BPI DIRECT BanKo Inc. opened its Cubao branch yesterday. — KARL ANGELO N. VIDAL

BPI DIRECT BanKo Inc., the microfinance unit of listed Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI), is set to hit its target of 200 branches by yearend as it leverages on the branch-lite initiative of the central bank.
In a press briefing, BPI Direct BanKo President Jerome B. Minglana said the lender plans to open 65 more branches before 2018 ends.
“We’re planning to open 65 more branches [to complete our target of] 200 branches,” Mr. Minglana told reporters yesterday, adding that the bank is focusing its expansion in the provinces.
“We’re expanding our branch network across the country. We study our data. We just don’t go there for the sake of just going there. We prioritize where we can extend our help more.”
Out of the 65 branches it intends to open until yearend, said 55 of which will be branch-lite offices.
“We will put up 10 more [regular] branches then everything else would be branch-lite units. But for our clients, they won’t feel any difference,” he said.
In December, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas approved the option for banks to set up branch-lite units. This kind of branch is dressed-down and less formal compared with the typical brick-and-mortar bank branch, and can be placed in towns and cities which are unbanked or underserved.
Currently, the microfinance lender has over 135 branches nationwide.
In the next few years, BPI Direct BanKo said wants to expand its branch network to 500 to promote financial inclusion among self-employed micro-entrepreneurs (SEME).
“We are looking forward to a 500-branch network in the next couple of years. There are [approximately] 1,700 cities and municipalities nationwide, and if you want to be significant in the entire Philippines, you have to aspire for that number,” Mr. Minglana said.
“We want to be in all places but we have very limited resources. But a big bet is being placed here to be able to help this segment.”
BPI Direct BanKo opened a branch in Cubao yesterday, which is its third office in Metro Manila.
“For this year, we’ll stop at three branches in Metro Manila, but [out of the 200 branches we plan to have,] the remaining 197 branches will be in the provinces,” Mr. Minglana noted.
The Cubao branch aims to provide business loans to SEMEs in nearby businesses as well as markets such as Farmer’s Market, Nepa-Q-Mart, Project 4 Public Market and Kamuning Public Market.
Through the opening of the branch, owners of small businesses of at least two years will be able to apply for NegosyoKo loans for as much as P300,000 with a starting interest rate of 2.3%.
The loans will only require documents such as a barangay or mayor’s permit, ensuring a less complicated and intimidating process of applying for loans.
BPI Direct BanKo was officially launched in 2017 after BPI’s two specialized thrift bank units — BPI Direct Savings Bank, Inc. and BPI Globe BanKo — were merged in 2016.