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Is blockchain next after the Internet?



The global buzz around blockchain, the distributed ledger technology for transferring and securing data immutably, had spread across the Philippines. It is not difficult to find someone who has not heard of blockchain anywhere in the country.

This nascent but emerging technology has already penetrated several sectors, particularly the financial technology (fintech) space, and is even seen to dominate some of the operations in various industries, with many institutions beginning to embrace the digital innovation to remain relevant and competitive in the cutthroat world of business.

The UnionBank of the Philippines (UBP) is one of the early adopters of blockchain in the country. In fact, UBP considers itself as both a banking and a technology institution as the lender embraces the role of the digital pioneer helping mold the future.

“Blockchain is the future,” UBP President Edwin R. Bautista said in one of our interviews.
But while digital transformation is central to how UBP is shaping the future to get ahead of the game and meet the evolving landscape in the financial institution industry, the bank insists the ongoing transformation to full digital “always starts with our values and our purpose,” Justo Ortiz, chairman of the board, said.

“While we value technology, UBP’s digital transformation is really more about people and culture,”  Henry Rhoel R. Aguda, UBP Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Technology & Operations Officer and Chief Transformation Officer also said.

He added, “UBP has spent more energy and focus in making sure that its digital transformation values people and the creation of the right people values in its culture.
Values such as Ubuntu, Magis, and ‘no one left behind.’   Ubuntu relates to the open-source operating system and the lender’s adoption of the Ignatian philosophy centered on the glory of God nuanced with the militarists’ inclusion mindset.  UBPs digital transformation takes care the positive changes outlive the changes in technology.

The Ubuntu way

According to Ortiz, the concept of Ubuntu started the bank’s digital transformation initiative. Ubuntu, he said, means community in South Africa. It is the concept of putting more importance on people that is UnionBank’s core value and shift in business model. As UnionBank builds communities, it also wants to elevate lives by promoting inclusive growth.

Ubuntu is such a strong community value in UBP that people naturally come together across domains, organizations and national geographies to help one another, the bank claims. It helps customers and the community.   “This is essential if one is to transform a culture towards the right path where change is embraced by everyone and no one moves on their own without regard for their colleagues,” Aguda explained.

Project i2i

One of UBP’s ambitious blockchain initiatives is called Project i2i, for island-to-island. The project, in collaboration with US-based blockchain software technology firm ConsenSys,  seeks to interconnect rural banks via decentralized ledger technology (DLT) and to bring an estimated 35 million unbanked Filipinos into the fold known as the financial system.

Bautista said that by linking rural banks to commercial banks, Project i2i would help unlock financial exclusion and welcome millions more unbanked Filipinos to a digital future where everyone has an opportunity to participate.

“Rural banks are excluded in the formal clearing system but, by themselves, they represent [a large chunk] of [the banking industry] and they are there in the grassroots, in many areas where commercial banks are not available,” according to the executive.

“So if you want to reach the unbanked, we have to create a way to provide banking services which will serve as a link to the commercial banking the National Retail Payment System (NRPS) of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP). This linkage will not only allow enrolled users in the platform to move money among themselves but also to commercial banks.

Moving forward

Bautista said in the future when everything is automated, operations and technology would be one. It was for this reason that the lender developed and piloted various innovative functions such as UBP’s mobile banking and digital analytics units.

With Komfie Manalo