The pandemic had severe effects on families and communities in the country not only because of the fear over COVID-19 but also because of how it disrupted their livelihoods. Many businesses shut down, causing widespread loss of jobs. For those who still had some income left, they could not so easily access their cash at banks and ATMs because public transportation was shutdown during the lockdown and quarantine periods.
Still, some residents were fortunate that there were Cash Agad partner agents in their communities who were ready to provide banking services even amid the pandemic. While Cash Agad partner agents were also affected by the restrictions of the community quarantine, they were still able to help their respective barangays and are now bouncing back and continuing with their recovery in order to further build their businesses.
The Cash Agad partner agents network is comprised of small to medium business owners in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao who are operating the Cash Agad service in their communities. This service aims to provide ready access to cash for distant communities, especially those who are not so easily reached by public transportation. These would include communities in places that were located in challenging terrain like mountains, hilly areas, or those in far flung islands only reachable by boat.
Cash Agad is the solution provided by BDO Unibank to unbanked and financially underserved communities, especially those places where setting up a building or bank branch or even an ATM machine would prove to be impractical and unfeasible.
A community shop owner (the business might also be a salon, drugstore, hardware store, etc.) is usually tapped to be Cash Agad partner agent. Since such a business owner has long been part of the locality, has an establishment close to the residents, and is a trusted figure in the community, it’s much easier for the people to trust him or her with their money-related transactions.
Once the shop owner becomes a Cash Agad partner, he or she is given a POS terminal that is capable of accepting transactions using any Philippine-issued ATM card whether debit or credit. And even though BDO Unibank is the one that runs the Cash Agad service, the POS terminal accepts ATM cards from all banks in the Philippines.
Cash Agad and LGUs
Another advantage of using Cash Agad is that it does not depend on banking hours. As long as the Cash Agad partner shop is open, it can accept transaction. This was modified, however, when the pandemic struck and community quarantines were imposed. Local official had to set schedules and limit operating hours for Cash Agad transactions in order to follow physical distancing requirements designed to keep customers safe and prevent disease transmission.
Even LGUs depend on Cash Agad to deliver government’s financial aid to those in need. For example, the beneficiaries of 4Ps withdraw their monthly cash assistance from Cash Agad. Even the IPs or memberes of the indigenous people’s communities are able to get their financial aid through Cash Agad. All these are possible thanks to the cooperation between LGUs and Cash Agad partner agents.
LGU employees, policemen, and teachers in the community likewise depend on Cash Agad for their salary withdrawals. Private employees, families of overseas Filipinos, all of them now access salaries and remittances from Cash Agad, too.
All of these were a great relief to residents who, for several months during community quarantine, were unable to travel due to lockdowns and checkpoints. Their mobility had been restricted within their own or the nearby barangays. They could no longer go to urban areas to transact with banks or go to ATMs.
Helping local businesses
According to Lorna Taruc, owner of Jan Pau convenience store and Cash Agad partner agent at San Simon, Pampanga, the Cash Agad service is a big help to their community.
“It’s so much more convenient and easier for people here to go to my store and withdraw their cash. They no longer need to travel so far. Especially during the lockdown when it was so difficult to find public transportation. Apart from this, I had more customers buying from my store.”
Meanwhile, another Cash Agad partner agent, Roselyn Abela of Pitogo, Bohol, said that many residents were afraid to leave their town during the community quarantine because they heard news that there were many COVID-19 cases in the city where they usually go to transact with banks and use ATMs.
This city is quite far from Pitogo. A person traveling there would need to ride a habal-habal (passenger motorcycle) then cross the sea by boat to another island. At the island, he or she would have to ride another habal-habal to reach the city. It takes half a day to an entire day to travel there and back again to Pitogo. A two-way trip costs 500 pesos.
“When the community quarantine was imposed, people were thankful that I have Cash Agad at my store. They withdraw their cash here and then afterwards, they buy some of the essentials they need at home. That’s why my sales at the store also increased,”, said Roselyn.
According to Jim Nasol, Head of Agency Banking (Cash Agad) of BDO, the bank has been planning to have Cash Agad partner agents in secluded areas for a long time. This is because they want to help rural areas across the country to be more progressive.
“Many Filipinos are smart and hardworking; they dream of better livelihoods. But they are being held back because of their lack of access to cash and capital. There are a lot of Filipinos who don’t have enough money because just withdrawing it already takes a lot of time and a huge expense.”
“Our Cash Agad partner agents are the key to broadening financial systems. We see that in places like Pitogo, financial inclusion can go a long way in making lives easier for Filipinos in secluded communities,” he explained.
In addition, Arnold Katipunan, Head of Sales of Cash Agad in BDO, said that financial inclusion and access to money is very important during this time of the pandemic, when a lot of people and businesses need to rise up from the dampening effects of the crisis. Ultimately, their recovery will bring new life to the national economy.