‘Digitize or perish’: UnionBank bets big on tech to drive growth

Jessica Fenol, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 14 2018 05:24 PM | Updated as of Nov 15 2018 07:18 AM

UnionBank President Edwin Bautista at the TechUp Pilipinas booth during the Singapore Fintech Festival 2018. ABS-CBN News

SINGAPORE - UnionBank's growth strategy has shifted to investing billions in digitalization instead of building new physical branches as technology redefines the financial industry, its president said Wednesday. 

One of the country's largest banks has spent P6 billion on technology in the last 3 years, UnionBank president Edwin Bautista told ABS-CBN News on the sidelines of the UnionBank GlobalLinker Trade Connect event held during the Singapore Fintech Festival 2018. 

"When we started it was just a matter of digitize or perish. We will become irrelevant that's why we run very fast. In the last 3 years we didn't spend on opening new branches, we spent it on technology and changing the bank into digital," Bautista said. 

With its digital shift, their individual consumer growth has accelerated by 18 to 20 percent every year from 5 percent, Bautista said. 

UnionBank was among the first to test the feasibility of using blockchain in the Philippines. Its “Island to Island” i2i project aims to connect rural banks using blockchain

Bautista said they now have 130 rural banks signed up, while 6 rural banks nationwide are currently testing the project. 

The bank also launched the country’s first paperless digital bank “The Ark” earlier this year, where customers can transact through an iPad and even decide on car purchases using virtual reality. 

By end of the year UnionBank will have a total of 15 digital banks. Bautista said they are eyeing to open 50 by end of 2019.

The bank has also allocated P400 million to P500 million for its startup fintech company expected to be operational by the end of the year.

Bautista said the bank's digital push and creativity could help them become one of the top 3 banks in the country.

“If the rules of the games change it just becomes a matter of creativity,” Bautista said. 

UnionBank is also representing the country in the largest fintech event in Asia, the Singapore Fintech Festival 2018, with its TechUp Pilipinas booth. Over 100 countries and 400 exhibitors joined the expo from Nov. 12 to 16, 2018.