Rural banks joining shift to a cashless system

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The country’s financial sector is approaching yet another milestone that will make electronic payment systems more efficient and convenient for the public.

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This milestone is the National Retail Payment System project of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP), which shall establish a payment framework that ensures interoperability, efficiency and security in settling financial transactions.

The initial steps toward this goal have already been taken early this year, with two of the country’s largest ATM providers — BancNet and Megalink — consolidating to create one, big unified network. Aside from making transactions cheaper, the merger between the two providers is likewise seen to boost efforts toward a cashless society and better accessibility for the transacting public.

Eager to keep up with the developments, rural banks are also gearing up their internal operations especially in electronic banking.

Recent data from the central bank showed that the ATM network of the rural banking industry has been expanding steadily. By the end of 2014, rural banks have 467 off- and on-site ATMs, a 40 percent increase from the 332 units recorded in 2013. While bigger banks have been investing in their own ATMs, most rural banks partner with a third party ATM provider or offer GCash or Smart Money-enabled ATM card services to their customers.

Besides ATMs, rural banks have also been strategizing on different digital banking platforms such as mobile phones to be able to respond to their clients’ more complex demands. In fact, since mobile banking was introduced in 2006, the rural banking industry has already processed more than P16 billion in mobile money transactions.

Although hard cash transactions are still the preferred mode of payment, statistics show that more and more Filipinos seem to be ready to shift to a more cashless society. In 2013, the number of e-money accounts rose 34 percent to 26.7 million, while the number of e-money transactions surged by almost 60 percent to 217 million.

In line with its goals, the BSP has already laid out the necessary regulations to strengthen the country’s electronic retail payment network. Among others, the Monetary Board late last year approved the shift to EMV (Europay Mastercard Visa)-chip enabled cards, which should reduce the incidence of card fraud in the system, as well as maintain the interoperability of payment networks.

In the end, however, it all boils down not on how automated the systems are, but on how financial institutions would ensure secure and responsive banking for their consumers.

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