Rural bankers try carving niche in OFW market

OFW Journalism Consortium

[Reporting from Ibaan municipality, Batangas and Bacolod City, Negros Occidental. Some of the names were changed to protect against probable harm from persons scouring the news for potential victims]

LINDA has a problem with money: she has lots of it.

Her worries are less about meeting daily needs, which she gets from a regular pension, having retired from working as a nonprofit worker, and spouse of a German, in a European country.

Linda’s problem is how to grow a sizeable inheritance her late husband willed to her just recently.

She isn’t alone in such conundrum: rural bankers discovered this lately through dialogues with former overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and current OFW families.

Lorded over by large Manila-based financial institutions, the booming market for remittance by overseas Filipinos has attracted more than a dozen rural banks trying to carve a niche in that market by staying local.

Rural banks, according to Ildefonso Bagasao, are “in the best position to serve the financial needs of OFWs and their families, especially since they know each other and their needs.”

Bagasao is president of Economic Resource Center for Overseas Filipinos (Ercof), a nonprofit group trying to deepen this mutual awareness between OFW families and rural bankers.

Since July, Bagasao and his team has brokered dialogues to discover how families, mainly wives, of OFWs and OFWs themselves are managing new-found wealth from remittances and how rural bankers can help.

Linda is just one of the many participants in these dialogues that started in Bicol, which was organized by Ercof and the Moraleda family-owned Rural Bank of Camalig (Albay) Inc.

The last dialogue was co-organized by Bangko Mabuhay in Cavite on the day, Sept. 26, typhoon Ondoy (international name: Ketsana) stormed through Metro Manila and Luzon.

The financial mosaic formed by Linda’s life as an OFW bare the general storyline of rural folks accustomed to simple living, but are now grappling with ideas on how to handle surplus money more productively.

And with the recent fiasco involving some rural banks in a get-rich-quick scheme, ex-OFWs like Linda understandably worry: it’s money earned with too many trade-offs that are mostly painful to recall.

Like Aurelia Sarina, who lightly chided her husband Primo at another bankers-OFW dialogue in Ibaan, Batangas, for “wasting” some of the money she sent home in the past 17 years as a domestic worker in Italy.

Slow buck

RURAL bankers, however, discovered that ex-OFWs like Linda and Aurelia are concerned less with a fast buck than how to squeeze the strategic worth of their cash.

“They don’t seem in need to borrow money from the bank because they apparently have lots of it,” Bank Victorias’ Bacolod City branch manager Pancho Javelosa mused.

Javelosa saw three seafarers’ wives slid inside luxury cars when the Bank Victorias-sponsored dialogue ended.

Their peer Jurry Tormis, Kabankalan City branch manager, said: “What I think these OFWs need are financial advisors.”

Bank Victorias president Jaime Lopez, however, said the bank is willing “to go beyond money matters” in dealing with OFW clients within their five branches in the southern Philippine provinces of Negros Occidental and Iloilo.

Bagasao agreed with Lopez, urging the rural bankers to provide family counseling as one of their “services”.

Doing so would make OFW-focused rural banking distinct from other attempts to catch a windfall from the P150-billion remittance industry.

One such attempt was the so-called “double-your-money” time deposit scheme that involved 14 rural banks and a financial services firm called the Legacy Group.

Based on news reports, investors in this scheme who got “burned” included OFWs and their family members.

Bagasao said Ercof took the safer but slower boat by linking OFWs to 15 “stable” rural banks.

Data from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas reveals there are 648 rural banks in 75 provinces.

If some of these remittances are saved and invested in rural banks, Bagasao said these remittances can help generate jobs since rural banks are mandated by law to invest their income and offer loans in the rural areas where they operate.

An Ercof report wrote that these banks, including Bank Victorias, have a branch network collectively covering over-220 branches found in 44 provinces.

These banks have collective resources worth P149.4 billion, or 13 percent of the resources of the Philippine rural banking industry, the report added.

Have money, won’t borrow

LINDA said she participated in the dialogue with the rural bankers to know if she can make money out of her inheritance to bankroll her home renovation project.

Likewise, she also plans to put up a coffee shop.

Marivic Valencia said as an observation that ex-OFWs like Linda and wives of OFWs like her dive into business sans having the skills.

Marivic admits they need people who can become their financial coach.

She said the coaching that occurred during the dialogue organized by Bangko Kabayan in Batangas was helpful.

A bank manager, for example, advised Linda to open a one-year time deposit, send the money via mobile phone, and withdraw proceeds of her time deposit also through her mobile phone.

The manager’s additional advice: “If you want to pursue your coffee shop business, be visible to customers and be hands-on in the business.”

Bagasao said by advising OFWs and OFW families in their financial needs and aspirations, rural banks can remain stable and create a resilient customer base.

That is also expected by OFW family members like Shirley Buenaflor from Rosario municipality in Batangas.

Buenaflor dreams of running a business out of some savings coming from her Saudi Arabia-based husband’s remittances, but she doesn’t know how to run one.

Buenaflor told a Bangko Kabayan staff: “I hope you can help us every step of the way.”

“No other financial institution knows the needs of rural folk and could offer friendly and personalized services than grassroots financial institutions such as rural banks, whose management and staff live in the same neighborhoods as OFWs,” Bagasao said.

He says Ercof is optimistic the dialogues, which are part of the Bayaning Bayanihan awareness campaign of the consortium of 15 banks and of Ercof, will enhance the relationship between rural bankers and their clients.

According to briefing materials, the campaign will stress the strategic role of rural banks in countryside development.

Other institutions involved in Bayaning Bayanihan ( include: Rang-ay Bank (Ilocos and Cordillera Administrative regions); Bank of Florida (Pampanga); GM Bank (Nueva Ecija); First Macro Bank (Pateros, Metro Manila); Bangko Kabayan (Batangas), Bangko Mabuhay (Cavite), Quezon Capital Rural Bank (Quezon), Camalig Bank (Bicol region); Bank Victorias (Negros Occidental), 1st Valley Rural Bank (Misamis Oriental and other Mindanao provinces), and Cantilan Bank (Caraga region).

Four other banks —One Network Bank (Mindanao island), Guagua Rural Bank (Pampanga), Xavier Punla Bank (Misamis Oriental), and Xavier Tibod Bank (Bukidnon)— are also part of the Ercof-coordinated consortium of 15 banks.

These banks have each designated an OFW desk officer to not only receive queries from OFWs abroad, but to act as the OFW’s financial consultant and planner.

The OFW desk officer can provide the portfolio customized to OFW concerns such as education, housing, health, or buffer fund for retirement.

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