Mindanaoans prepare to embrace e-commerce

UnionBank of the Philippines and its consortium partners are bringing the e-commerce circuit, Ureka Forum, for the first time in Mindanao on July 23.

After two successful conferences in Baguio City and Iloilo City in October 2015 and January 2016, respectively, the Eureka Forum secretariat decided to bring the movement to Davao City, which “has gained attention as the emerging trade, commerce, industry and financial hub of southern Philippines.”

“For a long time, Mindanao has been called ‘the land of opportunity,’ and today more than ever, we expect even more investors to focus their attention on Mindanao especially since the Filipino nation has just overwhelmingly elected the first Mindanao president this past May, and actually, even before our new president announced he was running for the elections, this whole plan was already in motion,” said Genaro Lapez, Unionbank executive vice president and Ureka Forum’s lead convenor.

Ureka Forum partners

“I believe that one of the many reasons why the president wants to implement federalism is because Mindanao can actually stand on its own with its abundant resources,” said Josefino Paloma, general manager of Accent Micro Technologies Inc., one of the forum partners.

UnionBank started Ureka Forum last year to help small and medium enterprises promote local entrepreneurship and reinvent business strategies through services such as information-education on e-commerce, mass conversions and launching of online websites with the help of its partners.

The movement is open to all “registered SMEs coming from different industries-retail, hospitality, manufacturing, arts and crafts, food, services, etc. who look at e-commerce as a necessary platform to grow and expand their business.”

As 97 percent of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation countries consist of SMEs, Ureka Forum hopes “to promote the idea of inclusive innovation” to equalize the financial growth opportunities ushered by these SMEs. However, the “digital revolution” is a big part in attaining this goal, and only 1 percent of these SMEs have adapted to it.

According to the 2014 year-end global index study by Google, the Philippines has had one of the highest smart phone penetration rates among emerging markets in the world, with 55 percent of Filipino netizens spending an average of five hours a day on their smartphones and 2.8 hours online.

About 52 percent of smartphone users also claimed they had purchased products and services using their devices. “One would think that Philippine businesses would already be aggressively going online and embracing e-commerce if only to keep with pace with our customers,” said Lapez.

“Unfortunately, this Google study showed that only 1 percent of small and medium enterprises or SMEs even have a website. These are the same SMEs that represent close to 98 percent of all registered businesses in the Philippines at which historically, employed goes to two thirds of the Philippine workforce.”

A recent study by Frost & Sullivan, a growth partnership company, also revealed that the Philippines lagged behind neighboring countries such as Malaysia and Vietnam in terms of e-commerce market and penetration growth.

A compounded annual growth rate of only 1.47 percent is expected from the Philippines this year in eCMP, a considerably low figure compared to Malaysia which leads that pack with 2.51 percent.

Lapez, however, said the tides might change in the next four years and the Philippines would overrun Singapore with 2.97 percent by 2020, based on the same study.

“Assuming that there is a steady and solid economic growth and corresponding infrastructure improvements, Philippine e-commerce could grow 20.67 percent from 2016 to 2020 right behind leader, Malaysia,” he said.

Ureka Forum now has eight partners including Air21 for logistics, Shopinas.com for online marketplace, Panahon TV for weather updates, GeiserMaclang Marketing and Communications for transformative advertising, AMTI for data solutions, PLDT SME Nation for internet services, DragonPay for payment gateways and Esquire Financing for business education. It has also three new sponsors-BloombergTV, Facebook and Zalora Philippines.

Ureka Forum is also supported by government agencies such as the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department of Science and Technology.

“It’s only by enabling SMEs to do e-commerce that we help achieve real inclusive financial inclusion as well as augment the DTI in achieving their 2020 e-commerce roadmap which stipulates that their goal is to be able to have no less than 100,000 SMEs doing e-commerce, representing no less than 10 percent of our GDP by 2020,” said Lapez.

He said the forum was open to more consortium partnerships. “Our only requirement is for them to be prepared to customize a low-cost support for the MSMEs because we need to give them confidence that they really can succeed before we can starting thinking of how much can we charge them?” he said.

Lapez recognized current consortium partners such as DragonPay for creating customized products and services for MSMEs.

“Each of our consortium partners has done that. They have come up with customized products and services for MSMEs. They’re not off-the-shelf products. Like for DragonPay, if you want to be accredited with them, you need to pay a minimum payment. That has been waived,” he said.

After the last two road shows, the forum is now servicing around 150 SMEs, from individual artists to retail and food corporations.

“We started in Baguio last October 2015, where on that very same day, 39 SMEs walked in and those same 39 now digitally activated SMEs went back home that same evening,” Lapez said.

They also activated over 100 SMEs to e-commerce during the Iloilo forum in January. The group is confident this number of participants would be exceeded, come July 23 in Davao.

“Davao has long been a central hub especially for Mindanao. With its rich and uniquely diverse culture, history, and commercial heritage, Davao has been rising to new heights this past few years,” said Lapez.

With burgeoning industries such as business process outsourcing and knowledge process outsourcing, new commercial complexes such as shopping malls as well as constantly improving infrastructure to augment its traditional agribusiness and tourism strengths, Davao City has emerged as one of the Philippines’ rising economic cores.

Source: The Standard