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UnionBank eyeing to make more branches ‘fully digital’ within the year

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UNIONBANK of the Philippines is set to convert more branches into “fully digital” offices this year amid its push to digitize its processes and services.

In a recent interview, UnionBank President and Chief Executive Officer Edwin R. Bautista said the bank will open three fully digital bank branches called “The ARK” by converting its existing branches.

“We’ll have one in Cebu, another in Davao and one in [Bonifacio Global City],” Mr. Bautista told BusinessWorld, adding that the three new digital branches will be launched between the second and fourth quarters of this year.

Aside from this, the Aboitiz-led lender will also roll out 10 smaller digital branches dubbed as “ARKlet” set to open in the fourth quarter.

“The ARKlets are scattered in the Philippines, but mostly in key centers,” he said. “We will start with places with large concentrations of millennials and business executives who are more willing to adapt.”

The ARK eliminates the common and cumbersome elements in a bank branch such as queues and paper forms. Instead, customers will be entertained by “bank ambassadors” and transactions will be accomplished through electronic terminals and mobile tablets.

UnionBank opened its first ARK at Ayala Avenue in Makati City in November.

Henry Rhoel R. Aguda, UnionBank’s chief transformation officer, said the lender is gearing up to automate and digitize its brick-and-mortar branches.

“We will grow but the strategy is not to keep adding branches. The strategy is to make it all automated,” Mr. Aguda said, adding the bank might open new branches as new cities in the Philippines emerge.

“We’re opportunistic if a new city comes out. We’ll put a branch there.”

The automated branches will support the lender’s push to digitize banking processes and services.

Previously, Mr. Bautista said the bank continues to embrace “disruptive” technologies such as application programming interface, data analytics, robotics, artificial intelligence and blockchain to keep up with times.

“Market developments are forcing banks to hire technology to remain relevant to the customers. The internet and mobile devices are changing customer habits, and so we must respond,” Mr. Bautista said.

UnionBank earlier launched its Project i2i that aims to connect rural banks using the blockchain technology.

UnionBank, the ninth largest lender in asset terms as of end-2017, logged a net profit of P2.9 billion last quarter, up 31.8% from the P2.2 billion posted the same period last year, on the back of sustained growth across its businesses.

Shares in the bank were unchanged at P88.95 apiece on Wednesday. — Karl Angelo N. Vidal