ASIA UNITED Bank Corp. (AUB) plans to open 10 new branches this year in areas demonstrating “vibrant” business activity, while pursuing opportunities to apply new technology to its operations.

In a disclosure to the bourse Friday, the bank said it will continue to expand its brick-and-mortar presence.

“The bank will continue to strengthen its geographical presence in areas demonstrating vibrant business activities. We will continue with branch expansion as we target to open 10 new branches this year,” AUB President Manuel A. Gomez said during the bank’s shareholder meeting Thursday.

Last year, the bank expanded its branch network to a 262 locations, focusing on key provincial cities “critical to the business” such as Cebu, Davao, General Santos and Cagayan de Oro, where AUB strengthened its lending organization to build both the consumer and commercial loans portfolio.

Despite expanding its business, AUB was able to rationalize expenses due to its optimization of efficiency in branch marketing and operations, starting with appointing “high-performing and high-potential” leaders.

Amid the growth of its branch network, Mr. Gomez said AUB embraced technology-driven transformation and strategic partnerships in 2018.

“The AUB Paymate app, our 2017 digital innovation that enabled accredited merchants to accept QR (quick-response) payments, allowed AUB to gain more ground in this field. With our partnership with WeChat in 2017, AUB was the pioneer Philippine QR Partner of e-wallet giants AliPay and UnionPay,” Mr. Gomez said.

The bank announced its partnership with global payments network UnionPay in December 2018 in a bid to boost the adoption of cashless transactions.

Prior to this, AUB partnered with mobile payment providers WeChat Pay as well as Alipay to service the influx of Chinese visitors.

“This move remains in line with the belief that in these technology-driven times, Asia United Bank will utilize technology as its key enabler and differentiator,” the bank said.

Mr. Gomez has said that the lender’s digital strategy allows it to reach out to more clients even with a ”modest” branch network.

The bank posted a P1.1-billion net profit in the first quarter, up 38% from a year earlier, with its core lending businesses remaining robust.

AUB shares were unchanged at P59.50 on Friday. — Karl Angelo N. Vidal