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Virtual finance services now as real as they get

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MANILA, Philippines—What would have been unthinkable a decade ago has now become part of daily living—things people swear they can’t live without.

Take banking services. Most major financial institutions in the country, such as Banco de Oro Unibank, Metropolitan Bank & Trust Co. and Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI), now allow customers to check their accounts, transfer funds and conduct credit transactions securely through the Internet.

These financial services are now the most basic a bank is expected to offer.

Clients carry out these transactions using desktop computers, laptops, and even mobile phones.

Recently, the country’s telecommunications firms have jumped on the technological bandwagon.

In a nation where over a tenth of the population is working abroad, concerned Filipino households have been searching for better and more affordable ways to receive funds across borders.

Seeing the need, telcos, almost at the same time, seized on the idea of facilitating the cash remitted by workers abroad to their families here.

Dominant carrier Smart Communications, through its electronic money brand Smart Money, has already partnered with several international finance firms in offering remittance services.

With partners like MoneyGram International and Western Union, Smart allows overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) to put money directly into the Smart Money accounts, which may be withdrawn by their families here for a minimal fee.

The funds, which are virtually stored in a mobile wallet tied to a Smart user’s mobile phone line, may be drawn at any Smart center nationwide. Withdrawals can also be made using Smart Money cards at any automated teller machine (ATM) in the country.

Ubiquity has also become a byword of Globe Telecom Inc. as it offers its own remittance service, GCash Remit.

To send money, a user only has to visit a GCash Remit outlet anywhere in the Philippines, fill up a simple form, present a valid ID and hand the cash to the teller.

The beneficiary can now go to a nearby GCash Remit outlet to claim the cash. GCash Remit outlets may be found in malls, pharmacies, convenience stores, or just about any establishment that sells Globe prepaid load cards and other products.

“We recognize the need for efficient remittance services for various Filipino consumer segments. These include breadwinners or family members who manage household budgets, and the youth who depend largely on allowances from parents and guardians,” G-Xchange Inc. president Rizza Maniego-Eala said.

As a result, these platforms—Smart Money and GCash—have become acceptable forms of payment for many retailers in the country.

Subscribers not only can buy prepaid credit using these services, they can also pay their utility charges, as well as settle restaurant and shopping bills using a debit feature. Some schools even allow students to pay tuition using these electronic money services.

Of course, users may still buy prepaid load using their Smart Money and GCash accounts.

But it’s not just sending money and paying for products that have gone high-tech these days. With Internet usage becoming more widespread, it’s only natural for asset managers to cash in on using technology that has advanced by leaps and bounds.

For people with extra income saved up and are wondering what to do with it, several brokerage firms now offer online trading services that allow users to buy and sell shares on their own, without the hassle (or help, depending on how you look at it) of dealing with a trader.

Listed CitisecOnline.com Inc. is the country’s pioneer in online stock investing.

It now offers a set “of features, including up-to-date and comprehensive research and analysis, streaming market information and superior online tools and functionalities tailored for first-time investors, and even the more sophisticated active market players.”

First Metro Securities Corp., a subsidiary of Metropolitan Bank & Trust Co., also offers similar online trading services for small investors. The advantage of trading on your own is that you’ll be paying less in commission, which means you pocket more of your gains.

While many may find online trading a little intimidating, companies have found simpler applications that may hit closer to home for tech-savvy consumers.

Recently, the Ayala-led BPI launched a service that allows customers to order at McDonalds delivery and settle their bills using a mobile phone application.

Another service from Globe lets users buy in-game virtual items from Zynga applications, such as “Farmville” and “Mafia Wars,” using GCash.

With these services—certainly the first of many more to come—the use of paper bills and coins may become obsolete.

The day will also come when, instead of a wallet, you reach for your mobile phone to pay for a pack of gum.


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