Q&A with UBx Chairman Henry Aguda on Digital Technology

Henry Aguda is the Chairman of the Board of UBx Philippines, the fintech venture studio of Union Bank of the Philippines. The Bank’s industry leadership in banking innovation and effective digital transformation is furthered by UBx. Branded as UnionBank to the power of X, UBx was incorporated in 2018 to make financial services natural, open and accessible to all, through data and technology. UBx has been making noise in the fintech industry having been awarded the “Fastest Growing Fintech Company in South East Asia” in 2021 by both The Global Banking and Finance Review and by The Global Brand Magazine.

Among Henry’s numerous recent awards include “Chief Technology and Information Officer of the Year” by The Asian Banker Financial Technology and Innovation Awards (2021), “CTO of the Year in Southeast Asia” by The European Global Banking and Finance Awards (2021), and “Digital Banker of the Year” by The Digital Banker Global Retail Banking Innovation Awards (2021). 

He has co-authored two books, “Data Privacy & Cybercrime Prevention the Philippine Digital Age” (2017) and “Opening the Archipelago: The Story of Blockchain in the Philippines” (2021), available via BookshelfPH. 

Henry will be sharing with us the digital opportunities throughout the value chain that can improve operations, increase productivity, or attract new customers at the 13th Mansmith Market Masters Conference, happening on June 14-15, 2022. In this interview, Henry shares the rewards and challenges of using blockchain technology.

Q1: The use of blockchain has been phenomenal. Please share some of the most popular use case in the Philippines? 

A1: Blockchain is everywhere nowadays. If you have heard of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, Blockchain is the technology that runs behind it. Its records information in a way that makes it difficult or impossible to change, hack, or cheat. It is decentralized and immutable.

Aside from crypto, there are now many uses of blockchain and some of them are being used here in UnionBank and UBx.

1. Cross-border payments – In 2018, we’ve created the cross-border remittance service for local rural banks through blockchain, as it aims to push financial inclusion in rural areas.

We’re able to evolved these capabilities further in 2019 when we successfully transferred tokenized fiat from OCBC Bank in Singapore to an account in Cantilan Bank, a Surigao Del Sur-based rural lender.

2. NFT marketplaces – Earlier this year, we’ve partnered with the non-profit organization, Center for Art, New Ventures and Sustainable Development or Canvas.ph to help the artists and collectors navigate the growing NFT space. It was spearheaded by our Blockchain Center of Excellence (BCOE), Cathy Casas.

3. Personal Identity Security – In UBx, we have a service called, AKIN, created for proving identity by the use of blockchain as it’s security. This service will provide ease of doing business for the public and private sectors. (https://www.ubx.ph/our-ventures/akin-page/

And of course, there other use cases now throughout the world, and these are…

4. Secure sharing of medical data

5. Music royalties tracking

6. Real-time IoT operating systems

7. Anti-money laundering tracking system

8. Supply chain logistics and monitoring

9. Voting mechanism

10. Advertising insights

11. Original content creation

12. Cryptocurrency exchange

13. Real estate processing platform

Q2: Can you share with us some predictions related to blockchain that may happen in the Philippines before the end of the decade? 

A2: 

  1. A cashless society using central bank digital currency
  2. The government will be actively building the infrastructure that incorporates digital identity embedded in digital transactions
  3. NFT technology spilling over other assets – real estate titles and banks accepting digital assets / NFTs as collateral

Q3: Linking your two books, how can blockchain ensure data privacy and prevent cybercrime ? 

A3:  So, back in 2016, I co-authored Data Privacy & Cybercrime Prevention in the Philippine Digital Age together with Atty. Bo Tiojanco and Atty. Sasa Montes with the inspiration of spreading awareness and knowledge of Data Privacy in the country. Fast-forward to 2021, I have co-authored the book Opening the Archipelago, the Story of Blockchain in the Philippines with Atty. Nathan Marasigan and Cathy Casas, to again share the blockchain with the public. Now, these two books complement each other by marrying privacy with the security of blockchain. So, blockchain allows the embedding of digital identity into payments which increases security without sacrificing efficiency- automated- real-time payments.

Q4:  What are the challenges facing the acceptance or the  implementation of Blockchain in the Philippines?

A4: 5 years ago, we did not even know what blockchain is here in the bank. We just started experimenting on it, learning from the experts before we came out with our very own use cases. So, In the Philippines, I think blockchain is now becoming more available to those who loves to explore new technologies. As it becomes more known, the challenges will still be present. And one of the challenges that blockchain faces today is the lack of understanding of how to manage key risks in a blockchain- attachment to the what is certain.

And until now, there are still scarcity or lack of blockchain talents in Philippines.

And lastly, I think regulations are still in its infancy. Regulatory frameworks are still evolving.

*****

Josiah Go is chair and chief innovation strategist of Mansmith and Fielders, Inc. The 13th Mansmith Market Masters Conference is accepting registration through www.marketmastersconference.com 

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Dr. Prof. Geoffrey Chua is a tenured associate professor of operations management at the Nanyang Business School (NBS), Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. His research and specialization spans  the areas of supply chain management, service operations, decision science and operations-marketing interface. He has published in leading journals and was awarded the Research Excellence Award by NBS in 2015 and 2011. He […]

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