By Ernie Reyes
MANILA – Senator Grace Poe underscored the need to establish banking services in remote communities as more people turn to digital transactions on worries of coronavirus transmission.
Poe, the chairperson of the Senate committee on banks, financial institutions, and currencies, said she will lead a virtual public hearing on Thursday, July 22 to tackle bills seeking to institutionalize Bangko sa Baryo that will allow banks to expand reach through “cash agents” and serve a wider client base, particularly in the low-income and rural areas.
“Many are unbanked because there is limited or no access to banking services available,” Poe said.
“Access to banking can allow our people to save time and money while also becoming more active participants in the economy, which can help them weather the impact of the pandemic,” she stressed.
Under Senate Bill 1682 which she filed, Poe sought to tap “cash agents” such as reputable convenience stores, pharmacies, and other highly accessible retail outlets to service unbanked and underserved Filipinos.
Through these cash agents, people can perform secure online, real-time withdrawal or deposit transactions for his/her own bank account, fund transfers, check encashment, bill payments, and self-service transactions.
Cash agents may also accept payments due to government institutions, such as contributions to the Social Security System and premiums payable to the Philippine Health Insurance Corp., Pag-IBIG, and others.
Poe said having “banks in the barrios” will also address the practical challenge of quickly getting financial assistance in the hands of the people, including those who lost jobs due to the health crisis.
“Cash aid, loans, or any form of assistance can get to our people without having to travel long distances or wait in lines,” she said.
The senator said financial inclusion is an important policy of the government as this leads to empowerment, broad-based development, and inclusive growth among Filipinos.
Cash agents hoping to join the operations may apply with a contracting bank and must show it is a duly registered business in the Philippines.
It should have engaged in commercial activity for at least three months; has conducted its commercial activities continuously in a place and area that is known to the public, possesses sufficient capacity to properly operate electronic devices; and has the necessary infrastructure to undertake banking operations.
The bill stressed that the contracting bank remains ultimately liable for the cash agent’s actions. The bank should ensure that cash agents pass eligibility requirements and Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas evaluation procedures, follow standard bank protocols, and exercise due diligence when dealing with clients.
The bill also provides investment and tax incentives to cash agents who will establish a business in remote areas. (AI/MTVN)