MANILA – The worst effects of the COVID-19 pandemic may be over for the Philippine banking sector, but the spread of the Delta variant still presents uncertainties, the head of Bank of the Philippine Islands said on Monday.
"Is the worst over? I think it is," said BPI president and CEO Jose Teodoro Limcaoco in a virtual media roundtable for the lender's 170th anniversary.
Limcaoco said BPI is looking at manageable levels of non-performing loans going into the end of the year and into next year.
"Of course this is all presupposed on the Delta variant being something that we can control, and I think we can," he added.
The national capital region and other urban centers are set to be placed on the strictest lockdown again starting August 6, to check a possible surge in COVID-19 cases caused by the more contagious Delta variant of the novel coronavirus.
"Sure, this ECQ (enhanced community quarantine) that we will go into starting on the 6th is a setback but God-willing and hopefully the setback isn't too great and then we can bounce back rather quickly," Limcaoco said.
He also noted that the latest reports have shown that mobility has been picking up in the country along with economic activity and growth in mortgages, car loans, credit card transactions, and lending to small and medium enterprises (SME).
Limcaoco shared that BPI is set to focus on further expanding their lending to SMEs and consumers, raising the share of these to the total loan portfolio to 30 percent from the current 24 percent.
But he admitted, while the latest round of the strictest lockdown measures would hurt small businesses, it's also important for the bank to continue working with SMEs.
"Most SMEs really rely on mobility to get their business moving. So the longer the lockdown and the stricter a lockdown is that's negative for these businesses so we need to work very closely with them," he explained.
"But they will need help in terms of working capital. They will need help in making sure their inventories get replenished."
Limcaoco added, it's important for them to onboard more SMEs onto their digital platforms to help them access funds more quickly and adapt to the new normal.
For one, he said, they're set to launch new digital offerings that would also help small entrepreneurs.
"The app that I talked about for SMEs will have the ability for our SMEs to be able to collect and get paid via Viber, SMS, by sending a link," Limcaoco shared.