The Disruptor
Iris Gonzales (The Philippine Star) - February 1, 2018 - 12:00am

At first glance, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Nestor Espenilla Jr. may seem like someone from the academe — quiet and by-the-book. But when he starts talking about cracking the whip on rogue banks and disrupting the status quo to benefit more people, he sounds more like a mafia boss you don’t want to mess with.

I recently teased him that with his husky voice, he’s like Don Vito Corleone but Espenilla, always low-key and nonchalant, simply laughed off my remark.

To be compared to a mafia boss, of course, is an exaggeration but the new BSP chief certainly means business. He is determined to reform the financial system, never mind if this means shaking things up.

I visited him last week in the swanky Room 501 of the BSP.  When I arrived, he was still in a meeting so I browsed through some magazines while waiting. One issue of The Asset caught my attention.

On the cover was a caricature of Espenilla, Superman-like and ready to rumble. The title, “The Disruptor,” was perfect I couldn’t resist borrowing it for this piece.

Indeed, the magazine couldn’t have found a better way to describe Espenilla. After all, “Gov” has repeatedly talked about his bold plans -- to change a financial system that had a tendency to be elitist, serving only those with money by definition.

“They should not be. We have SMEs looking for finance; we have a lot of people who want to do remittance and save for the future,” Espenilla said in the article.

That afternoon, the chairman of a foreign conglomerate paid him a courtesy call and I was allowed to cover the meeting.

The conglomerate wanted its financial technology arm to expand in the Philippines by setting up a digital payments system here.

Sitting across him inside the boardroom, I saw how enthusiastic and interested he was upon hearing about e-payments and fintech. He sure knows his stuff. It’s no surprise that industry players describe Espenilla as a “fintech gov.”

For him, fintech is a big step toward the goal of accelerating financial inclusion in the country.

And he grabs every opportunity to remind the banking community about that.

“We will continue to leverage on digital innovations to expand reach. The challenge to us all is how we can innovate and leverage on this rapid transformation and use it in the efficient delivery of financial services and products. We see technology as a tool to achieve this goal of accelerated financial inclusion,” Espenilla said at the recent Bankers’ Night, which he hosted for the first time as the new BSP chief.

These efforts are meant to reach the financially unserved and underserved, he said.

Fintech

I am as excited as he is because fintech really has the potential to finally make growth inclusive. As a journalist covering the economy, I fervently wait and dream for that to happen — year in and year out and every time there is a new administration.

Fintech can finally put an end to the “5-6” system, the informal lending system for many desperate Filipinos.

One just needs to look around in far-flung communities and impoverished villages around the country to see that so many sari-sari stores and small businesses rely on these 5-6 loan sharks to bankroll their business. It’s all because they don’t have access to banks.

Fintech can change all that. With fintech startups, financial services can reach more people.  Banks can expand their products to customers with little or no formal credit history and fintechs can verify customers using alternative credit scoring methods.

PayMaya

Indeed, the advantages of fintech are endless as they are varied.

The MVP Groups’ PayMaya, for instance, has added another innovation by teaming up with the SM Store for a partnership that gives customers nationwide a 10-percent rebate on all purchases using the PayMaya QR for a certain promo period.

“More and more Filipinos are using cashless payments with PayMaya, and we’re excited to work with like-minded companies such as SM in innovating on the retail shopping experience with the help of our payment technologies,” said Manuel V. Pangilinan, chairman at PLDT, Smart, Voyager and PayMaya.

Milk tea with Ernest Cu

When I sat down some months ago with Globe president and CEO Ernest Cu, he also showed me how Mynt’s GCash worked.

He insisted that I try it myself. GCash is a micropayment service that transforms the mobile phone into a virtual wallet for secure, fast and convenient money transfer.

From his avant-garde office, we went to the cafeteria, a few floors down.

After downloading the app, I ordered milk tea and in an instant, I was able to pay for it just using my phone. All I had to do was to scan the QR code on the milk tea kiosk.

I’m not a techie person but I know how to appreciate technology so when I tried it myself, I was impressed.

Indeed, fintech has its rewards. It holds boundless potential. People can apply and get loans with just a few clicks. They can send money just with their phones instead of travelling miles just to get to a remittance center. They can do deferred payments for big purchases. The list goes on and on.

This new ecosystem will work because while Filipinos may not have bank accounts, they have mobile phones, which now have become very affordable.

The result is a dream come true — a world where no one is excluded from the financial system. Now, who wouldn’t want that? 

Iris Gonzales’ email address is eyesgonzales@gmail.com

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