Online bank transfers up 25%, ATM transactions down amid pandemic – BSP

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 7) – More Filipinos turned to online fund transfers instead of ATM transactions to access their money amid the coronavirus lockdown, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas said.

BSP Governor Benjamin Diokno reported a 25 percent spike in online bank transactions for the first one and a half months of the enhanced community quarantine, compared to 45 days before strict stay-at-home rules took effect.

This translated to 2.13 million more digital bank transfers, cumulatively worth ₱64.62 billion.

Combining recorded inter-bank fund transfers on the two platforms, the central bank official said transactions more than tripled in March and April compared to year-ago levels.

Financial technology firm PayMaya also reported a more than double surge in the number of transactions done through its app, saying there's been additional traffic for virtual payments to groceries, drugstores, and other essential firms.

Depositors can use two channels to move their money from accounts in one bank to a different bank online. Instapay allows real-time crediting of fund transfers worth below ₱50,000, while bigger fund transfers are cleared via PesoNET. Both clearing houses charge service fees, but these were waived by most banks during the lockdown period.

BSP managing director Vicente de Villa III pointed out a corresponding 25 percent drop in withdrawals and other fund transfers done via automated teller machines, which Diokno said was "appropriate" in the context of the COVID-19 crisis.

"ATM is full of contact. You touch the machine, you get contaminated... There are also costs in maintaining these kinds of machines, that's why there are fees," De Villa said.

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"If we move forward and encourage banks to further use digital forms of transacting, the market will actually correct on its own. These fees will probably dwindle when digital payments become on the rise," he added.

Last year, the central bank lifted a 2013 moratorium on ATM fees of banks, effectively allowing lenders to seek higher charges whenever a customer uses a different bank's machine to withdraw money.

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The BSP has set a goal to transfer half of all local fund transactions to digital channels by 2023.