MANILA, Philippines – They came when no one did and, in the end, made a difference.
A Surigao-based local bank, Cantilan Bank Inc., is now doing what most banks would deem crazy: convert the unbanked poor and indigenous peoples into saving communities.
In one of the breakout sessions of the CITI-Financial Times Financial Education Summit 2012 this week, Cantilan Bank Office of Strategic Management Division Head Tanya Hotchkiss said they have been very conscious of making their financial services inclusive.
This mission brought their bank to far-flung and remote areas in Mindanao.
“We only got into microsavings for one particular reason. Our strategy for sustainable growth and in particular, financial inclusion itself, is a really, really viable,” Hotchkiss said.
“Financial inclusion means for us is providing financial access to remote communities that have never been served before. This will include communities located in remote hillside or mountainside areas. They’re hard to traverse because the roads are notoriously bad,” she added.
Their micro-approach to banking has led them to the doorstep of the Indigenous Peoples (IP) in Surigao del Norte, specifically the Mamanwas, who are poised to receive their hefty share of the national mineral wealth.
The Mamanwas are among the 17 Lumad ethnolinguistic groups in the Visayas and Mindanao. The other 16 are the Atta, Bagobo, Banwaon, B’laan, Bukidnon, Dibabawon, Higaonon, Mandaya, Manguwangan, Manobo, Mansaka, Tagakaolo, Tasaday, Tboli, Teduray, and Ubo.
Hotchkiss said they cannot allow the Mamanwas to squander their share into buying useless items like karaoke machines. They went to the IPs and educated them on how to save and budget their money.
She said around 700 Mamanwas received microsavings training from Cantilan Bank while 50 Mamanwa leaders received a 2-day training on accounting and budgetintg for non-accountants.
The bank’s efforts were well received by the IPs who never thought their money was “good enough” to deposit in a bank.
Hotchkiss said the IPs would always ask them, “Bakit ngayon lang kayo?” Sometimes, they would say, “Hindi namin akalain tatanggapin ninyo ang pera namin dahil barya.” (We didn’t think you’d accept our money because we only have coins.)
The Mamanwa tribes opened bank accounts for various projects, while each tribe member invested in their own account.
Hotchkiss said that apart from the IPs, they also reached out to poor families in Surigao who were covered by the government’s Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) program. They were able to do this through a partnership with the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) in 2011.
She said that it was a logical step since 100% of the IPs were CCT beneficiaries. She said they also taught CCT recipients on financial services to help them budget their money, particularly the funds they receive under the CCT program.
Under the CCT program, the government extends around P2,500 per month as cash incentive to poor families for keeping their children in school, sending them for regular check-ups, and for receiving pre- and post-natal care, in the case of pregnant women.
Being a distribution channel for the CCT allows them to provide basic literacy training to 135,000 CCT beneficiaries residing in 270 barangays.
“The IPs really considered it an advanatge to learn more about how to use their money, it was the same way for people receiving their CCT disbursements. We’re distributing to 135,000 beneficiaries and most of these people they’re the ones really living below the poverty line and it was so crucial for them to know what to do if they get P2,500 in a month,” Hotchkiss said.
She also said these trainings encouraged them to open their first savings accounts at Cantilan Bank. Hotchkiss said none of the CCT beneficiaries had access to financial services before they opened accounts with the bank.
Hotchkiss said their product offerings included Cantilan’s Students Savers Club (SSC), which allowed students to open P100 worth accounts. They get locked piggybanks which are periodically collected from their schools by Cantilan representatives.
Cantilan holds the keys to these piggybanks to prevent children from opening them and using their savings.
As of November, Hotchkiss said these SSC accounts have reached 7,563, and they amount to roughly $425,000. Of this group, the subgroup represented by CCT beneficiaries cover 1,471 accounts and they have close to $17,000 in the bank.
“The lessons that we learned financial inclusion is definitelly a viable strategy for us, for stable, sustainable growth. Microdeposit portfolio’s are a good source of funds for us and truly, we really believe in this, we can only be as successful as our community is,” Hotchkiss said. – Rappler.com