UnionBank Makes History as BSP-Authorized Provider of Virtual Asset Services in the Philippines

Banking Innovation trailblazer Union Bank of the Philippines (UnionBank) recently achieved another first in the industry after securing a Certificate of Authority from the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) to operate as a virtual asset service provider (VASP). This makes UnionBank the first and only universal bank in the Philippines, licensed to offer virtual asset exchange services. UnionBank celebrated the landmark achievement during the ceremonial presentation of the license to UnionBankers last September 27 at UnionBank Plaza in Pasig City.

With the VASP license, UnionBank will be able to tap into new markets and opportunities, explore new ways of addressing evolving client needs like never before, and remain at the forefront of technological advancements ensuring its competitiveness in the digital financial space. Together with its commitment to innovation, regulatory compliance, and customer-centricity, the license enables the Bank to become more future-ready, ready to serve and lead in an evolving financial landscape.

UnionBank Senior Vice President and Head of Emerging Technology Group Ms. Cathy Casas

The adoption of blockchain technology has been integral to UnionBank's future-proofing strategy, and the Bank has been actively exploring potential use cases, including cryptocurrencies, to adapt to evolving customer needs and financial trends. In 2019, the Bank launched the country’s first bank-operated, two-way virtual currency ATM located in its digital branch “The ARK” in Makati City, which allows users to buy and sell cryptocurrencies.

Drawing upon the insights gained from the virtual asset ecosystem, the Bank can discover additional applications for blockchain technology that extend beyond virtual assets.  Through exploring various possibilities such as tokenized collaterals, tokenized deposits, and the implementation of tokenization in trade finance and supply chain financing, blockchain technology has the potential to revolutionize customary banking processes, thereby bolstering efficiency, transparency, and accessibility.

"This is a testament to the pioneering effort of the [Emerging Technology] team and the spirit of innovation by UnionBank," said UnionDigital Bank President and CEO Henry Aguda during the ceremony. "Strategically, this will pay off in the next coming years especially when a lot of investors are going into blockchain and tokenization."

UnionBank Vice Chairman Dr. Justo A. Ortiz

"With this license, we're ready to once again break molds, set trends, and rewrite the rules," said UnionBank Senior Vice President and Head of Emerging Technology Group Cathy Casas. "This is exactly what innovation is about—pushing boundaries, venturing into the unknown, courageously stepping into territories that are yet to be explored, and taking on challenges that others may not fully comprehend."

The license will also help strengthen the Bank's focus on customer-centricity, especially its ability to provide innovative solutions that enhance its clients’ overall financial well-being. In addition, the Bank's expanded offerings through the license can provide clients with more comprehensive financial experiences, covering a broader range of financial services powered by blockchain, such as lending, cross-border payments, and other smart contract-based financial products.

"This is a call for laser focus on the target only we see, and through the twists and turns and ups and downs of these avenues, we shall persist and persevere with our one North Star, which is to elevate lives and fulfill dreams," said UnionBank Vice Chairman Dr. Justo A. Ortiz.
The VASP license positions the Bank as a responsible player in the digital finance ecosystem, particularly in terms of surveillance and compliance. UnionBank's focus on surveillance is not merely a regulatory requirement but a commitment to maintaining the trust of clients and of the industry as robust surveillance mechanisms help ensure the legitimacy of virtual assets and prevent illicit activities. The Bank's dedication to complying with regulatory standards and working proactively with the BSP to shape the future of digital finance in the Philippines can serve as an example for others to emulate.

"This achievement underscores the importance of doing something that's never been done before, not being reckless, and most of all, daring to be bold, not being afraid to go there," said UnionBank Executive Vice President and Chief Technology and Operations Officer Dennis Omila highlighting that the Bank’s obtaining a license is relevant for the entire banking industry.

Through the milestone, UnionBank sets new standards and redefines what it means to be a bank in the digital age through collaborations and partnerships that define progress for a brighter future. The initiative aligns with the Bank’s "Tech-Up Pilipinas" advocacy, aimed at advancing digital literacy among Filipinos and enhancing financial inclusion and technological empowerment in the country.

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