The Asian Bankers Association (ABA) celebrated its 36th annual event last Nov. 14-15 in the Philippines, hosted by Philippine National Bank (PNB), gathering a large group of top bankers and finance executives from 25 countries from Asia and key markets across the globe. ABA provides a forum for advancing the cause of the banking and financial industry in the region by promoting regional economic cooperation. ABA’s membership is composed of 100 of the leading banks and financial institutions in the Asia-Pacific region. With this year’s theme, “Reshaping the Asian Financial Landscape,” the conference tackled the relevant topics of sustainable financing, cyber-security and digitalization. The speakers were experts who shared their experiences and knowledge in the current trends of banking. Attendees discussed and shared experiences as they tackled the most relevant developments facing the Asian financial landscape today. At the forefront was the integration of digital technology into the financial landscape and how digital banking and the wave of technologies are now disrupting the banking industry.

Digitalization is a must to be competitive and has been at the core of the host bank’s strategy of safe, aggressive growth. This is a bid for a more financially inclusive Philippines, as PNB President and CEO Wick Veloso exclaimed, “our vision for the future is a nation where prosperity belongs not just to a few, but to more Filipinos.” Through digitalization, PNB believes that it will allow Filipinos from all walks of life, from across the world immediate access to financial services anytime, anywhere.

A looming question that’s been asked among the delegates was “in the advent of digitalization, will the banks become obsolete? Will financial technologies replace them?” Jonathan Alles, ABA Chairman and President and CEO of Hatton Bank believes otherwise. He said, “We see fintech as partners now. Banks have deep pockets and ‘fintechs’ have ideas… staying separate will only lead to things not being able to be achieved optimally.” In support of his claim, Mr. Alles has even sought to extend associate memberships of ABA towards financial technologies.

Eugene Acevedo, president of Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation (RCBC), the only other Philippine bank member reminded that “technology alone is not the solution, we need process and redesign and hardcore credit skills. The solution is a combination of all three.” And he said this is based on his actual experience to avoid the same mistake for others.

Nevertheless, an important takeaway is what Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas’ Deputy Governor Chuchi Fonacier comedically said, “flex your responsible digital services,” as a challenge towards the Philippine financial industry. She emphasized that the regulators are more than supportive in developing an effective digital ecosystem, especially in the Philippines. Shirsh Pathak, Fintelekt Advisory Services Managing Director, further drove-in the point by saying, “Banks must have a pre-emptive communication with the regulators,” to encourage collaboration between bank and government towards digital innovation.

A series of presentations that I have also found quite endearing was the state of sustainable financing across Asia — a practice that funds initiatives towards the environmental security, sustainable development and good governance. Our neighbors have seen tremendous success in this area. In fact, Thailand, Taiwan and Japan have introduced several green bonds and green loans into their respective markets. Some green bonds in Thailand that support renewable energy and clean transportation have seen 8.41x oversubscription and in totality represent 5% of their bond market. Although, much still needs to be seen. Green wash or the creation of environmental initiatives to mask unsustainable practices remain a definitive issue.

Apart from the presentations, the beauty and hospitality of the Philippines were showcased through various festivities throughout the convention. The delegates were toured around historical landmarks in Metro Manila, several world-class talents to entertain and serenade the guests. A delicious Filipino feast from Kare-Kare to Lechon were served, a fiesta organized for Asian Bankers.

Indeed, there is no end to learning. I am happy to see that hosting the ABA Convention has given considerable insight and tons of learning that we can use in our organizations to uplift and secure the lives of Filipinos.


Flor Gozon Tarriela is the Chairman of the Philippine National Bank. She is former Undersecretary of Finance and the First Filipina Vice-President of Citibank N.A. She is a Go Negosyo 2018 Woman Intrapreneur Awardee. She is a FINEX Foundation Trustee and an Institute of Corporate Directors (ICD) Fellow.