MANILA -- Publicly-listed universal bank UnionBank targets to double the number of its small and medium enterprise (SME) clients by end of this year to 500,000 as it plans to cater more to this segment, which accounts for around 99 percent of businesses in the country.

UnionBank President Edwin Bautista said they have started focusing on the SME sector only in 2017, hence they see a huge opportunity for the growth of the sector.

“We’re expanding the base (250,000), possibly double it,” he told the Philippine News Agency in an interview after a press briefing on the bank’s tie-up with Visa on the usage of the Visa B2B Connect.

Visa B2B Connect is a business solution platform that allows financial institutions to provide their clients fast and secure cross-border payments.

Visa tapped UnionBank as its pilot bank partner in the Philippines, where it targets to have its commercial launch later this year.

The platform uses the so-called “blockchain technology,” which allows the transfer of funds real time or the next day at the most instead of around three to five days.

Bautista said they are targeting to tap SME trading partners of their existing corporate clients, which the bank serves through its cash management services.

“These are the recipients of the payments so there is a connect to know them. We’re not approaching them because of their connection to customers we do business with,” he said.

“We’re not able to reach them much before but now, with data analytics we’re starting to understand more their behavior. We’re able to identify the flow that goes into them and all of that stuff,” he added.

Meanwhile, Unionbank Chairman Tito Ortiz said Visa B2B Connect would allow the bank to provide more efficient and safe cross-border payment transactions, from SME to their sources and vice versa.

He said this system will allow small businesses to properly manage their cash flows.

“And for SMEs, timing cash flow is very critical to their survival. Technology is tremendously empowering," he said.

Other banks that Visa has tapped for the pilot implementation of this payment platform include the Commerce Bank in the United States, Shinhan Bank of South Korea, Sberbank in Russia and United Overseas Bank of Singapore. (PNA)