More room to boost e-payments as some Filipinos still fear getting scammed

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 2) — The fear of getting scammed hinders the wider use of e-payments in the country, the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas said, despite gains made during the lockdown period.

BSP Governor Benjamin Diokno said that while the pandemic pushed more people to migrate to digital transactions, there's still a huge scope to widen its usage.

"A positive that came out of this pandemic is that it has emphasized the value of digital financial services," Diokno said in a virtual press chat Thursday. "We are confident that consumers, having experienced the convenience, the speed, the transparency of e-payments, will continue to use these services after this pandemic."

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He acknowledged that the wider use of online payments was "accommodated" by policies that allowed greater ease of transacting even across banks. The BSP also removed charges collected for interbank transactions, prompting banks to follow suit and temporarily stop collecting fees for every fund transfer to an account from a different financial firm. However, challenges remain.

"The biggest stumbling block, I would say, is consumer behavior, which is influenced by a lack of awareness and fears of using digital financial services," Diokno added, citing a survey that only 18 percent of bank account holders use e-payment services. Meanwhile, nearly half are "ambivalent" as they worry about fraud and hacking.

This represents a small share of Filipinos, with the BSP recording about 15.8 million people with bank accounts as of the central bank's 2017 Financial Inclusion Survey. Some 77.4 percent of citizens remain unbanked.

Sixty-four percent of those who did not use online channels said they preferred cash, while 20 percent said they didn't know that these services are available.

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Scams proliferated online and via e-mail, text messages, and customer calls even during the quarantine period, aiming to bait depositors into sharing personal information so that fraudsters can access their accounts and steal their cash.

Diokno said these need to be addressed as the "new economy" post-quarantine would rely more on digital infrastructure to limit contact and possible infections when people head out to transact over-the-counter.

The BSP said it is rolling out a digital literacy campaign so more Filipinos can get acquainted with the benefits of going online. It is touted as a safer option amid the COVID-19 crisis as people can handle their finances while at home through mobile or web banking channels.