France extends €800,000 grant to bolster PH rural banks digital transformation

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By Victoria “NIKE” De Dios

As the country continues to ramp up its digital transformation across other industries, it is imperative that various financial institutions especially in the countryside need to adapt to this. However, due to limited access and support to kick off this noteworthy project, the plan has been derailed due to the lack of funding.

Cognizant of this situation, France ensures that the digital transformation of the rural banks in the Philippines will be realized. Recently, the Rural Bankers Association of the Philippines (RBAP) and the French Development Agency (AFD) have signed a Grant Facility Agreement of 800,000 euros (around PHP 47.9 million) to support the digital transformation of inclusive financial institutions, starting with rural banks. 

Over the past eighty years, rural banks in the Philippines have played significant roles in promoting inclusivity in markets underserved by traditional commercial banks. In order to remain competitive, rural banks must modernize and adapt from manual to digitized processes to increase efficiency, reduce costs, and better serve their markets.

This grant finances technical assistance composed of training, capacity building, and communication and awareness-raising activities in order to support the digital transition of core-banking systems to the cloud, with a view to further develop the financial inclusion of underserved and unbanked populations in the country. 

This technical assistance is provided within the framework of the global public policy reform of the financial inclusion sector in the Philippines and the implementation of the Inclusive Finance Development Program (IFDP). The AFD, alongside the Asian Development Bank (ADB), has been supporting this program since 2019 through a 100 million euro sovereign loan of the AFD to the Government of the Philippines.

The IFDP contributes to the overall objective of inclusive growth and sustainable development of the Republic of the Philippines by supporting the development of financial inclusion of the population, especially the poor and the rural population, through the consolidation of the institutional and regulatory environment and the improvement of financial infrastructures and the capacity building of financial services providers, supervisors, and regulators. 

“RBAP is thankful for the support and trust that AFD has given to our Association. As the President for FY 2020-2021, one of my goals is to help rural banks especially the small ones to digitize and capacitate them through different programs. Through this partnership, this goal is finally realized. We look forward to working with AFD to create capacity-building programs tailor-fitted to the needs of the rural banks for us to be able to compete at par excellence with the other financial institutions in the country,” said Elizabeth Carlos-Timbol, President of the RBAP.

On this occasion, Mr. Laurent Klein, AFD country director in the Philippines, said, “The AFD is very pleased of the partnership concluded today with the RBAP. With a wide range and diversity in size and activity levels, rural banks remain in a unique position to extend the reach of financial services in rural areas. In line with our organization’s strategic objectives to support financial systems and fight social and economic inequalities, this technical assistance will contribute to promote access to quality digital financial services for all, including the most vulnerable part of the population. This agreement also marks a major step forward in our collaboration with the ADB to support inclusive finance in the Philippines.”

French Ambassador to the Philippines Her Excellency Michèle Boccoz

French Ambassador Michèle Boccoz emphasized, “France is proud to support, through AFD, strategic reforms of the Government of the Philippines in digital transformation and inclusion in the financial sector to the benefit of the Filipino people. This is a further milestone in the bilateral relationship between our two countries. The Covid-19 pandemic is disrupting our societies and leads us to consider radical shifts in our usual modes of economic and social interactions. We believe that this program through the AFD and RBAP partnership will help pave the way to resilience and recovery especially of disadvantaged Filipinos in the rural areas.”