RIZAL COMMERCIAL Banking Corp. (RCBC) expects its loan growth to slow down next year as it veers towards loans to consumers and small and medium enterprises (SME).

In an interview with reporters on Tuesday, RCBC Senior Vice-President for Corporate Planning Ma. Cristina P. Alvarez said the bank sees its loan growth to slow to around 15% in 2018 from the projected 17% this year.

“[For next year,] maybe a little bit slower so [around] 15%, but still positive,” Ms. Alvarez said.

RCBC President and Chief Executive Officer Gil A. Buenaventura said the expected slowdown in loan growth will be due to the bank’s pivot from corporate loans to SME and consumer funding.

“That is our thrust next year. [We will focus] less on the big corporates and more on the SME and consumers, so these are smaller loans,” Mr. Buenaventura explained.

He added that the pivot to SME and consumer loans will be done “because the GDP (gross domestic product) growth is still good and consumer spending and consumption just tracks the growth.”

Mr. Buenaventura noted the Yuchengco-led bank is looking at a 17% growth in loans for this year, tracking the industry rate of around 20-21%. He also expects the bank’s net interest margin to slightly increase following its new thrust.

Meanwhile, RCBC is also looking at strengthening its cross-selling activities to increase its income growth, which is expected to stand at around 10-12% next year.

“I think the key to business growth is to make the branches more effective in cross-selling. For instance, RCBC Savings will rely heavily on the bank branches to be able to cross sell all these consumer products,” Mr. Buenaventura said.

He added that the bank is bullish about the consumer spending, as the first package of tax reform will bolster spending.

“Tax reform will also happen which will I think translate to consumer spending therefore more need for houses, cars, [among others.] I think it will be positive for everybody.”

The lender intends to open 15 more branches for next year. Broken down, Mr. Buenaventura said they are looking to open five new RCBC branches and nine for RCBC Savings Bank.

Meanwhile, the bank president noted that the bank has already “moved on” from last year’s cyber heist, saying it has put in place measures to prevent such an incident from happening again.

He noted that RCBC’s sales and operations have been split into two units in accordance with the current industry setup.

“I think the numbers will show that after the incident the bank is making money and doing well. We just have to make sure that we do things better,” he said.

In February 2016, RCBC was used by cyber-attackers to channel the $81 million stolen from the Bangladeshi central bank.

On another note, Mr. Buenaventura also clarified that there will be no asset sales, following the speculations that Sy-led BDO Unibank, Inc. and Ayala-led Bank of the Philippine Islands will acquire a controlling stake in the bank. — K.A.N. Vidal