RIZAL COMMERCIAL Banking Corp. has partnered with the Rural Bankers Association of the Philippines (RBAP) for a data-sharing project to help small lenders set up their own online platforms.

The project called SynerFi (Synergy in Finance) Open Finance Network will help RBAP members set up their own digital platforms to support financial inclusion, RCBC said in a statement on Tuesday.

Aside from rural banks, the project will, in the future, encourage cooperatives, microfinance institutions, and other industry players to join and share their own data, the lender said.

The partnership comes after the Monetary Board last week approved the open finance framework that allows financial institutions to share consumer data to improve their products and services.

This is likewise expected to help the central bank reach its goal to bring 70% of adults into the banked population and to have digital payments make up 50% of all transactions in terms of volume and value by 2023.

RCBC President and CEO Eugene S. Acevedo said open banking allows for cooperation rather than competition among various financial institutions.

“There is indeed a synergy in finance among like-minded industry players who share our goal of pushing for financial inclusion,” Mr. Acevedo said.

“This initiative levels the playing field where all participants, regardless of size, reach, and technology know-how will now be able to cope up with the pace of massive digitalization amid the pandemic,” RCBC Executive Vice-President and Chief Innovation and Inclusion Officer Angelito “Lito” M. Villanueva said.

“This untapped and underserved segment of the population forms the backbone of our country’s recovery from the pandemic, and we are excited to bring our expertise on this matter moving forward,” RBAP President Elizabeth Carlos-Timbol added.

The BSP’s 2019 Financial Inclusion Survey showed only 29% of Filipino adults have accounts with financial institutions, leaving about 51 million still unbanked. Account ownership in the so-called Class E or the poorest income group stood at 27%.

The study also found that three in five adults in urban areas own smartphones where they can do banking services, while only two in five in rural areas have access to these gadgets.

RCBC’s net income declined by 31.55% to P1.58 billion in the first quarter from P2.308 billion a year earlier due trading losses and lower foreign exchange gains.

Its shares closed at P17.50 apiece on Wednesday, down by 40 centavos or by 2.23% from the previous day’s finish. — L.W.T. Noble