Cracked screen no problem as apps propel digital banking in PH

Jessica Fenol, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 05 2019 10:34 AM | Updated as of Mar 05 2019 06:26 PM

Money is sent through the Coins.ph app, one of many platforms that is making banking more accessible to smartphone-loving Filipinos. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News/File

MANILA -- With a few taps on the cracked screen of his prepaid smartphone, digital wallet founder Ron Hose sent P100 to another mobile device, illustrating how technology is making banking more accessible, even to those who can't afford iPhones.

Keeping a crumbling smartphone approximates the plight of millions of unbanked Filipinos, said Hose, whose app allows users to pay bills, send money and buy prepaid load minus transaction fees and long queues at the bank.

"I know many of our customer are unfortunately still unbanked so I want to make sure I live through the same experience," Hose told ABS-CBN News.

"What matters to them is not having a bank account, what matters to them is having access to services. The underlying behavior is changing because the underlying behavior is actually created based on artificial constraints. It’s changing for the better," Hose said. 

Mobile apps are fast becoming a gateway for financial service providers who seek to reach out to unbanked and established lenders who are seeking to grow their customer base.

Coins.ph founder Ron Hose demonstrate how the app can be used to send money. Mark Demayo, ABS-CBN News/File

In the Philippines, 63 percent of the population use a smartphone while 55.5 percent use the internet, according to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas’ Report on the State of Financial Inclusion in 2017. 

As of January 2018, only 31.3 Filipino adults have bank accounts, the BSP said citing a World Bank Global Findex estimate. Some consumers rely on cooperatives, microfinance groups, pawnshops, e-money agents and other informal lenders for their needs, it said.

This prompted banks such as the Netherlands' ING and Malaysia's CIMB to open digital banks in the Philippines. 

Launched earlier this month, CIMB's Octo app aims to address "pain-points" of traditional or offline banking by eliminating physical queues, said its marketing head, Maribien Gonzales.

"We do think that digital banking will be able to move Filipinos forward by enabling them to make more use of their time and we think that the market is ready for this change," Gonzalez told ABS-CBN News.

Octo allows clients to open a bank account in as fast as 10 minutes and only through their smartphones.

Malaysia's CIMB launches its mobile banking service in the Philippines on Jan. 29, 2019. Jessica Fenol, ABS-CBN News

Every Octo account comes with a free Bancnet ATM card which can be used in over 20,000 ATMs nationwide. Transactions fees are also waived since not having to spend on physical branches helped the bank save on costs which are traditionally passed on to consumers, Gonzales said. 

Business Process Outsourcing employee, 31-year old Lara Paula Carambas shifted from traditional to digital banking for convenience.

"No need to go outside kaya it saves money din. I can’t imagine my adult life without these apps. I really hate waiting and wasting my time falling in line inside the bank," Carambas said.

Aside from savings, some apps allow users to invest such as GCash and ATRAM Trust Corp's joint venture, where clients can start with as little as P50.

GCash and ATRAM Trust Corp introduced Invest Money where beginners can learn to invest for as low as P50. 

GCash and CIMB will also launch the GSave savings wallet this year. Users can earn interest to up to 2.3 percent or "10 times higher" compared to traditional bank accounts. 

"There’s still very huge pain in the financial landscape that clearly the existing traditional way of delivering financial services doesn’t fully solve. With this partnership, we will be able to deliver a very inclusive savings product," said Kim Aimei Seng, head of savings at Mynt, the parent company of GCash.

The in-app savings account is as safe as deposits in banks and is also insured by the Philippine Deposit Insurance Corp (PDIC).

More than providing access to formal banking channels, app-based financial services bridge the gap between the rich and the marginalized, Hose said. 

"Even if you are not rich, you still deserve the same level of service and the same level of convenience," Hose said. 

"And I think in this day and age, especially, consumers have access to Facebook, are using world class product, so they deserve world class product for financial services, they deserve an experience which is as good as other finance institution," he said.