BIZ BUZZ: Cabinet member on way out? | Inquirer Business

BIZ BUZZ: Cabinet member on way out?

/ 02:06 AM November 21, 2022

Rumors are flying that a key member of President Marcos’ economic team may soon be replaced.This comes as a surprise because it’s been known for some time now that this Cabinet official wasn’t even that interested in his current post and had, in fact, expressed to his confidants that he was interested in returning to his old job by next year.

It now looks like this will happen sooner rather than later.

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One key indicator is that Malacañang recently named a new head for an agency that is part of this Cabinet member’s portfolio. As the performance of this agency is ultimately part of the Cabinet secretary’s “deliverables,” the choice of its head has usually been the prerogative of the Secretary. But not anymore, apparently.

At the same time, we hear that this Cabinet secretary was not included in the President’s official delegation to the recent summits of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in Cambodia and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation group in Thailand.

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Could this be a confirmatory signal that this Cabinet man is really “out” of the President’s inner circle?

It doesn’t help that the recent shift in the power structure within the President’s own inner circle recently cost this Cabinet secretary his main backer, we hear.

In any case, the rumored replacement for this supposedly outgoing Secretary is a current lawmaker who has been known to have an influential voice in the economic policies of several past presidential administrations.

If this comes to pass, expect President Marcos’ economic team to be more proactive in forging government policies and implementing them, rather than the more relaxed approach of the current team (which, we hear, is starting to worry some key business people who want to see reforms and programs move much faster).

Maybe it’s all for the better, given the significant challenges that the country is facing. As to when exactly—or if—this change will happen… abangan!

—Daxim L. Lucas

Future unicorn

Union Bank of the Philippines (UnionBank), the only local bank with a fintech arm, is in talks with prospective investors who would like to invest in this unit. UBX, which has become the Philippines’ leading open finance platform, is attracting a lot of interest from external tech investors just when it is commercializing and monetizing its platform.

And UnionBank is open to selling part of UBX’s equity to a suitable partner. Who knows? The potential may even unlock unicorn status.

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But “it’s not so much [for] the money,” UnionBank president Edwin Bautista told Biz Buzz. Instead, the banking group wants a strategic partner for UBX that will add value and allow it to “continue along the same path and complement that platform.”

Doing an initial public offering is also an option for UBX, he said.

Meanwhile, through a partnership with ThitsaWorks, a fintech backed by the Monetary Authority of Singapore, UBX will provide the necessary digital infrastructure for international remittances between Singapore and the Philippines via its blockchain-powered banking-as-a-service venture i2i.

This is seen to enable more than half a million overseas Filipinos in Singapore to make digital cross-border remittances through its widest network of access points at more affordable rates.

While many remittance options exist for overseas migrant workers in the city-state, most options to reach rural areas where many workers’ families live are still difficult, expensive and slow. People who only have accounts with microfinance institutions and rural banks cannot receive direct payments.

With its strategic partnership with ThitsaWorks, i2i aims to connect small financial institutions to real-time payment networks to enable fast, convenient and ubiquitous cross-border remittances.

This means that overseas Filipinos in Singapore may use the service to send money to any monetary account in the Philippines, whether it is with a bank, another financial institution, or even cash agents under the i2i network. The commercial operations of the pilot program is set for the first quarter of 2023.

—Doris Dumlao-Abadilla

Ending on a strong note

The country’s biggest mall group is ending 2022 with 82 shopping centers. This follows the Friday opening of SM City Tuguegarao, its second and largest mall in Cagayan Valley.

Like the company’s other mall debuts, SM City Tuguegarao opened its doors with 85 percent of the leases awarded to tenants. It also comes with the usual mall amenities plus an al fresco shopping area called Valley Park.

Operator SM Prime Holdings of the Sy family has been seeing a spike in foot traffic, largely thanks to the removal of pandemic restrictions early this year. This is also good news for investors, especially those waiting for SM Prime to launch its anticipated real estate investment trust, which is expected to be the biggest REIT listing on record.

—Miguel R. Camus INQ
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