Citi global head of Global Subsidiaries Group Marc Merlino talks about the importance of the Philippines and its growth potential as it embraces digitalization during an interview with The STAR.
Citi bullish on Philippines growth amid digital revolution
Lawrence Agcaoili (The Philippine Star) - April 16, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Citi is bullish about the economic growth prospects of the Philippines as it continues to embrace digital revolution and financial inclusion.

Marc Merlino, global head of Global Subsidiaries Group – part of Citi’s Corporate & Investment Bank, told The STAR the Philippines is a very important country for the company and its global multinational corporate clients.

“We are bullish on the Philippines because it is a growing economy. The Philippines growth story has been one of the best emerging market growth stories that we’ve seen with consistent, stable growth. It has very attractive demographics in terms of a relatively young population for our clients,” he said.

As the largest foreign bank in the Philippines, he said Citi has been growing by double digits in the country over the past few years.

The gross domestic product (GDP) of the Philippines has booked positive growth for the past 80 quarters or since the first quarter of 1999, and above six percent for the past 15 consecutive quarters.

Merlino said Citi’s multinational clients see the Philippines as an attractive market for investments due to its “tremendous amount of potential to do even more.”

According to Merlino, there is a tremendous amount of energy that exists in the Philippines when it comes to what is happening in the world with the digital revolution including e-commerce.

“There is great potential for further growth in the digital space as the Philippines is still in a relatively early stage. The country is a heavily driven consumer economy with an internet savvy population,” he said.

Merlino, who has been in 61 countries over the past few years, met with 20 chief executive officers and chief financial officers of multinational companies in the Philippines during his two-day visit last week.

“It is a country that is doing extremely well based on its existing paradigm as an economy and there is a lot of further potential energy stored up in the economy thanks to the benefits that come with the digital revolution that is impacting everybody,” he said.

Merlino said financial inclusion is another important opportunity in the Philippines.

“Take a look at what happened in India. Looking at what they have done with biometrics and how they linked biometrics with bank accounts for everyone in the country. India is more than 10 times the size of the Philippines in terms of population. You have to start at the foundation and it must include everyone,” he said.

Results of the latest Financial Inclusion Survey of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas showed that 22.6 percent or some 15.8 million Filipino adults maintained deposit accounts, higher than the 22 percent recorded in 2015. However, 52.8 million adults still did not have accounts in formal financial institutions.

Merlino said there are so many benefits that come with the digital technology and the transparency that the Philippines could become stronger.

“I think that is a critical first step and as a bank that has such a long 100-plus history in the Philippines and operates in so many other countries around the world, we think it is our duty to bring practices from other countries to the Philippines and vice versa,” he said.

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