Pandemic fast-tracks race to financial inclusion–BSP

IN what appears to be a rare silver lining, the global pandemic has pushed more Filipinos to open bank accounts and do their transactions online, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) governor said in a recent speaking engagement.

Central Bank chief Benjamin Diokno said their goal to increase local financial inclusion by 2023 may have been fast-tracked as more and more people open accounts with their local banks due to the pandemic.

“Our goal is that at least 70 percent of Filipino adults should have a bank account by 2023. But with the pandemic, we’re optimistic that we can meet this goal as early as December 2022,” he said.

This is a big leap from three years ago, where according to the 2017 Financial Inclusion Survey of the BSP, 52.8 million or 77.4 percent of the total population remain unbanked.

Diokno said the BSP is also seeing an exponential increase in the use of e-payments platforms Instapay and PesoNet.

“My personal goal is that half of financial transactions in the country should be digital by 2023, the end of my term. But with enabling regulations and the pandemic, this may be achieved sooner—perhaps by the end of 2022,” Diokno said.

Banks have echoed this trend, saying they are seeing double-digit growths in online transactions. UCPB, for example, told the BusinessMirror that the pandemic seemed to have “forced people to bank online.”

“[We] saw a spike in online banking enrollment and usage specifically of our Mobile App. Active UCPB App users increased by 67 percent versus the beginning of the year and 96 percent versus the same period last year. Transaction volume has likewise increased, largely driven by InstaPay usage,” UCPB said.

‘Inflection point’

For the local economy, meanwhile, Diokno reiterated that the “worst is over” despite rising cases of Covid-19.

“While we’re not out of the woods yet, there has been progress as the economy gradually opens up from the strict lockdown in March to June to less stringent quarantine measures. We’re learning to live with the virus. Now, we’re at an inflection point,” he said.

Diokno said banks entered the crisis with “sufficient buffers” and are likely to withstand the negative economic effects of the pandemic.

He also said that the BSP’s stress tests point to favorable banking system prospects amid risks.

“Results show non-performing loans will remain manageable, capital adequacy ratios will stay above the 10-percent requirement, liquidity will be sufficient, and profitability will stay intact,” Diokno said.

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