BPI Direct Banko (BanKo), the Ayala-owned banking subsidiary that focuses on micro-entrepreneurs, opened yet another branch just across the public market in Valencia City, Bukidnon, last February 27, as it targets to reach the widest possible number of small businessmen to help them grow their business and provide credit access to this underserved segment.

The Valencia branch is the 103rd nationwide and the 19th in Mindanao. BPI Direct Banko intends to establish 14 more in Mindanao in 2018.

"We are here to assist the micro-entrepreneurs and help them grow their business in the hope that they will graduate to become clients of BPI-Family Savings Bank or BPI, the Universal Bank," said Joseph Albert Gotuaco, chair of BanKo Inc. and executive vice president and head of BPI Retail Banking.

During its launch in Valencia, one of the clients invited to the opening attested that it is easy to access the loans from BanKo, "basta kumpleto lang ang inyong dokumento (for as long as your documents are complete)." The client has all the reason to say that because BanKo gives out loans collateral-free, Rodolfo K. Mabiasen Jr., vice president and head of Micro-Enterprise Loans Group, said. Thus, one of the few requirements they have for loans from P25,000 to P150,000 is that the micro-enterprise must be at least two years old.

Not only are the loans collateral-free, interest rate at a maximum of 2.3 percent is also lower than any existing bank loan package, including those from government. They give out up to P300,000, but above P150,000 loans have some collateral requirements.

Gotuaco said they give greater focus on the relationship they establish with their clients, aware that these are the unserved market, and by asking for collaterals as prerequisite for a loan, the bank would practically be taking away very valuable assets that the client can ill afford to lose.

Citing the latest data from the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), the press release distributed during the branch opening said, "micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) make up 99.57 percent of the country's total number of business establishments, of which about 20 percent or 166,769 are micro-enterprises in Mindanao." This is the segment that BanKo is catering to by addressing the main challenge that limits their growth: obtaining credit. This is also the reason why their branch staff have a team of BanKo Mares and BanKo Pares that go around to collect and give out technical assistance and consultations on running a business, as they understand that requiring the clients to go to the bank for the payments will be requiring them to leave or close down their store for the duration.

BanKo has been on a major expansion drive since it was launched in July 2017 and has already released P190-million worth of loans to 2,800 clients in Mindanao alone. BanKo has already served over 10,000 SEMEs nationwide and released a total of PhP550 million in loans. It is targeting to expand up to 200 branches nationwide this year to serve 20,000 more SEMEs.

In Davao Region, BanKo already has five branches with one more planned to be established this year. Among those who graced the opening with Gotuaco and Mabiasen were BanKo president Jerome B. Minglana, BanKo director Natividad N. Alejo, and Valencia Vice Mayor Glen G. Galario. SAE