In December 2019, the Central Bank of the Philippines – BSP – hosted a Digital Payments Leaders Summit alongside the Better Than Cash Alliance – BTCA – which launched its report on The State of Digital payments in the Philippines. According to BSP Governor Benjamin E. Diokno “These efforts are aimed at bringing the country closer to our ultimate objective of having an inclusive payment system where no adult Filipino is left behind in terms of access to payment and other basic financial services.”
The Philippines is a global early-mover in Digital Payments
“The Philippines has been a global early-mover in digital payments with the launch of mobile money in 2001” claims the BTCA. Remarkable progress has been achieved as the share of digital payments grew exponentially from 1% of the total volume of transactions in 2013 to 10% in 2018, representing 20% of the overall value of transactions. The BSP aims to further accelerate the adoption of digital payments and has set an ambitious target of a share of 20% of total transactions in 2020.
Cash in Circulation is Growing at 13.3% (CAGR)
The adoption of digital payments has not happened at the detriment of cash. According to BSP data, currency issued has grown by 87% between 2013 and 2018, from 797 billion pesos to 1,490 billion. This represents a Compound Annual Growth rate of 13.3%. The BSP continuously invests in and upgrades its capacity for coin and banknote production to further increase its agility in meeting the country’s currency requirements. Towards this end, the BSP plans to establish a larger currency production facility.
The infrastructure for the distribution of cash is expanding; the number of bank branches grew by 4% in 2019 and ATMs by 4.6%. The non-bank infrastructure grew at a faster pace and in particular pawn shops grew by a spectacular 93% last year, totaling 13,190 outlets. Pawnshops are used extensively to pay bills, send and receive remittances and have become major providers of financial services.
In November 2019, the BSP rejected a proposal to regulate and cap ATM fees. The move would have led to a further reduction in the number of ATMs throughout the country, particularly in rural areas – which would have brought major repercussions. Keeping both digital payments and cash is necessary in promoting financial inclusion, especially since cash is resistant to system failures and power outages – making it better trusted, universally accepted and more reliable in times of crisis.
Access to Cash is the First Step Toward Financial Inclusion
In spite of the central bank’s push in favour of digital financial inclusion, the results are modest. The BSP 2017 Financial Inclusion Survey reports that:
When Crisis Strikes, Cash Saves
On 12 January, the Philippine government urged a total evacuation of nearly a million people near the capital Manila in response to the eruption of the Philippines’ second-most-active volcano. The Taal Volcano spewed ash up to nine miles (14 kilometers) in the air and is now set for a possible “explosive eruption”, according to the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (PHIVOLCS).
The country’s Department of Agriculture announced that the eruption’s damage to crops and livestock has reached a figure of PHP74.55 million (US$1.5M) and is still increasing. Affected farmers and fishermen will be given cash loan assistance worth PHP25,000 (US$493), with zero interest, payable in three years. In addition to in-kind donations, various organisations and government agencies are also accepting cash transfers as donations for evacuees.
The Philippines is no stranger to crisis situations, enduring numerous natural disasters on a yearly basis. In November 2013, the Philippines was struck by super-Typhoon Haiyan where over 6,000 people died. As the storm approached, the Mayor of Tacloban, a coastal town of 240,000 people lying directly in the storm’s projected path, ordered a series of protective measures to be taken, one of which was to construct walls of sandbags around the town’s ATMs. He also requested the country’s central bank to pre-position an extra supply of low-denomination banknotes because he knew that access to cash would be an immediate priority once the accompanying storm-surge retreated.
Watch the first Episode of our Cash and Crises series to learn more on how cash saves when crisis strikes: