Royal visit with microfinance clients

BY

FROM THE MARGINS

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The Philippines’ financial inclusion efforts received a much-needed boost with the recent visit of H.M. Queen Maxima of the Netherlands. As the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Advocate (UNSGSA) for Inclusive Finance for Development, she met with President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas Governor Eli Remolona, Jr., other government officials and private sector leaders from May 21-23 to promote key initiatives on financial inclusion, stressing the importance of connectivity, cybersecurity, digitalization and resilience against economic and climate-related challenges. 

Queen Maxima is a leading global voice on inclusive finance. Her first visit to the country was in 2015, to witness the launch of the Philippines’ National Strategy for Financial Inclusion.
As UNSGSA, Queen Maxima champions financial services for communities around the world, especially the marginalized and underserved groups. I first met her in June 2015, when she visited one of our bank branches in Silang, Cavite. She talked with one of our clients, a pineapple grower.  She observed how our clients did their transactions from our Micro-banking Office (MBO) -- something novel at that time since it brought basic financial services directly to the communities. I recall that the Queen liked the convenience that MBO offered clients: how it brought banking services right at the village level, allowing clients to save on travel time and transportation costs.  The MBO allowed clients to withdraw, deposit, get loans and pay their regular amortizations without having to go to the branches in city centers.  The BSP subsequently issued guidelines allowing rural banks and microfinance-oriented banks to operate Branch Lite Units (BLUs) based on this model. 


In her second visit to the country, Queen Maxima again conducted field visits to interact with financial service users in the countryside. She visited a fisherfolk community in Talim Island. It is located in Rizal Province, but one needs to take a 45-60-minute boat ride to reach the island. 

The Queen and her delegation were welcomed by CARD MRI Rizal Bank, Inc. (CARD RBI) President/CEO Elma Valenzuela in Talim Island. CARD RBI is a microfinance-oriented bank that operates in Talim, offering last–mile financial solutions to island residents. Queen Maxima met with CARD RBI clients to observe how digitalization is impacting their lives.   She wanted to find out if island residents are able to benefit from the connectivity and getting better access to financial services like savings, credit, microinsurance, and other services in the context of financial inclusion. She also wanted to observe how konek2CARD, a microfinance bank-developed mobile application, is helping clients.

During the field visit, the residents of Talim island told the Queen that there are real barriers to their access to formal financial services.  Prior to CARD RBI, they used to spend two hours and ₱200 to travel to the mainland for their bank transactions.  

Rossalyn Villaflor, microfinance client and konek2CARD agent, was gratified by her audience with the Queen. According to her, she borrowed an initial loan of ₱5,000 from her MFI in 2015. After 15 loan cycles, she was able to borrow ₱150,000, which she uses as a revolving fund in konek2CARD. By enabling other island residents to have access to banking services via this mobile app, she is also contributing to financial inclusion in the island.  

During the interview with the Queen, Rossalyn shared the positive impact of microfinance in her life. She said access to credit enabled her to grow her fishing and direct selling business, which earns her about ₱30,000 a month. She also learned the importance of savings and microinsurance in improving her family’s resiliency.

Queen Maxima also met another client, Leonel Alviso, a 39-year-old fisherman. Like Rossalyn, Leonel started with a loan of P5,000 but after five cycles, he now has a loan of P50,000. He owns 20 fish cages and earns about P50,000 every quarter from selling fish. According to him, this business has not only provided for his family but enabled him to employ other people. When asked about his savings and loan, Leonel immediately showed his phone to Queen Maxima, demonstrating how he can easily view his account details via the konek2CARD mobile app. When asked by the Queen about his dreams for the future, he responded with enthusiasm: “to own a fishpond.”

As reported in the news, Queen Maxima was happy to note the significant progress that the Philippines has made in financial inclusion since her previous visit. She is impressed that more than half of Filipinos now have bank accounts, but as she said, “there is so much more to be done.” 

Thank you, Queen Maxima, for meeting our microfinance clients and for your tireless efforts to champion financial inclusion!

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“We need to look at what tools we give to people to really improve their lives and have safe financial futures.” – H.M. Queen Maxima of the Netherlands

(Dr. Jaime Aristotle B. Alip is a poverty eradication advocate. He is the founder of the Center for Agriculture and Rural Development Mutually-Reinforcing Institutions (CARD MRI).)