THE BANGKO SENTRAL ng Pilipinas (BSP), in collaboration with SM Supermalls, launched the Cashless Malling at SM program on Tuesday to boost digital transactions and further drive financial inclusion in the country.

The Cashless Malling initiative will allow consumers to shop at SM malls and pay through QR Ph, the country’s QR code standard. QR Ph will enable person-to-merchant (P2M) payments to micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) that are retail partners of SM.

BSP Deputy Governor Bernadette Fatima T. Romulo-Puyat said in her speech at the launch of the program that it is crucial to the development of an inclusive digital payments ecosystem.

“By promoting cashless payments in SM Malls all over the country, this partnership will bring the welfare-enhancing benefits of digital finance innovations to its merchants and shoppers, as well as communities where SM malls are located. We have 80 SM malls all over the country and this will empower them as partners in sustainable local economic development,” she said. “This special collaboration also highlights our firm belief that financial inclusion is a whole-of-nation undertaking, with the private sector playing a very critical role.”

“And in digitalizing transactions —specifically in malls, which we know have become part of Filipino culture and which form part of many Filipinos’ regular payment pattern — account ownership will be made more compelling, the digital financial ecosystem will greatly expand, and the benefits of digital innovation will be brought to more Filipinos,” Mr. Romulo-Puyat added.

The central bank wants to digitize at least 50% of the volume and value of total retail payments by 2023.

As of 2021, digital payments made up 30.3% of the total volume of retail transactions in the country from 20.1% a year earlier. Meanwhile, the value of payments done online represented 44.1% of total transactions last year, higher than the 26.8% share in 2020.

“With SM Malls Online in eight of 10 stores in our malls now accepting cashless payments through digital wallets and QR codes, almost everything is both shippable and shoppable at SM,” SM Supermalls President Steven T. Tan said on Tuesday.

“A cashless world at SM malls also means we support the BSP’s thrust to create an efficient, inclusive, safe and secured digital payment ecosystem in our country,” Mr. Tan said, encouraging SM’s tenant partners to take part in the initiative.

On the sidelines of the launch event, Mr. Tan told reporters that they are targeting to expand cashless transactions in their provincial malls.

“We’re still converting the rest of the tenants to accept digital payments because as we all know, maybe in Metro Manila, a lot of our merchants here are already offering cashless, but how about in the provinces? So, that’s the ultimate goal, to convert everyone, all our merchants, to use cashless,” he said.

He added that SM Supermalls has a dedicated team to encourage and assist merchants in offering digital payment transactions to customers.

“We all know the spread of SM is very wide… We have more than 4 million shoppers who visit our malls daily. So, if we could create that awareness to the public the advantage of using cashless, that would be great.”

Meanwhile, BSP Deputy Governor Mamerto E. Tangonan emphasized the importance of using the country’s standard QR code to streamline different financial accounts from different institutions.

“We are doing our very best to make it more convenient and less cost for consumers. With QR Ph P2M, you only need at least one bank account or mobile money account in order to accept payments from your customers and your customers may not only come from one financial institution, but as we speak, there are over 18 financial institutions,” Mr. Tangonan said.

“But beyond these four walls of this mall, digital payments can really transform people’s lives because previously unbanked people are now encouraged and now become aware of the importance of owning a bank or mobile money or wallet,” he said.

The BSP wants 70% of Filipino adults to have formal financial accounts by 2023. The country’s banked population was at about 56% of all adults in 2021, up from just 29% in 2019, results of the central bank’s 2021 Financial Inclusion Survey showed. — K.B. Ta-asan