#MINDANAO: Be wise, Digitalize

Published September 30, 2021, 3:31 PM

by John Tria

Yes. A timely message from those like us who have learned that digitalizing our businesses, no matter how small, brings benefits not only for today, but for tomorrow.

Let me share a story.

I just bought supplies from a neighborhood store using a social media messaging system and paid for it through a popular fund transfer platform. I dare say the purchases made were farm products substantial giving said store a good bit of revenue for the day when compared to the usual walk in customer.

The products were delivered quickly, and I enjoyed it after cooking it for dinner that evening.

Four takeaways can be gained from this episode.

One, that people are more connected online than we think. Imagine a corner store with a social media page and responsive to private messages. Social media apps have become a veritable phonebook if you‘re looking for someone, whether a long lost classmate or even a rare product you cannot find in wet or supermarkets. Perhaps it’s time for us to accept this ubiquity.

Two, internet speeds have improved. While there may still be some areas where coverage is weak, transacting over the phone and transferring money real time without past hitches only show better speeds.

With this, digital finance as espoused by the Bangko Sentral has allowed many to get bank accounts and avoid long lines at bank branches and reduce COVID exposure. In line with this, recent news of the Landbank of the Philippines enabling 4.47 million unbanked citizens through the national ID system are positive developments, as it affords more pinoys the opportunity not only to save money, but to transact safely and avail of financial products such as business and personal loans to allow those such as the neighborhood merchant I mentioned to thrive and expand in the future.

Perhaps whoever runs stores such as these can continue doing so well into the future, creating more employment opportunities in the process. Likewise enabling is the capability to now open bank accounts online. This also allows more OFWs to avail f more affordable banking and remittance services by doing bank transfers.

These are a big part of the hope I wrote about early this year, that more national ID registrants will translate to more formal bank accounts and as a result, higher levels of financial and digital inclusion. Formal banking is no longer for only the affluent and employed. Small merchants and businesses will now have more options such as their peers in other countries where digital banking and financial technology are more widely used.

The final takeaways is that being in Mindanao away from the capital, the confidence brought from such transactions show us that there is a bright future in digital commerce for even the simplest merchants. This builds the confidence to take part of a wider ecosystem of trade. Are we seeing a narrowing of the digital divide? Perhaps. As government pursues more digitalization and efforts like the ease of doing business law, more and more enterprises even the smallest, will be encouraged to do more online transactions.

This opens them up to a bigger world of business they can be part of. With the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, and the increased trade within ASEAN, and the current logistical difficulties giving rise to challenges in exporting, engaging online commerce at the grassroots level to find local buyers for products traditionally exported will enable businesses to thrive, and new markets for the same product.

In sum, we will need to embrace, and not fear the digital world.