A BILL which seeks to widen unbanked Filipinos’ access to financial services was approved by the House Committee on Banks and Financial Intermediaries on Wednesday.

House Bill 1297 or Bangko sa Baryo Act of 2017 was filed by Deputy Speaker and Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund F. Villafuerte, Jr. The bill was also filed during the 17th Congress but was not passed on second and third readings.

“The Bangko sa Baryo Act endeavors to attain financial inclusion for the Filipino people and to establish robust financial consumer protection frameworks. It shall increase citizen’s financial literacy and capability so they understand different financial services,” Mr. Villafuerte said in his explanatory note.

The bill defines cash agents and provides the corresponding eligibility requirements. It ensures agents, as extensions of the banking system, are able to provide professional service, keep records, handle cash and manage liquidity.

Cash agents should be able to assist in performing bank services, including forwarding account opening applications, cash-in and cash-out services and initial customer identity verification, especially for efforts on anti-money laundering and combating terrorism financing.

The bill also requires the contracting bank to ensure the cash agent follows standard bank protocols and exercise due diligence when dealing with customers.

Cash agents who establish business in a “remote area” will be entitled to the following incentives: free training of cash agent personnel on various bank processes; expedited processing of permits and certificates that are requisites to business registration; and exemption from income tax for one year.

According to the fourth-quarter financial inclusion dashboard of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), 31.2% of municipalities in the country have no banking presence. This is 1.6% lower compared to the same period in 2018.

In a statement on April 21, Mr. Villafuerte urged Congress to pass the bill so the government “could download the cash in an instant to each and every family not only through the accredited banks, remittance centers and paycard platforms like GCash and PayMaya, but also through the bill-proposed authorized cash agents.”

“We need to harness digital technology to bring people closer to their government, more so in the ‘new normal’ scenario after this COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) crisis where variations of modified quarantine and social distancing might become the way of life and the government will probably need to extend subsidies to pre-selected groups of families and certain business sectors whenever necessary,” he said. — Genshen L. Espedido