DAVAO CITY — Top officials of the Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) announced the opening of two new branches in the Davao Region within the year, but at the same time stressed they are “carefully” phasing the expansion of physical offices in view of the continued development of online banking services.

“We want to make sure that our branch growth and people growth is in a measured phase,” BPI President and Chief Executive Officer Cezar P. Consing said in an interview with the media here Monday.

“We have to keep one eye on the fact that we are on a digitalization journey… Digitalization makes every process more efficient and every conversation more valuable,” he added.

One BPI branch in Davao City will be opened within the month. Another BPI branch and one BPI Direct BanKo office are lined up in Compostela Valley province before the end of the year.

In the Davao Region, there are currently 19 BPI, 3 BPI Family Savings Bank, and 11 BPI Direct BanKo branches.

Mr. Consing said they are looking to have a balance between the growth of their manpower alongside technological innovations, and avoid a tipping point wherein they will “have too many branches” and “too many people.”

“And we don’t want that to happen,” he said.

BPI Chief Operating Officer Ramon L. Jocson, for his part, said the digitalization process includes “human transformation” for strengthening “face-to-face channels.”

He explained that even with the growing use of technology, clients need to be reassured that transactions without human intervention are still overseen by the bank.

“Especially in the provinces, the human factor is important…you have to balance technology with ‘high touch’,” said Mr. Jocson, who was an executive of technology giant IBM before joining the Ayala-led bank.

He said one of the key challenges in their digitalization program is migrating all clients to paperless accounts. The bank aims to achieve this within the next five years.

At present, some 1.2 million of about eight million clients still do not want to do away with passbooks, he said.

Mr. Jocson added that BPI is partnering with financial technology companies to help them identify and pursue new revenue streams.

BPI Corporate Affairs and Communications head Owen Cammayo said they will also be launching a mobile phone app for micro-entrepreneurs under their microfinance unit BPI Direct BanKo.

The application is currently under pilot testing, he said, and will be going live soon.

“Most of the benefit is that they can now open (an account) through BanKo on the phone mobile app. They can deposit and borrow money via the app. The benefit there is access to funds because we made it easier for them to apply for loans and easy availment of loans,” Mr. Jocson said.

Mr. Cammayo said there were 200 BPI Direct BanKo branches nationwide as of end-2018.

“Digitizing BanKo is part of BPI’s goal to increase the number of users of its digital channels,” Mr. Cammayo said. — Carmelito Q. Francisco and Maya M. Padillo