ANTONETTE Balmaceda normally has a full week but Covid-19 has made her work even doubly hard. But Antonette is not complaining. She considers it her mission to look after her "partners" who have been hard hit by the pandemic.

Antonette is a BankoMare, a loan associate of BPI Direct BanKo (BanKo), a wholly-owned subsidiary of Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI). BanKo has aimed to provide proper financial service to the unbanked, who otherwise have to go to the informal lenders or the so-called "5-6." During the last three years, BanKo has committed more than P4 billion as part of BPI's efforts to serve the marginalized.

BankoMare Antonette's partners are self-employed microentrepreneurs (SEMEs) doing business in and around the Municipality of Virac, in the island province of Catanduanes. The economy of Virac is sustained primarily by agriculture -- the farming of rice, corn, bananas and root crops. The production of copra and abaca also provide additional income for the people. Fishing is also an essential industry, together with mining and lumber. On the whole, the SEMEs have been doing good business, financed by affordable and hassle-free loans arranged by Antonette. But Covid changed that.

According to BankoPare Jerry Ocray, (to whom Antonette reports) "Our clients experienced transportation problems during the lockdown. Because we are located on an island, we had difficulties in getting supplies and delivering goods, which drastically affected their cash flow." In some areas, 80 percent of the client-owned businesses had to close, hopefully only temporarily, because of the lockdown.

At a crucial time like this, BanKoMares like Antonette continued to personally check on their "partners," to service their banking needs and to create remedial programs to adjust the timing of the payment and manage the amount of the amortizations. Antonette shares, "Kailangang tignan natin kung ano ang magagawa natin para matulungan ang ating mga kliyente at ang kanilang mga negosyo na makalampas sa pandemiya. Bigyan natin sila ng oras para kausapin at intindihin ang kanilang sitwasyon."

For its partners, BanKo has offered three types of assistance: 1. a rehabilitation fund -- for qualified borrowers who need additional capital. 2. term extension -- For borrowers who cannot pay on due date, the term is extended with a lower amortization amount. 3. discount on interest -- A fixed discount is granted to qualified borrowers depending on their principal loan amount.

"We stand by our commitment to be the partners of the SEMEs, especially at a critical time like this. It is our duty as the chosen partner of our clients to enable them with the means to restart and recover. Angat tayo sa BanKo," says BanKo president, Jerome Minglana.

BanKo Head of Financial Inclusion and Microfinance Loans Rodolfo Mabiasen Jr. adds, "Our clients need our support and guidance especially during these trying times. We understand their situation, and as their partner, we are here to help them survive and start over for their families."

BPI Family Bank @ 35

Last week, BPI Family Bank, the country's largest thrift bank observed a significant milestone. In what was considered the largest merger in Philippine banking history at the time, Bank of the Philippine Islands acquired sometime in 1985 Family Saving Bank and Trust Co, a universal bank positioned in the consumer banking sector. Immediately thereafter, on July 1, 1985, the then Central Bank authorized BPI Family Savings Bank (BPI Family) to operate as a thrift bank. This gave BPI a strong retail network and an extensive online system that reinforced the bank's pioneering efforts in automated teller machines. In 2013, BPI Family launched its first credit card. In 2019, the bank listed its maiden bond issue (P9.6B) in the Philippine Dealing Exchange and on July 2, 2020, BPI Family launched a new loan product, Step Up Pay Plan, especially designed to meet client needs during the challenging times of Covid-19.

In his anniversary message to BPI Family Bank employees, Chair Cezar P. Consing said: "This celebration of BPI Family's anniversary is an act of defiance. We defy the disease, we defy indifference, we defy complacency, we defy the dearth of resources to deal with the crisis. It is also an act faith -faith in ourselves, faith in one another, faith in our families, faith in our clients, faith in our institution and ultimately faith in God."

For her part, BPI Family Bank President Maria Cristina "Ginbee" Go said: "BPI Family remains true to its mission to enable the Filipino family to progress in life and believe in their ability to achieve their dreams." She added: "The past three-and-a-half months have been defining moments for us, as a people, as a country, and, likewise for us, as a bank.... One of the things we've learned is that family is indeed the basic unit of society. Stronger families make for a stronger community. Stronger communities make for a stronger country."

As BPI Family's anniversary poster confidently proclaims: "We rise as One Family."

Disclosure: The writer serves in the boards of BPI and BPI Direct BanKo as an Independent Director.

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