The rise of digital financial transactions is unmistakable as the local finance industry adapts to restrictions brought by the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the challenges of the previous year, it seems to have brought about much-delayed innovation in how Filipinos conduct financial transactions.
“[The pandemic] allowed us to realize all the transformations that we wanted to do or were holding back to do. The transition towards the better normal helped move the banking industry forward,” said Sharoakh Charna, Industry Lead for FSI of Cisco APJC, in an episode of Cisco’s webinar series entitled New Normal Trends & Opportunities for the Philippine Financial Services.
Together with leaders from PBCom and GCash, Charna looks at technologies that made business continuity possible in 2020, and innovations to provide seamless financial services to Filipinos in the pandemic and beyond.
For PBCom, the aggressive push for digitization by its leaders gave the bank a headstart when lockdown restrictions were put in place. “Months prior to the pandemic, we’ve been able to set up a lot of alternative channels – digital and self-service – by which our customers, consumers, and corporates would continue receiving our services,” shared Ariel Roda, Chief Information Officer of PBCom. “Fortunately, with tools like Cisco Webex, we’ve been able to continue that relationship with our customers and ease them into this new way of banking.”
Roda points out the convenience of opening a bank account via an app in just 15 minutes compared to filling up multiple pages of physical forms, and highlights recent investments made by PBCom to address security concerns among customers: upgrades to its firewalls for improved monitoring of transactions, and self-service tools such as its social media and customer hotline.
Meanwhile, mobile payment service GCash is seeing growth as Filipinos move online boasting a 1-trillion gross transaction value (GTV) in 2020. The large GTV amount is double the total of its performance in the past 3 years, proving that being ahead of the game has its advantages.
“Right now, we have over 27 million registered users and that is so much more than it was before the pandemic,” Ana Pascual, VP for Key Merchants and Acquirers of GCash Ana Pascual said. “Everyone learned how to buy their essentials online, pay their bills online, and all of those shifts. Thankfully, we have developed these products for the convenience of people not leaving their homes to do things, and in this particular situation, that’s exactly what was called for.”
Pascual observed the change in consumer behavior from cash being king to finally seeing the ease of online transactions. She also remarked that GCash is reaching a wider audience now that everything is digital. “You can do meetings back-to-back now versus before [when] you had travel time and traffic, and the webinars are onboarding multiple customers and merchants. Our team is out there talking to our customers on a regular basis in this big way that we couldn’t in the past.”
The future of finance in the PH
According to Charna, a recent study of Southeast Asia showed that 40 million new users in the region connected to the internet in 2020 – four times of that in 2019. With half coming from rural locations, Charna acknowledges the inclusive and phenomenal expansion and expects the figure to grow 10 times or more by 2024.
Some of Cisco’s technologies include Webex for digital conferencing, ThousandEyes for network infrastructure monitoring, and cloud services, among others. As innovations jumpstarted by the pandemic continue, it is to be expected that banks and other financial services companies will be looking at these technologies and more to further expand their online capabilities.
“Right now, you have to hand over one [bank] form to one or several other people, and that takes time. The objective is to do straight through processing in a matter of minutes with the aid of artificial intelligence so we could address the form right away,” Roda illustrated. “So we’d like to roll out more self-service tools and machines – check deposit machines, cash recycling machines, and others like specialist machines for our corporates and larger conglomerate customers.”
He also mentions PBCom To Go, an upcoming online banking concierge where customers can send cash to others or purchase items such as checkbooks via their phone and have them delivered to their doorstep.
As for GCash, Pascual shares the newly-launched G-life which uses its huge presence to help businesses. The latest GCash feature allows users to access shopping, food, and entertainment brands all in one app with the convenience of paying online. It helps businesses reach customers, especially brands who are having challenges shifting to and navigating the digital platform.
“We have around 600,000 informal and formal merchants utilizing both QR and P2P payments of GCash,” she said. “We want the economy of the Philippines to grow and recover quickly, so we’re developing tools that will make us relevant and useful for our merchant partners moving forward.”
With how quickly things are evolving in the new normal, it’s easy to imagine how farther the finance industry can go given the right equipment. “We created this resilient distributor enterprise framework that we are taking to our customers – helping them think differently, not just to respond but to re-tool for the immediate future and to build that necessary foundation,” Charna stated.
He enumerated concerns by the finance industry and Cisco itself – from building the right tools and technologies to ensure productivity of teams, to creating customer service in a consistent manner despite pulling large data from various sources, to providing comfort to customers by ensuring safety and security.
“That’s what we need to look at. We need to make sure that we created the right foundation so that we enable application experiences not just to move us from a functional one to a joyful one, but to actually raise the bar to a more meaningful one,” Charna concluded. “And if you are able to do that, we’d be able to set the right tone for not just beating the pandemic, but growing in it and beyond.”