According to Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Amando Tetangco, the country’s economic story last year could be summed up in two words—investment grade.
The year 2013 saw the Philippines achieve investment grade credit rating—not just from one, but from all the three major credit rating agencies.
These rating agencies—Standard & Poor’s, Fitch and Moody’s—have cited the disciplined fiscal management with the declining reliance on foreign currency debt, strong external position, and low and stable inflation levels as bases for the score.
But Tetangco said that to help make the expected continued positive macroeconomic developments translate into the much-sought after objective of inclusive growth, the BSP will step up their advocacy for financial inclusion in 2014.
Financial inclusion is the delivery of financial services at affordable costs to sections of disadvantaged and low-income segments of society.
An estimated 2.5 billion working-age adults globally have no access to the types of formal financial services delivered by regulated financial institutions.
In the Philippines, the number of households with savings only reached 26.2 percent in the fourth quarter of 2013, although higher than the 24.5 percent recorded in the previous quarter.
Almost two-thirds (65.1 percent) of household savers have bank deposit accounts while 23.8 percent kept their savings at home and 10.8 percent put their money in cooperatives, paluwagan and other credit/loan associations.
It is argued that as banking services are in the nature of public good; the availability of banking and payment services to the entire population without discrimination is the prime objective of financial inclusion public policy.
“We believe this is one of the primary and more direct ways we can help the effort to support and rebuild the country, especially in the aftermath of the natural disasters that continue to strike at our hearts every year,” Tetangco said.
The BSP financial inclusion framework is built on three areas: 1) broad access to appropriate credit at reasonable rates through responsible and proportionate regulation that encourages market innovation, 2) timely and relevant
economic and financial learning, and 3) well-founded financial consumer protection.
At the center of the BSP’s financial inclusion framework is microfinance.
In 2000, the BSP was mandated by the General Banking Law to recognize microfinance as a legitimate banking activity and to set the rules and regulations for its practice within the banking sector. In the same year, the BSP declared microfinance as its flagship program for poverty alleviation.
In 2013, the Philippines was once again recognized as first in the world in terms of its regulatory framework and practices for microfinance. The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), in its annual global survey, noted that the BSP continued to promote an enabling environment for microfinance as a key advocacy to support poverty reduction. It also cited advances in mobile access to bank accounts, the agent relationships for cross-selling of microinsurance products and the geospatial mapping currently being undertaken to account for different types of financial service access points in the country.
It is worth noting, according to Tetangco, that since 2002 microfinance in the banking system has grown dramatically.
The number of microfinance borrowers increased by 191 percent to 1,137,813 million in 2012 from 390,635 clients in 2002.
The microfinance loan portfolio expanded from P2.6 billion in 2002 to P8.4 billion in 2012, which is equivalent to a remarkable growth of 223 percent.
From 2011 to 2012, there was sustained increase in the number of microfinance borrowers, amount of microfinance loans outstanding and savings of microfinance clients.
While regional distribution still exhibits the trend where concentration is at regions such as NCR and CALABARZON, it is interesting to note that there is an active and thriving market for microfinance for some regions where there is relatively low usage of regular banking products and services.
For example, Caraga is next to NCR and CALABARZON in terms of amount of microfinance loans outstanding and consistently belongs in the top 3 for the different microfinance loan products such as microenterprise loans, micro-agri loans and housing microfinance.
But Tetangco said that there is still room for further developments, stressing the fact that there is a need for intervention to accelerate the process of bringing down the benefits of growth to the grassroots.
“Empowering people to get out of poverty by giving them access to microcredit from formal financial service providers is a winning strategy. How to reach out to the teeming millions who live in poverty is the challenge before us,” Tetangco said.
Syarifuddin Hasan, Indonesia’s Minister of Cooperatives and SMEs, said that the Philippines has a good chance to decrease poverty because of the high economic growth.
“PH has a good chance to decrease poverty because of high economic growth. (But) Economic growth must be followed by job creation to decrease poverty,” Hasan said.
Aside from job creation, he said that people must be encouraged to become entrepreneurs. And this is where a strong microfinance framework comes in.
In the Philippines, MSMEs (micro, small and medium enterprises) account for 99.6 percent of our total enterprises, employs 61 percent of our total employed population, and contributes 32 percent to the GDP.
Tetangco said that one of their principal thrusts is to develop a financial system that is inclusive and reaches out to the unbanked.
“To us, an inclusive financial system makes for a more stable financial system; equally important, it enables us to help improve the lives of our people. This is particularly true for microfinance, our flagship program for poverty alleviation which we have been nurturing since 2000,” Tetangco said.
“Access to financial services empowers households to better manage their resources and improve the quality of their lives; and · that broad-based access to finance and financial inclusion support financial stability and facilitate inclusive growth,” he added.
Over the past ten years, Tetangco said that they have seen progress.
“This tells us that these microfinance clients have attained a level of financial independence ... from gaining access to microcredit,” Tetangco said.
“But that’s only the banking system, there are a number of institutions outside the banking system that cater to microfinance and it is estimated that the banking system accounts for about a third of the total. So what we’ve seen in the banking system, you multiply it by three to get a sense of the total of microfinance activities,” Tetangco said.
He also stressed that the rate of default continuous to be low.
“That is something that we have always reminded the microfinance institutions to keep an eye on and so far, they’ve been able to keep it to relatively low level,” he said.
Tetangco said that the development of the Philippine microfinance industry “has been phenomenal.”
“Ten years ago, microfinance was limited to microcredit provided by leading NGOs, cooperatives and a handful of banks. Since then, there has been a significant increase and diversification of microfinance players, products and services,as well as delivery channels,” Tetangco said.