By Melissa Luz T. Lopez, Senior Reporter
THE CENTRAL BANK has approved lenders’ plans to open dressed-down branches nationwide, as the financial firms seek to expand their presence to unbanked areas.
Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Deputy Governor Chuchi G. Fonacier said the regulator has approved the opening of 45 “branch-lite” units.
A branch-lite is treated as a fully-operational bank branch but are exempted from the rigid brick-and-mortar standards set under the BSP’s rules in terms of look and feel. The goal is to make banks less intimidating so they will invite more Filipinos to come and open formal accounts.
Ms. Fonacier has said that a lite branch may be opened in a marketplace, which would effectively extend full banking services to underserved areas.
“So far, 45 branch lite units have been approved. Many are still in process,” Ms. Fonacier said in a text message to reporters.
Ms. Fonacier said majority of the new branch-lite offices are under CARD Bank, Inc., a microfinance-oriented rural bank based in San Pablo City, Laguna.
Apart from the new branches, CARD also converted 752 of its existing micro-banking offices into branch-lite units, the central bank official added, noting it was largely in line with the firm’s business model.
Branch-lite outlets target low-risk clients, with its design and layout allowed to be tailor-fit to the needs of a particular community.
Lower processing fees will also be imposed on transactions done in these smaller bank outlets. To add, branch-lite offices are excluded from the computation of capital requirements for banks.
All players can set up these simplified branches, subject to the approval of the Monetary Board.
There are still 554 of 1,634 towns and cities in the country with no banking presence as of end-2017, according to central bank data. What’s more, only roughly a third of adults maintain formal accounts.
The Tan-owned Philippine National Bank, Aboitiz-led CitySavings Bank, Inc. and the Rural Bank of Makati are among the lenders who have said that they will open branch-lite units following the BSP’s latest move. These are seen as strategies for expansion in unbanked areas.
Banks can also offer basic accounts to clients with a minimum deposit of P100 and no maintaining balance, in a bid to boost the customer on-boarding and spur digital transactions in the country.