ESSAY: Rural bankers try carving niche in OFW market

Reporting from Ibaan municipality, Batangas and Bacolod City, Negros Occidental. Some of the names were changed to protect against probable harm from persons scouring the news for potential victims]

LINDA has a problem with money: she has lots of it.

Her worries are less about meeting daily needs, which she gets from a regular pension, having retired from working as a nonprofit worker, and spouse of a German, in a European country.

Linda’s problem is how to grow a sizeable inheritance her late husband willed to her just recently.

She isn’t alone in such conundrum: rural bankers discovered this lately through dialogues with former overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and current OFW families.

Lorded over by large Manila-based financial institutions, the booming market for remittance by overseas Filipinos has attracted more than a dozen rural banks trying to carve a niche in that market by staying local.

Rural banks, according to Ildefonso Bagasao, are “in the best position to serve the financial needs of OFWs and their families, especially since they know each other and their needs.”

Bagasao is president of Economic Resource Center for Overseas Filipinos (Ercof), a nonprofit group trying to deepen this mutual awareness between OFW families and rural bankers.

Since July, Bagasao and his team has brokered dialogues to discover how families, mainly wives, of OFWs and OFWs themselves are managing new-found wealth from remittances and how rural bankers can help.

Linda is just one of the many participants in these dialogues that started in Bicol, which was organized by Ercof and the Moraleda family-owned Rural Bank of Camalig (Albay) Inc.

The last dialogue was co-organized by Bangko Mabuhay in Cavite on the day, Sept. 26, typhoon Ondoy (international name: Ketsana) stormed through Metro Manila and Luzon.

The financial mosaic formed by Linda’s life as an OFW bare the general storyline of rural folks accustomed to simple living, but are now grappling with ideas on how to handle surplus money more productively.

And with the recent fiasco involving some rural banks in a get-rich-quick scheme, ex-OFWs like Linda understandably worry: it’s money earned with too many trade-offs that are mostly painful to recall.

Like Aurelia Sarina, who lightly chided her husband Primo at another bankers-OFW dialogue in Ibaan, Batangas, for “wasting” some of the money she sent home in the past 17 years as a domestic worker in Italy.

Slow buck

RURAL bankers, however, discovered that ex-OFWs like Linda and Aurelia are concerned less with a fast buck than how to squeeze the strategic worth of their cash.

“They don’t seem in need to borrow money from the bank because they apparently have lots of it,” Bank Victorias’ Bacolod City branch manager Pancho Javelosa mused.

Javelosa saw three seafarers’ wives slid inside luxury cars when the Bank Victorias-sponsored dialogue ended.

Their peer Jurry Tormis, Kabankalan City branch manager, said: “What I think these OFWs need are financial advisors.”

Bank Victorias president Jaime Lopez, however, said the bank is willing “to go beyond money matters” in dealing with OFW clients within their five branches in the southern Philippine provinces of Negros Occidental and Iloilo.

Bagasao agreed with Lopez, urging the rural bankers to provide family counseling as one of their “services”.

Doing so would make OFW-focused rural banking distinct from other attempts to catch a windfall from the P150-billion remittance industry.

One such attempt was the so-called “double-your-money” time deposit scheme that involved 14 rural banks and a financial services firm called the Legacy Group.

Based on news reports, investors in this scheme who got “burned” included OFWs and their family members.

(To be concluded)