Unionbank, banks and fintech in the Philippines

Earlier, I received an email from Krissna of Unionbank demanding for full payment of my credit card account. I am certainly guilty of forgetting to settle these responsibilities after I settled my car loan with them. I also lost access to my online banking account with them so I wasn’t able to keep track of stuff anymore.

Eager to settle them once and for all, I sought help from my account/relationship manager Aaron via email on how to authorize transfer of money from my savings account to my credit card account. Just like everyone who I’ve encountered at Unionbank, he was quick to reply. He told me to download the new Unionbank mobile app.

Downloading the mobile app was a breeze. Good thing it was available in Google Play in Hong Kong (most banks put a restriction that it’s only available in certain countries). Then, I tried enrolling my account. Based on my past experience with their older system, enrolling an account wasn’t as straightforward as it was. I was pretty surprised that I was able to gain access to my savings account in less than three (3) minutes! The mobile app didn’t look as impressive as it can be but it was blazing fast and easy to use. Everything can be done in minimal number of clicks. I’d say it’s way faster and the user experience is better than the Citibank mobile app.

First thing to do was to settle my credit card debt! I immediately initiated a bills payment to my credit card account and settled it in no time. Then, it was time to email Krissna that I’ve settled my dues. I didn’t have to wait for too long before I received a reply from her. She told me she’ll be endorsing a hold in my account while they’re waiting for the transaction to post. She also said she’ll be issuing me a certificate of full payment afterwards.

And all of these happened in less than an hour! In less than an hour after their first contact, I was able to regain access to my online banking account and pay for my credit card debt. I’ve also interacted with two people from their end and all of them were prompt to answer to my queries. This experience says a lot about how Unionbank is putting an emphasis on good customer service!

After regaining access to my account, I then decided to transfer the spare cash I have from Unionbank to my coins.ph account. Coins.ph, perhaps, is the easiest way to buy bitcoins in the Philippines. To fund my account, I chose the Unionbank online banking option. This option used to take at least an hour since it involved coins.ph manually checking the transactions from their Unionbank account before pushing the funds to the coins.ph account. This time, I was surprised that after I provided my transaction ID to coins.ph, they credited it instantly to my account.

On a technical point of view, it appears to me that coins.ph already has an official API integration with Unionbank. Another guess would be, the brilliant minds at coins.ph did an unofficial integration using web scraping.

It is 2018, we aren’t supposed to be surprised by these stuff anymore, right?

All of the stuff I mentioned are easily implementable in 2018. The source of awe comes from my impression of banks, being banks. Banks are known for their bureaucracies. Try opening a bank account with BDO in the Philippines to understand what I mean. They ask for a fuckton of documents to open a bank account. They even require you to open an account to the branch closest to your home! You can also try getting a credit card. Each bank has their own credit investigation procedures – mostly due to the lack of a central credit reporting agency.

The consumer banking/finance landscape in the Philippines has gone a long way for the past five (5) years. We have to thank fintech companies such as coins.ph, PayMaya, beep, GCash and Smart Money for catalyzing the positive change in this landscape. Before, people hardly shop online unless there’s an option for cash on delivery. Now, almost all of these fintech companies issue their own Visa or Mastercard debit cards allowing people to shop on more websites!

Fintech companies, from the name itself, are companies built with tech as a priority rather than an afterthought. As a result, these fintech companies often have seamless integrations with each other and sometimes with banks. For example:

  • You can load up your beep card (akin to Octopus in HK, basically a card that stores value for payments in convenience stores and trains) using the coins.ph app. Topping it up involves logging in to coins.ph on your phone then tapping your beep card’s NFC to your phone.
  • You can load up your coins.ph account in realtime at 7-Eleven! Even my colleagues in Hong Kong are amazed how easy it is to buy bitcoins in the Philippines.
  • You can sell your bitcoins for PHP in coins.ph, then do a cashless withdrawal of your fiat at any Security Bank ATM.
  • You have bills payment in coins.ph, just like how you do it in online banking!
  • Almost all of these fintech companies allow you to top your mobile credits up using their services!

The Philippines has a lot of unbanked people. This can be attributed mostly on the bureaucracies involved in opening bank accounts. Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP, the Philippines’ central bank) even issued a circular (Circular #608) requiring banks to only ask for one valid ID to do transactions to lower the barrier of entry. Add to that the minimum deposit required by banks to open a bank account.

Meanwhile, it takes a few minutes to open an account with these fintech companies and you’re ready to go. Unless you’re transferring loads of money, it’s the only time they’ll have to do KYC (Know Your Customer) on you and require you with the same documents required in opening bank accounts. Most of these fintech companies are also capable of doing things you normally do with banks. You can send and receive money, pay your bills, top your mobile credits up and a lot more.

So let’s lay the cards down. Firstly, you have a lot of people with no access to banking facilities. Then, the high barrier of entry in opening a bank account. Finally, you have the ease of opening an account with fintech companies. With all of these combined, there’s obviously the threat of banks  becoming irrelevant to the average Filipino. Banks have no choice but to innovate to survive. Some like Unionbank has already started doing it, whilst some like the Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) chose to go the other way.

For a briefer, the Bank of the Philippine Islands recently announced that they’ll be imposing fees for inter-region deposits and withdrawals starting September this year. Services which used to be free are now being charged when everyone else who used to charge these fees are starting to waive it. Everyone knows that banks nowadays are online so there’s no additional effort required in doing cross-branch transactions so it doesn’t make sense to charge these fees anymore. Obviously, it caused a backlash and people started looking for alternatives. This forced BPI to delay the implementation of their new fee schedule to January 2019. Actions like these actually only makes people choose these more technologically-advanced alternatives instead. They have to be reminded that they actually need to innovate, or else become irrelevant!

One thought on “Unionbank, banks and fintech in the Philippines”

  1. hi any suggestion am from fukuoka going to visit manila any chepast fair? and what is voucher? thanks am waiting to responce

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