BANK of Makati, Inc. (BMI) wants to open branch-lite offices this year to tap the unbanked and underserved Filipinos in rural areas.

During the launch of BMI’s new building in Makati City on Friday, BMI President Luis M. Chua said the savings lender is looking at opening 40 branch-lite offices nationwide.

“Right now, easily we are looking at about 40 branch-lite [offices] for this year,” Mr. Chua told reporters on Friday.

In December, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) approved the option for banks to set up branch-lite units, a smaller and simplified version of a brick-and-mortar bank branch which can be placed in towns and cities which are unbanked or underserved.

Mr. Chua said BMI intends to set up branch-lite units to reach those who are not in the formal financial system.

“Our branches right now [are] still in the key cities and we want to cater more on the rural side and those which are…underserved and even the unbanked,” the president said, adding that the lender wants to focus more on the underserved Filipinos, or people who are already in the system but are yet to avail financial services.

Setting up branch-lite units instead of the traditional big bank branches, according to Mr. Chua, will be more economical and cost-effective for them to reach unbanked and underserved Filipinos.

Based on the 2015 Family Income and Expenditure Survey prepared by the Philippine Statistics Authority, seven out of 10 families or 16.1 million out of the 22.7 million total families remain unbanked, or families who didn’t make any bank deposits.

Aside from opening branch-lite units, BMI is also looking at cash agency, also in accordance to BSP’s more relaxed regulations.

In January last year, the country’s monetary authority allowed lenders to serve its clients through so-called cash agents or third-party outlets such as convenience stores and pharmacies.

“We want to take advantage [of the new BSP regulations] as soon as possible because the name of the game is whoever gets [to the clients] first,” Mr. Chua noted.

As of end-September, BMI was the ninth largest savings bank in the country in assets terms with P29.31 billion.

BMI was originally established as a rural bank in 1956. It was bought by the Ongtengco family, owner of motorcycle dealer Motortrade, in 2001 and became a savings bank in 2015.

Currently, BMI has 62 branches and 703 outlets through Motortrade. — Karl Angelo N. Vidal