Banking on domestic help
There are more than 170 licensed banks in Hong Kong. Besides the major ones serving the general population and which own prominent buildings bearing their names, there are lesser-known institutions catering mainly to minorities such as domestic helpers, imported labour and non-Chinese, non-Western ethnic groups.
Most of the 130,000-plus Filipinos in Hong Kong - the third-largest ethnic group after the Chinese and Indonesians (based on the 2011 census) - regularly send money to their families back home. In 2011, remittances from the SAR to the Philippines reached almost HK$368 million, based on bank data compiled by the Philippines' central bank.
Some of them are served by BPI Remittance Centre (HK), a subsidiary of BPI International Finance, which in turn is a subsidiary of Bank of the Philippine Islands, one of the nation's leading banks. It has four branches strategically located in Hung Hom, Tsuen Wan, Central and Yuen Long.
Aside from handling remittance transactions, BPI also "assists [clients] in opening ATM savings accounts in the Philippines," says managing director Benjamin Panganiban Jr. "The signature card is signed here and then we endorse it in the Philippines. They can then collect the ATM card from any of our branches here. Once the clients have activated the account in the Philippines, they can then use the ATM card to withdraw money in the local currency in the Philippines or here in Hong Kong."
BPI also offers money exchange services, mostly converting Philippine pesos to Hong Kong dollars and vice versa. Being mainly a money service operator, BPI's limited licence prevents it from further extending its services.
BPI's remittance centres also serve non-Filipino customers. "Some clients are Chinese who have children studying in the Philippines and remit through us," says Panganiban.
Part of Panganiban's promotional responsibilities is socialising regularly with various Filipino associations. "Normally, on a Sunday, I go to association meetings and gatherings to informally promote BPI. We also help sponsor special events such as the [June 12] Philippine Independence Day celebration."
One bank that has had a long presence here is the Philippine National Bank Hong Kong branch (PNB-HK). "[We] can provide all traditional banking services, including deposits, loans and trade," says general manager and country head Romulo Rodel C. Bicol. "Most transactions involve traditional ATM savings accounts, time deposits and fund transfers."
Like BPI, PNB-HK also targets the Filipino expatriate community and domestic helpers, as well as other nationals with dealings with Filipino individuals and companies.
Though the major banks may have more services to offer, many Filipinos here still prefer to save their money at PNB-HK, Bicol says.
"We serve them differently compared with our local counterparts because basically, we speak the same language. It's easier to deal and explore other trade and business negotiations if you know the culture of the person you're transacting with," explains Bicol, who is also the current chairman of the Philippine Association of Hong Kong (PAHK), an organisation of Filipino professionals, expatriates, business leaders and entrepreneurs.
PNB-HK's subsidiary, PNB Global Remittance and Financial Company, operates a remittance and consumer-lending business. "Our clients benefit from well-timed credit, the best rates and reasonable fees. And they can also remit conveniently through the store tie-ups PNB Global is having right now," says Bicol.
"We hire local Chinese and Filipinos who are residents and have permits to work. They make up most of the staff of both the PNB-HK branch and PNB Global. I'm the only expatriate here in the branch," says Bicol, whose two-year term as branch head ends in October this year.
All BPI staff are locally hired Filipinos who are permanent residents or dependents-visa holders. They consist of remittance processors for the frontline operations, and accounting and administrative employees for the backroom support group. Fluency in the Filipino language is a requirement.
One essential procedure employees undergo is anti-money-laundering training, which is required by law. They are also coached on the different BPI products and client services. Trainers from the main office in Manila also come to Hong Kong occasionally to provide free career-development training.
When Hong Kong-based employees go to the Philippines on holiday, they are required to enrol in any training they want for two days, which is not charged to their holiday leave.