‘HEART-ING’ Digital

Helen Yuchengco-Dee, once told me: “Even when the sea seems calm, wear a lifejacket.” This maxim has been at the core of RCBC’s dynamic business continuity plan. When news of the first Philippine COVID 19 case broke out, we immediately rolled the drawing board out. While hoping for the best, we prepared for the worst. We subscribed to the work-from-home set-up, a week before enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) was declared on March 16.

As always, to us, the people are the priority. The people who serve, and the people we serve.

ECQ-ting mindset

Banking is about service. And the heart of service, is human relation. A heart that pulsates with empathy and action.

Steering the RCBC digital strategy is a mindset that adopts a time-significant acronym, that is ECQ, or Empathetic, Customer-driven and Quick. When most products or services, are preceded by the common descriptor, “responsive”, customers in the current state of normal calls not only for a positive and immediate response, but that which has a true, and deeper understanding of their needs – empathy. Couple this with speedy execution that mirrors, if not exceeds, their patience or waiting capacity. For no product is worth a long wait.  

Digital Scale-up

The pandemic forced all stakeholders to go digital. The government mandated that all its transactions quickly transition to electronic for swift delivery of public services. RCBC heeded this call by promptly scaling-up key digital platforms, and inking over 50 key partnerships vital to social service delivery.   This includes government agencies like the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) for digitally enabling micro, small and medium enterprises, and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) to assist in the efficient and fast digital disbursement of cash assistance to sectors affected by the pandemic under the government programs covered by the Bayanihan Acts 1 and 2.

The scaling up of banking services like the RCBC’s handheld ATM mobile point-of-sale device called ATM Go, met the challenge head on. Nationwide, more than 1,800 ATM Go devices were deployed ahead of the lockdown to hundreds of RCBC payout partners in 72 of the 81 provinces, the first private universal bank to do so, in this magnitude. Partners that include rural banks, microfinance institutions, cooperatives, pawnshops, money business operators, drugstores, and sari sari stores, among others.

Given its impact and performance, the DSWD tapped RCBC’s ATM Go, and endorsed its use across its regional offices as the disbursement device to service ATM cards issued by any Bancnet-member banks including cash cards used for its conditional cash transfer program called Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino.  And for the digital “ayuda” disbursements of social amelioration program, both DSWD and DOLE tapped the new RCBC DiskarTech disbursement platform.

As of December 24, over Php 12 billion has been disbursed to about 3.17 million households benefitting approximately 15.83 million individuals nationwide. 

In the mobile app front, covering the entire market spectrum has been the emphasis. Rising up to the challenge of providing best-in-class digital financial services from the mass affluent, to the mass market. This is a testament to RCBC’s thrust of not only being the bank for all generations, but for all segments of society as well.

Exceeded metrics only stoke the determination to continuously enhance user interface, and to optimize digital customer experience. These efforts further set unprecedented milestones, such as the recorded jump of 681 percent in InstaPay fund transfers compared to pre-quarantine figures. Daily transaction count and amount of cardless ATM withdrawal up by 2,763 percent and 4,535 percent, respectively. Alongside these are digital banking enrolments and send cash remittances have grown 186 percent and 523 percent, respectively.

Even at the height of lockdown, scale-up efforts remained razor focused on trailblazing online and mobile features responsive to the call of the times. Such as the use of virtual banking technology to provide secure and more convenient alternatives for various financial transaction across segments. From mobile check deposit; multi-currency account for foreign exchange (FX) transactions; outward remittance that enables local transfers of US dollar from RCBC to other banks through Philippine Domestic Dollar Transfer Service (PDDTS) and international currency like US Dollar, Japanese Yen, Euro transfers to international bank accounts through SWIFT; and mobile-based Bankard purchase conversion. These, in addition to other conveniences like the real-time unit investment trust fund (UITF) and time deposit rates availability; cardless withdrawal across all RCBC ATMs nationwide; and partner cash out in underserved areas where you can send money to beneficiaries from an RCBC online and mobile bank account and withdraw it via RCBC cardless ATM or from thousands of outlets of LBC, Bayad Center, and MLhuillier nationwide, to name a few.

Grassroots Banking Reimagined

Standing out in the very crowded mobile app space, with almost 200 in the country and over four million worldwide, is daunting, even to the savviest. However, there lies a gaping hole in the entire set-up, detectable only to those that keep their ears close to the grassroots’ ground.   With millions of mobile financial apps, none caters primarily to the needs of this segment starting with the most basic, i.e., addressing the language barrier.

In July 2020, RCBC launched DiskarTech, the first Taglish financial inclusion “super app” in the Philippines. The only Filipino app that hit over a million app downloads in its first 30 days. Even topping the ranking in Google Playstore and AppStore on its second month. So far, there is close to four million downloads in less than five months, making it one of the fast-growing financial apps in the country with over 50 percent monthly active user rate.

It aims to make banking services more accessible to the masses. Over 58 million adult Filipinos now find it simple to quickly open a bank account with just a single government ID through their smartphones. This levels the playing field as every Filipino now benefits from a 3.25 percent per year interest-bearing basic deposit account. This is 13 times higher than industry savings interest rates while also insured with the Philippine Deposit Insurance Corporation.

