THE Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) said about 5 million Filipinos gained access to formal bank accounts between 2017 and 2019, leaving about 51.2 million adults still unbanked.

Citing the results of its 2019 Financial Inclusion Survey, the BSP said in a statement Thursday that the banked population was about 29% of all adults in 2019, compared with 23% in 2017.

“The six-percentage point increase in account penetration represents an additional 5 million Filipinos opening an account within that two-year period, a notable improvement from the 0.6 percentage point growth between 2017 and 2015,” the BSP said.

The adult population in 2019 was estimated at 72 million.

Among the poorest Filipinos, the so-called Class E,account ownership rose to 27% in 2019 from 14% in 2017.

The penetration rate for Class ABC, the top income group, was estimated at 43%.

“While still significant, the account penetration gap in socio-economic class has considerably narrowed in 2019 compared to 2017 where class ABC posted account penetration almost four times higher than class E,” the BSP said.

The study found that 45% of the unbanked continued to be hindered by lack of money to open an account. Some 27% said they do not need an account (27%) while 26% lack the documentary requirements.

It said one powerful incentive for the unbanked to obtain accounts is easier access to government benefits or even their own salaries.

“More than half (56%) of recipients of government benefits received the funds via cash or check while 60% of working adults do not have an account into which they can receive their salary. With the cooperation and support of the government and private sector, receiving benefits and wages can be a strong incentive for the unbanked to open and use an account,” the BSP said.

The BSP considers accounts with banks, e-money issuers, and microfinance institutions as an indicator of financial inclusion.

The BSP noted that the survey results have yet to reflect the accelerated adoption of digital financial services during the pandemic.

The survey, which was conducted before the lockdown, found that e-money account holders rose to 12% of adults, from 8%. Adult Filipinos with bank accounts grew more slowly, to 12% from 11.5% in 2017.

The study found that on average, three in five adults owned smartphones in urban areas while two in five have such access in rural areas.

“While 7 in 10 adults in Metro Manila have a smartphone and use the internet, this figure drops as we go farther from the capital (Balance Luzon — 6 in 10, Visayas — 4 in 10, Mindanao — 3 in 10),” the BSP said.

The study also found that four in five adults from class ABC owned smartphones while the corresponding proportion for Class E was two in five.

“Addressing the digital divide needs to be part of our broader inclusion efforts. Widely shared access to affordable and fast internet connection, along with universal access to a digital ID under the Philippine Identification System (PhilSys), will facilitate the scale and reach of digital financial services,” the BSP said.

The central bank is targeting a 70% financial inclusion rate among adults by 2023. — Luz Wendy T. Noble