WITH the liberalization of the Philippine banking sector, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) sees more foreign banks joining the country’s financial sector soon.

BSP Deputy Governor Diwa Guinigundo said there are banks abroad that have expressed interest to do business in the Philippines, although he did not disclose these.

The central bank previously said that foreign banks account for less than 10 percent of the total banking industry’s assets.

Since Republic Act 10641, the law allowing full entry of foreign banks in the Philippines, took effect in July 2014, eight banks have begun operations in the country.

The latest to enter is the First Commercial Bank of Taiwan, the third Taiwan-based lender in the county.

The others include the Sumitomo Mitsui of Japan, Shinhan Bank of South Korea, Cathay United Bank of Taiwan, Industrial Bank of Korea, Yuanta Bank of Taiwan, and the United Overseas Bank Ltd. of Singapore.

The central bank also allowed Korea’s Woori Bank to acquire a 51-percent stake in the Gaisano family’s Wealth Development Bank through the Viscal Development Corp.

While BSP looks forward to welcoming more foreign institutions, it has also closed down an increasing number of rural banks. Rural banks that have been closed this year reached 15, which is more than last year, said Guinigundo.

The BSP official said this has to be done to protect public depositors.

“First, if we see that they are doing an unsound and unsafe banking practices, that’s one of the criteria (in closing a bank). Second, we decide if these banks will not endanger the depositors and the general public,” the central bank official said.

Data from the BSP shows that the number of banks in the first quarter of this year reached 622, down from the 646 last year. Of the 622 banks, 515 are rural and cooperative banks, lower from the 541 banks.