THE Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) and other agencies have test deployed satellite internet services for two rural banks to help boost their operations and give their clients better access to financial services in remote areas.

The central bank, the Philippine Space Agency (PhilSA), and the Department of Science and Technology-Advanced Science and Technology Institute (DoST-ASTI) started the test deployment of satellite internet service provider iOne Resources, Inc. at the Progressive Bank of Malvar and Rural Bank of Cuenca.

In a statement on Thursday, the central bank said the test deployment intends to assess the performance and reliability of satellite internet services under local weather conditions.

The BSP through Circular 1128 last year told banks to do a yearly assessment of the impact of environmental and social risks on their operations. This would include an assessment of a bank’s capability to withstand disruptions, resume operations and continue to provide services.

As the country is struck by around 20 tropical cyclones annually, the Department of Finance earlier said the country loses an average of P48.9 billion due to climate events.

“We believe in the capability of satellite technology to enhance connectivity in rural areas, thereby expanding the capacity of banks to provide digital financial services and promote greater financial inclusion in unserved and underserved areas,” BSP Governor Felipe M. Medalla said.

According to the central bank, about 33% or 533 of 1,634 municipalities still do not have bank branches operating within their areas.

Based on the BSP’s 2019 Financial Inclusion Survey, internet penetration in the country is also uneven across Luzon (60%), Visayas (40%), and Mindanao (30%).

The BSP earlier expressed its support for Executive Order (EO) 127 signed last year by President Rodrigo R. Duterte which gave telco players and other businesses wider access to all satellite systems to boost internet access and connectivity, especially in rural communities.

EO 127 was supported by the Financial Inclusion Steering Committee, which is headed by the BSP, the National Economic and Development Authority, the National Telecommunications Commission, and the government’s task force for pandemic response.

“The BSP is optimistic that with EO No. 127 and other market-enhancing policy reforms being introduced, satellite broadband services will become more accessible and affordable, which will further boost digital financial inclusion in the country,” the central bank earlier said.

Digital payments made up 30.3% of all transactions in 2021, based on the latest central bank data.

By 2023, the BSP hopes that 70% of adult Filipinos will have an account with a financial institution.

It also targets a cash-lite economy in 2023 where digital payments make up 50% of total transactions both in terms of volume and value. — Keisha B. Ta-asan