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Unionbank eyes 1M SME clients in near term

An official of Union Bank of the Philippines is optimistic of hitting the bank’s goal to have one million small and medium enterprises clients in the near term, citing the rise of people’s entrepreneurial skills during the pandemic.

In a virtual briefing for the launch of the Unionbank SME banking app Tuesday, UnionBank executive vice president and chief digital channel officer Ana Maria Delgado said more people started small businesses during the pandemic because they saw opportunities amid the difficult situation.

“Last year, it’s hard to predict on how many will be onboard this year but actually, we’re quite confident that we’re going to move very quickly into that goal based on the trajectories we saw last year. And the continuing trends of SMEs wanting to digitize as we continue to see as the new year opens,” Delgado said.

In 2018, the bank targeted to increase to one million the number of its SME clients in the next five years. To date, it has around 175,000 SME clients.

Delgado said people have found new ways to purchase things, and entrepreneurs have also tapped innovative ways to conduct business –both of which was due to digitalization processes.

“I think that this is going to continue to become a trend because also, (the) government and companies are making it easier to set up businesses,” she added.

During the same briefing, Unionbank president and chief executive officer Edwin Bautista said transactions done through the bank’s mobile app and online platform surged since the start of the lockdown period last year, or around March and April.

From about 40,000 transactions in January 2020, he said transactions rose to nearly one million by December last year.

“At the rate at which it is growing, I wouldn’t be surprised if it gets to hit 2 million transactions pretty soon,” he added.

Before the pandemic, Bautista said their SME clients use the bank’s online and mobile portal for their businesses.

“This worked for some but we recognized, after talking to SMEs, that perhaps their banking needs are a little more unique and that letting them use either the system for individuals or for corporates is sub-optimal,” he said.

Thus, the development of the bank’s SME banking app, which he said, is the first in the country and only among the few SME-focused apps in the region.

The app has been available from the Google Play and App Store since January 18 and is part of the bank’s “Tech Up, Pilipinas” project.

Through the app, SMEs can do banking transactions, open their online stores, and track inventories.

Bautista said the Unionbank would also make available in the near term the ability for SMEs to apply for loans through the app.

“So many things that they can do (through the app) so that the SME becomes even more efficient and ever more successful,” he added.

MSMEs account for around 99 percent of businesses in the country but contribute only around 35 percent in the country’s annual output.

Thus, the push from the government and the private sector to uplift the sector and provide more opportunities for growth.