Article 6 min

Going Global — doing business in the Philippines

Business - Philippines
Business - Philippines

The Republic of the Philippines is a group of 7,641 islands in South East Asia and has 108 million people. The country is an emerging market, a newly-industrialized country; it is advancing toward industrialization but still has a significant agriculture-based workforce.

The Philippines is quickly developing its digital economy. The average Filipino internet user spends almost 11 hours online, the highest in the world; they spend many hours on social media; and they were recently called the Text Capital of the World. Incredibly, 159% of the population have mobile subscriptions, meaning that many people have multiple accounts.

For those businesses looking to expand globally, the Philippines, with its internet-savvy and mobile-loving population, offers tremendous opportunities. In fact, in 2019, Manila was named one of the world’s friendliest cities for fintech startups.

The Philippines quick stats


Sources: We Are Social 2020 Digital Report, Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA), Global Findex World Bank, BSP

Filipino fintech on the rise

According to the Philippines Fintech Report 2020, there are 197 fintech companies and many others are expanding their operations to the country. The fintech market is projected to grow to $10.5 billion in 2022, a growth of 84.2% from 2018. In terms of the number of companies, the most significant sectors are:

  • Lending, 24%
  • Payments, 21%
  • Wallets, 12%
  • Remittance, 12%

The total transactional value for payments in 2021 is expected to be over $15 billion.

The country does seem to have a favorable regulatory environment towards the fintech industry. As there are over 50 million unbanked and underserved adult Filipinos, improving financial inclusion can boost the economy and improve the lives of all Filipinos. With their love of the internet and mobile, fintech is a natural fit to improve access to the financial system.

New AML legislation

As a developing nation, Anti-Money Laundering (AML) and fraud prevention are especially pertinent challenges. To avoid going on the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) “grey list” before the February 2021 deadline, the Philippines passed a law expanding the powers of the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC). Some of the new capabilities include the right to obtain Ultimate Beneficial Ownership information.

The AMLC calls for a risk-based approach to combating money laundering, including Customer Due Diligence and Enhanced Due Diligence on higher-risk customers. This approach includes:

  • Identity verification
  • Watchlist screening
  • Monitoring changes in politically exposed persons (PEP) status
  • Monitoring transactions

Besides the AMLC, Philippines regulators include the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the Central Bank of the Philippines (BSP). Last year, due to the Wirecard fiasco, where over $3 billion went missing, the BSP told banks and financial institutions they need to tighten their KYC procedures. BSP Governor Benjamin Diokno stated, “I think there’s got to be some lessons here, to the extent that they (banks) have to be strict in knowing your clients.”

New cryptocurrency regulations

To help ensure Virtual Asset Service Providers (VASPs) are in sync with FATF requirements, the Philippines has issued cryptocurrency guidelines. VASPs will need to:

  • Apply for a license (“certificate of authority”) to operate as a money sending business
  • Conduct Customer Due Diligence
  • Treat cryptocurrency transactions as cross-border wire transfers, keeping participant data for those over 50,000 pesos (USD $1,000)
  • Report suspicious activity or single transactions of 500,000 pesos (USD $10,000), which will need Extra Due Diligence and have payout restrictions

Governor Diokno said:

These new and updated cryptocurrency regulations will ensure that activities relating to VASPs are executed within an unbroken chain of regulated entities. We have seen accelerated growth in the use of virtual currencies in the past three years and it is high time that we broaden the scope of existing regulations in recognition of the evolving nature of this financial innovation and set out commensurate risk management expectations.

PhilSys — a National ID system

The Philippines is introducing a national ID system, Philippine Identification System, or PhilSys. The goal is to simplify transactions, promote better delivery of social service and strengthen financial inclusion. The system will also help decrease the use of inefficient and expensive physical documents and processes.

The BSP had stated it would require the PhilSys number as part of the minimum information collected by financial institutions and banks before carrying out a financial transaction.

As of January, 2021, Step 2 registration is rolling out on a small-scale basis and involves validating supporting documents and capturing biometric data. Each ID contains 10 pieces of demographic information, including the person’s full name, gender, date of birth, place of birth, blood type, address and whether or not they are a Filipino national. The IDs also contain biometric data, including a facial image, a full set of fingerprints, and an iris scan.

The goal is to have 50-70 million Filipinos registered by the end of 2021. A particular focus on early registration is on unbanked people; with a significant economic divide between those in the agricultural sector and those in other sectors, improving the most impoverished will go a long way to helping the country’s citizens. With effective ID, the hope is that more people will get bank accounts and access to credit, and that this will also simplify and speed up access to critical government services.

Business - Manilla

eCommerce — a need for public trust

While eCommerce is growing in the Philippines, especially since the pandemic, Filipinos, in general, have low trust in digital platforms and prefer to use traditional cash, rather than digital currencies. Only 2% of the population has credit cards, so eCommerce generally uses cash payments through convenience store chains or delivery services. Creating simpler mobile commerce experiences and improving consumer fraud prevention education can help provide significant gains.

Additionally, eCommerce faces issues due to the complexity and diverse geography of the Philippines. The country’s population being spread across so many islands makes accessing high-bandwidth internet and product distribution challenging. It’s essential to understand the regional differences and difficult logistics involved in fulfilling any eCommerce activity in the country.

However, the future does look upbeat for the growth of the industry. eCommerce is projected to grow to $12 billion per year by 2025, representing 400% growth from 2019.

Ingredients for digital growth

There are many positive elements for the Philippines’ digital economy; the internet and mobile use are ingrained in the culture. The government and regulatory environment promote digitalization. There’s a growing fintech culture and the population is young and tech-savvy.

With a new digital ID system and some changes to help close the digital loop, allowing more economic activity on their mobiles, the Philippines can quickly expand their digital economy, advance financial inclusion and become a wealthier country.

Southeast Asia is growing fast economically and in digital opportunities. Everyone is Someone, Trulioo’s motto, is playing out person by person as the region improves financial inclusion. With Trulioo GlobalGateway, you can instantly verify identities and businesses in the Philippines. GlobalGateway also covers surrounding ASEAN countries, including Brunei, Cambodia, Timor-Leste, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar (Burma), Vietnam, Singapore and Thailand. Contact your account manager for details or, if you’re not an existing Trulioo customer, please contact one of our Identity Specialists for a demo.