DiskarTech’s demographics tells the whole story. Over 70 percent of registered users reside outside Metro Manila. While more than 80 percent are millennials with some already in Gen Z age range and dominated by female at 65 percent. In fact, seven out of eight top users of key DiskarTech app features are from the provinces. Two account holders have earned over Php300.00 in interest on their savings, thus far. Both live in low-income rural areas particularly in a 4th class municipality of Kolambugan in Lanao del Norte, and in a 5th class municipality of Batad in Iloilo. This validates a 2011 Urban Institute study that indeed the poor and low-income people can save. It says that “despite very low incomes, 44 percent of households accumulated enough to escape asset poverty after 12 years.”

The one with the most financial transactions hail from Bulacan. While the one with the most referrals comes from San Pablo. Isabela. On bills payment, airtime load and e-gaming pins, users from Lingayen, Pangasinan and Cagayan de Oro City topped the rankings.

Making DiskarTech a “hardworking” app is in its DNA. This paved the way for the introduction of the “NegosyanTech” program to unlock the Filipino inherent entrepreneurial spirit in partnership with the DTI. A self-help digital tool that could generate extra livelihood for anyone who wants to earn. Servicing customers without smartphones or access data services can now be serviced through “paki-suyo”. Pakisuyo refers to a Filipino culture of requesting another person to do a favor on one’s behalf. These services include bills payment, prepaid smartphone loading, e-gaming pins, insurance, telemedicine, and more.

 DigiFin Ed Defined

Our strategic intent has always been aligned with the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Governor Diokno’s twin goals in accelerating inclusive digital finance. Those two targets would be to reach 50% of financial transactions done via digital, and 70% of adult Filipinos to be part of the formal financial system by 2023.

We can support this vision by optimizing various social media platforms which is essential in generating awareness. This included the pioneering Pisonomics podcast and the 20-minute regular livestream that break down complex banking concepts like interest rate, inflation, insurance, and savings through fun and relatable conversation. The #DisIsIt Buhay Diskarte YouTube online show was able to do just that. Consistently registering social media engagement rate as high as 34 percent.

Again, the proposition does not hinge on just deploying innovations. Success will depend on consumer adoption and traction on one hand, and building trust on the other. Case in point is on how an abstract image such as QR code functions allowing financial transactions to happen.  Making ambulant vendors selling taho, balot, squid balls, assorted nuts, or barbeque, including online and physical market sellers prefer to switch to digital payments is one huge success indicators. And we have already seen some jumped on this wagon.

Winning Pinoy Hearts

We’re gaining headway. The RCBC mobile app landed on top both in Playstore and Appstore at 4.1 combined average rating. With DiskarTech’s simple and straightforward interface, it registered a remarkable social media positive sentiment rating of 98 percent. Heartwarming comments from thousands of reputable vloggers and high engagement rate among netizens at a high 36 percent are surely very encouraging. In just five months, there are now close to four million downloads surpassing the 500,000-target set for 2020.

And to cap 2020, a tribute music video “Madiskarteng Pilipino” was launched on December 1. It has now recorded over two million views on Facebook and YouTube. This is a shining testimony that Diskartech has, indeed, won the heart of the Filipinos. 

Global Recognition Unboxed

For its massive digital push, RCBC has merited six global awards in nine months during the pandemic including being named as the Philippines’ best digital bank by Asiamoney and Alpha Southeast Asia awards.

Diskartech also bagged the distinction of being 2020’s inspirational brand from the prestigious Asia Pacific enterprise award. It was also given the best digital inclusion initiative award by the International Innovation Awards for providing solutions to key barriers for financial inclusion mostly for the grassroots communities. The Global Economics award recognized RCBC as the most innovative Internet banking services provider, And, most recently, the ASEAN enterprise innovation award from Asia IoT Business Platform.  

Purposive Ubergrowth

Taking off from the learnings of 2020, this 2021 augurs heightened collaboration, alternative social interactions, and access to pervasive information. Open finance or interoperability will drive the industry forward and further empower customers. Among the many initiatives towards this direction is the inclusion of RCBC as among the four new members of the API Exchange of the ASEAN Financial Innovation Network (AFIN) in recognition of the wide array of digital innovations that the bank has undertaken this year.

The digital arena is a data-driven world. It is precise, rigid, and always demand accuracy.  But behind the hard data, the cold numbers, are the people who breathe life into them. Striking a balance between the evolution of technology and the customer’s personal journey is key. Because they are the blood stream that pumps energy to digital and the purpose behind all the efforts. They are the essence of technology. The heart of banking.

This 2021, RCBC remains committed to a more inclusive and empathetic financial ecosystem that would digitally empower Filipinos to help them navigate, and survive the post-pandemic economy. RCBC believes that technology should not be imposed, but rather, should be an uplifting paradigm shift to people’s current living conditions. That is why beyond the recognition of being the Philippines’ Best Digital Bank, is the satisfying reward of making a positive impact in Filipinos’ lives. And it is this relevance that will make people, “heart” digital.

About the author: Lito Villanueva is the Executive Vice President & Chief Innovation & Inclusion Officer of RCBC and concurrently the Chief Digital Transformation Advisor for Yuchengco Group of Companies. He is also the founding chairman of the FinTech Alliance.ph. A prime mover in the Philippine fintech industry with over 60 global and regional accolades for trailblazing digital innovations. Labelled as the “Mr. FinTech of the Philippines” by BizNews Asia and named among the Top 100 Fintech Leaders in Asia, the first and only Filipino, thus far.

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