Digital is the new normal

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By Ney Villasenor

Let’s face it: the COVID-19 pandemic drastically changed how we define “normal.”

The coronavirus diseases took the world by force. Almost half of the world’s population has been forced to go into isolation. At home, flattening the curve compelled Filipinos to stay at home for almost two months already under an enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) in most parts of the Philippines. Limited mobility and fewer options pressured people into finding new ways of going about their daily tasks. And thus, the quarantine period necessitated Filipinos to fashion a new “normal.”

Over the last few weeks, physical transactions have moved to the virtual realm due to the fear of contracting the virus outside. In fact, studies state that paper money increases the risk of coronavirus transmission since it can harbor harmful bacteria and viruses for several days. Indeed, the pandemic transformed the mundane tasks of grocery shopping, paying bills, and going to work into remote ventures you can do through a gadget.

According to a report by Oxford Business Group, the Philippines is seeing a rise in digital usage, as more and more people embrace basic and critical services served within the digital economy to help keep with physical distancing and health protocols, apart from the greater convenience they offer.

Digital has become the new normal for many, and this also entails managing finances through handheld devices such as smartphones. Financial technology stepped up as a savior amid the global health crisis. Mobile wallets are not only convenient–they have almost become a necessity, since digital fund transfers protect people from the perils of going outside and support the government’s initiative to keep people in their homes. In fact, banks and payment firms have reported a surge in online transactions during the implementation of the ECQ in Luzon.

In a way, fintech has helped the world in keeping quarantine initiatives by governments intact, which is true in the case of the Philippines.

Every industry imaginable has made use of fintech when COVID-19 cases began to increase. Although the quarantine has many downsides, digital finance has helped make it easier for those who have access to it.

Online marketplaces like Lazada and Shoppee made it possible for Filipinos to conduct their shopping online. Not just for their weekly pantry, but for other products such as clothes and workout equipment as well.  Lazada in particular has partnered with GCash, the leading mobile wallet in the country, to help people avoid contracting COVID-19 by opting for cashless transactions instead.

Restaurants and fast food chains have also boosted their online presence and resorted to selling food through the Internet to satisfy the cravings of many Filipinos stuck in their homes. GrabFood, FoodPanda, or the restaurants themselves would deliver food ordered online to the customers’ homes. Many of these establishments have existing partnerships with mobile wallets such as GCash which makes payment more convenient.

Although it has been the practice for some even prior to the lockdown, more and more people have discovered the benefits of paying bills online now that going outdoors is hardly an option. In under a minute, mobile wallet users can settle payments for their electricity, water, cable, internet, telecoms, credit cards, loans, government dues, insurance, rent, and healthcare providers, simply through their smartphones.

Aside from these, it seems like fintech also saved online business owners from the biggest economic blows brought about by the pandemic. This is not only because they are convenient, but because being based online means they are less susceptible to the dangers of the physical realm.

While fintech definitely made things easier for a number of Filipinos affected by COVID-19, accessibility still has a long way to go for a country like the Philippines. Smaller communities and lower-income earners can hardly access the Internet, which means that fintech in the country still has room for improvement as well. Given the important role that it plays in times of crisis such as the present, then it is high time that digital finance should be given much bigger space in national policies as well since its aim is to make the lives of Filipinos more convenient and in this context, safe.

COVID-19 surely made a huge impact in the national economy, an effect which will last even long after the lockdown is lifted and when the virus eventually dies down. Fintech served as a cushion which saved businesses from taking the brunt of the economy’s downfall and it will continue to do so even after the pandemic.

Since big changes in social norms are also expected, online transactions are encouraged still since avoiding touching money bills should be observed to prevent a second wave of coronavirus. Now that the ease of fintech has been realized, it is highly probable for digital fund transfers to be the new norm of circulating money in a post-pandemic world.

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