conditions in the financial system, in the longer term and with more favourable terms. Longer-term refinancing operations (LTROs) will be conducted on a weekly basis at the deposit facility rate (-0.50%) with allotment of the total amount bid. The conditions of targeted longer-term refinancing operations (TLTRO III) have been changed, in particular with a 25 basis point reduction of the rate to be applied to these operations between June 2020 and June 2021, allowing the rate to be applied to be -0.75% for banks that meet their lending objectives. At the same time, the maximum amount that each bank will be entitled to borrow has been raised to 50% of the stock of eligible loans. Measures are still under analysis to increase the type and amount of collateral accepted in the operations, so as to be able to make full use of such funding. 

Banco de Portugal will continue to monitor the situation on an ongoing basis, and further action may be considered if necessary.