International Finance

How has 2020 panned out for UnionBank?

The bank has continued smooth operations despite all limitations owing to its proactive efforts in digital adoption.

Union Bank of the Philippines, also known as UnionBank, has further enhanced its mobile and web banking platforms for retail and corporate customers since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. The bank’s web platforms UnionBank Online and The Portal enable customers to carry out safe banking transactions from home.

UnionBank was among the first in the country to waive its online fund transfer fees and deploy Bank on Wheels to bring its branches to the customers’ doorstep. UnionBank president and CEO Edwin Bautista said, “I would like to also thank our very hardworking and selfless UnionBankers—frontliners—and all those who have been doing their utmost during this pandemic to deliver safe, consistent and full-service digital banking to our customers.”

A fintech spinoff has proved effective this year
For UBX, which is the fintech spinoff of UnionBank, has facilitated the release of cash subsidies through the deployment of mobile automated teller machines (ATMs) to its rural bank partners and financial cooperatives where beneficiaries of the government’s Social Amelioration Programme can easily withdraw their money. UBX has also started to link its rural bank members to its new network which includes Cebuana Lhuillier, LBC, Palawan Express and PeraHub. This enables customers of these rural banks to send funds and payments to over 11,000 branches of the four remittance centres around the Philippines.

Since the beginning of lockdown, UnionBank has rolled out more cash-out options through 11,000 remittance counters across the Philippines, including in rural areas where most of the unbanked and underserved population are residing. Because digital banks have become the crux of modern banking, UBX is building platforms digitally and financially underserved communities, while aggregating and visualising financial services to embed into other platforms. With that, UnionBank has become the first Philippine bank to launch the largest cash-out network in the country—a critical step to significantly improve access to financial services for communities amid the pandemic.

Bautista said “It warms our hearts to know that our customers recognise and value our heroic efforts during this crisis. The coronavirus pandemic has brought the world an unprecedented disruption, but with each of us doing our share, we will weather this challenge— no matter how massive it can be.”

A wholesome approach to remote work
In 2016, UnionBank had started preparing for disruption through digital transformation. At the time, “we anticipated that customer behaviour and needs would drastically change due to the rapid acceptance of mobile digital technology,” Bautista said. At present, this digital strategy—which included creating a new technology-enabled and agile UnionBank organisation—that paved the way for the bank to continue to do business as usual, despite the pandemic.

It is notable that the bank continued smooth operations even during remote work for various reasons. First: Its systems and applications were available on cloud or could be managed offsite. Second: The connectivity and meeting tools were readily available to employees, allowing them to carry out remote work and ensure productivity. Third: Branch operations and transactions were monitored remotely in the bank’s Business Operations Centre, while retaining the branch service hours. Fourth: ATM availability and cash levels were constantly monitored through remote dashboards to ensure that they are up and running and have sufficient cash at all hours. Fifth: Cybersecurity measures were well implemented and beefed up especially during ECQ when digital transactions were most active.

Against this backdrop, UnionBank will continue to focus on growing its retail client base through digital channels and leverage on a fully-digital loan engine with alternative credit scoring capabilities to extend credit to platform users. The bank will also proceed with ventures in innovation and launch multiple startups catering to retail and SME segments. In addition, investments are made in an effort to enhance UnionBank’s online banking platforms and ensure that best online banking experience is provided to retail, SME and corporate customers. The platforms include i2i which connects rural banks to the country’s main financial network; Sentro, an online B2B marketplace for SME ecosystem; BUX, a payment logistics fulfilment platform; and Seekcap that is aimed at offering affordable financing options for SMEs.

In the big picture, UnionBank has reported a dramatic surge in online banking transactions, despite all limitations. Bautista said “To say that the global pandemic is testing our mettle would be an understatement. With a challenge as massive as Covid-19, technology is only an instrument and not an answer by itself. Ultimately, it is our UnionBank DNA that is pulling us through. We remain steadfast in our commitment to ‘Tech Up, Pilipinas’ and enable inclusive prosperity to fuel sustainable growth, making sure that no one gets left behind.”

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