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More Digital Banks to Improve Customer Experience in the Philippines

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Covid-19 has accelerated the shift to online banking services, and even “older” people are now being required to undertake basic financial operations online, such as creating accounts, making deposits, and transferring money, among other things. Most customers will not return to in-person banking after experiencing the safety and convenience of online banking for the first time.

In this context, virtual banks or digital banks are gaining popularity since they allow consumers to bank 24 hours a day, seven days a week, from anywhere in the world. Physical bank branches will continue to play a significant role in building customers’ confidence and relationships, particularly for more complex transactions like high-value transactions, mortgages, investments, and retirement planning.

To address this, one of the Philippines’ universal banks has yet to announce when, in 2022, it will launch its digital bank, in which according to an executive, would serve as a platform for innovative customer experiences. The bank’s chief financial officer stated in a briefing that there is no set timeframe for the introduction of the latest digital bank, but that it will serve as a framework for establishing a new bank based on first principles thinking. “Meaning if you’re allowed to re-invent a bank without all the legacies involve(d), how would you do it. It’s like creating a different experience for banking.”

The bank is one of six financial organisations granted permission to operate as a digital bank by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP). The BSP set a limit of seven digital bank licences to allow the regulator to closely monitor how the new banks perform and assess their influence on the sector.

The bank’s current banking licences allow it and its subsidiaries to serve even the country’s underserved population, but “our core banking system is a legacy of the bank,” he added, adding that “when you want to launch a product, your core banking system is a constraint because your products nowadays are not envisioned in the past.” Thus, he explained, the digital bank provides a new platform for them to deliver new-generation products to the customers.

OpenGov Asia reported, the emergence of digital banks, according to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), can be a game-changer in the delivery of financial products and services by traditional brick-and-mortar banks. The Philippine government has prioritised e-commerce and electronic payment methods in its efforts to increase financial and digital inclusion across the country. In a statement, the BSP governor stated that the rise of digital banks can drive existing banks’ digital transformation initiatives to stay relevant and competitive.

He also noted that as new entrants provide affordable financial services to the mass market, digital banking can promote financial inclusion, prosperity, and poverty alleviation. “In all of these, the customers and business community will reap the benefits,” the governor pointed out. Digital banks provide end-to-end financial products and services through a digital platform and or electronic channels, with no physical branch or sub-branch or branch-lite unit providing financial products and services.

The BSP is limiting the number of digital banks to closely monitor their performance and impact on the banking system, as well as their contribution to the financial inclusion agenda. The BSP governor has also stated that the BSP must ensure healthy competition among banks to encourage the development of innovative and competitive financial products and services.

The BSP chief explained that with only six neo-banks, they will be able to closely monitor the development of the digital bank market and ensure healthy competition between digital banks and existing traditional banks. Digital banks, which must have at least P1 billion in capitalisation, have little or no reliance on physical touchpoints but must set up one office in the Philippines as a central hub to receive and resolve customer complaints.

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