By Melissa Luz T. Lopez,
Senior Reporter

BANK of the Philippine Islands (BPI) wants to get more clients to use digital banking platforms to improve efficiency and user experience, its president said, which comes at a time of an industry-wide push to bring more transactions online.

BPI President and Chief Executive Officer Cezar P. Consing said the bank is looking to raise the share of its customers who are tapping the bank’s mobile and online banking platforms to half of its eight-million client base, from the current level of roughly 33%.

“A third of our clients access us electronically — that share, we want it to go up. The average in the region is about 50%… Our third is already very high by Philippine standards, but we want to get closer to the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) average,” Mr. Consing said in an interview last week at the bank’s headquarters in Makati City.

“We want to make it easier for clients to access us. We want the percentage of clients of who access us electronically to go up because it will be a better experience.”

The Ayala-led bank wants a wider penetration rate for its mobile banking business as a matter of convenience for its depositors, as the channels allow them to make fund transfers and settle payments anywhere without the need to transact over-the-counter in branches.

Such plans fall in sync with a coordinated push among local industry players to take more transactions aboard online channels via the National Retail Payments System piloted by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP).

In March, banks and e-money issuers operating in the country agreed to set up two clearing houses for digital payments, which are eyed to fast-track digital fund transfers across accounts in different banks.

The BSP targets to raise the share of e-payments to a high of 20% of total transactions by 2020, coming from a measly 1% share recorded in 2013. Based on industry estimates, there are about 2.5 billion in total monthly transactions, with nearly all settled using cash.

The financial firms are looking at a September rollout for the clearing houses, which will process electronic payment messages generated by clients via the banks’ mobile applications or Web-based accounts.

BPI’s Mr. Consing said their bank is investing heavily on “digitalization” and technology, including the buildup of cyber-security measures. The country’s third-biggest bank in asset terms employs about 900 people to focus on information technology concerns, the bank official said, which includes information technology specialists tapped via the services of tech firm IBM Philippines.

In June, listed lender encountered a two-day downtime in its online and automated teller machine platforms after an internal processing error resulted in incorrect account balances reflected in about 1.5 million customer accounts, with the bank pointing out human error as the cause.

BPI reported a P5.439-billion net income during the second quarter, down 29.3% from the P7.692 billion it made a year ago due to one-off gains as the lender sold its securities in 2016. Net income for the first semester stood at P11.691 billion, down 7.7% from P12.67 billion recorded in end-June 2016.