Dennis Valdes: The man who helped take Cebuana Lhuillier Bank to big leagues

Dennis Valdes: The man who helped take Cebuana Lhuillier Bank to big leagues
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In 1998, Cebuana Lhuillier Bank (CL Bank), the banking arm of PJ Lhuillier, Inc., was established and opened its first branch in Bacoor Cavite.

CL Bank is the brainchild of no less than finance guru Jean Henri Lhuillier, President and CEO of Cebuana Lhuillier. He reveals that CL Bank was a bank with a purpose: “Geared to foster financial wellness of the general population, CL Bank set out to  overcome barriers to saving by educating, encouraging, and providing banking access to unbanked and underserved Filipinos.

This mission is essentially what drives all our businesses of Cebuana Lhuillier and this includes CL Bank”.

In 2018, CL Bank had three branches providing traditional yet more affordable savings and loan products to individuals and MSMEs in rural communities. In June of the same year, Dennis Valdes, who was then Cebuana Lhuillier’s Treasury Head, was instated as the new President of CL Bank at the young age of 40. Little did everyone know that with Dennis at the wheel, CL Bank, a humble and relatively unknown rural bank, was about to shock the Philippine banking sector.

Early years of Dennis Valdes

As a young boy, Dennis became fascinated by his father’s work as a senior bank officer and wanted to be a banker ever since. In high school he was creating spreadsheets of companies and preparing financial analysis for prospective loan applications. He earned his college degree, BSC – Major in Management of Financial Institutions, and a Master’s Degree in Business Administration at the De La Salle University. He has also taken up several executive education courses at the Ateneo Graduate School of Business and completed an executive program at the IMD Business School in Lausanne Switzerland (OWP). Dennis worked for several local and foreign banking institutions including Equitable PCI Bank, ANZ, and Unionbank, gaining valuable experience and great understanding of the various facets of banking prior to joining Cebuana Lhuillier in 2012.

The mission to bank the unbanked

Dennis believes that CL Bank’s primary mission is to "bank the unbanked”. He recounts: “In 2018, there were more than 70% of Filipinos who remained unbanked/underbanked. While most major banks found it commercially unviable to cater to this market, this was the segment that the Cebuana Lhuillier Group was known to serve.  At that time, it was quite unheard of in the banking sector to open an account with just one ID with zero maintaining balance. There was also this misconception that the unbanked/underbanked did not have disposable income for savings because of their daily financial obligations… of course, we would prove this wrong later”.

He adds: “Another challenge we gladly took on was for a small rural bank based in Cavite to capitalize on newly released guidelines by the BSP on financial inclusion and leverage the network of our affiliate company, Cebuana Lhuillier Pawnshop.  This partnership effectively extended our physical reach to more branches than the largest banks in the Philippines. But all this uncertainty of the Bank’s ambitious plan, together with limited manpower (we were only 33 strong in 2018), seemed such a herculean task to launch our banner product, the Cebuana Lhuillier Microsavings, to more than 2500 Pawnshop branches nationwide. Following closely, we were scheduled to release the first version of our eCebuana app a month after the Microsavings market launch in Feb 2019. But I was fortunate to have very supportive shareholders and BOD which appreciated the role of the Bank and how it would complement the Group’s financial inclusion advocacy.  I was also blessed with a very resilient and passionate team that never gave up despite the birthing pains we encountered during the first few months when we launched”.

The birth of the revolutionary Cebuana Lhuillier Micro Savings

In 2019, CL Bank launched Cebuana Lhuillier Micro Savings, an interest bearing deposit product that can be easily opened using minimal documentary requirements, an initial deposit of only P50 and needs no maintaining balance. What further made Cebuana Lhuillier Micro Savings a revolutionary banking innovation is that it is a bank product owned by CL Bank and carried by Cebuana Lhuillier Pawnshop as its cash agent, allowing Cebuana Lhuillier Pawnshops to accept transactions on behalf of CL Bank. In effect, Cebuana Lhuillier Micro Savings transformed almost 2,500 Cebuana Lhuillier Pawnshop branches, at the time, into CL Bank branches as well.

This partnership effectively extended CL Bank’s physical reach to more branches than the largest banks in the Philippines. To complement Cebuana Lhuillier Micro Savings, the Bank launched the eCebuana mobile app in 2020 which allowed users to open a Cebuana Lhuillier Micro Savings account online, making affordable banking accessible to more Filipinos. The app also enabled CL Bank clients to easily access their bank account, send money via Pera Padala, pay bills, and top up loads.

Continuous innovations and accolades

Since 2020, Dennis and his tireless team at CL Bank have continuously improved its existing products and services  through digital initiatives and innovations. CL Bank partnered with BancNet , UnionPay, Instapay, PesoNet and Visa which expanded CL Bank’s card network, its reach and enhanced online fund transfers for depositors. The Bank also embraced QR technology for ease of transfer and added Teacher’s Salary Loan to its roster of loan products.

CL Bank just recently selected Temenos to modernize its core banking platform, giving the Bank the flexibility and agility to manage customer accounts, manage transactions with greatly improved performance and efficiency, and offer personalized products, faster and at lower cost.

Cebuana Lhuillier Bank can now introduce more relevant deposit and lending products to attract new customers while also growing sustainably.

In 2021 CL Bank received its first recognition from no less than the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas as one of their outstanding stakeholders.  Since then, CL Bank has been recognized as the Best Rural/Cooperative Bank for 3 consecutive years (2021-2023) by the Asian Banking and Finance Awards. CL Bank has also been acclaimed by the World Economic Magazine as the Most Innovative Microfinance Bank, Fastest Growing Bank for Financial Inclusion and Best Microfinance Bank.

He is proud of what CL Bank has accomplished since he took over the reins. From a bank that was not even ranked in the top 50 rural banks in the country in 2018, CL Bank has skyrocketed to being in the top 10 in just a few years, a feat that no one thought was possible.

With Dennis Valdes at the helm, CL Bank is poised to claim the top spot as the Philippine banking industry’s undisputed leader for financial empowerment. PR


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