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UnionBank of the Philippines’ Henry Aguda believes in the power of technology—and sets the trend in digital banking to help MSMEs bounce back from a crippling economic crisis




Gone are the days when banking involves a personal visit to a physical branch. These days, thanks to modern-day technology, financial transactions are now accessible through your fingertips—literally. While physically going to bank branches is still an option, the creation of websites and apps have made our lives easier and more convenient, especially with the current situation around the world. The global pandemic has left us with no choice but to shelter in place safely—and hopefully not for too long. Good thing technology is evolving with the times, meeting the ever-changing demands of the “new normal.”

Chief Technology and Operations Officer (CTOO) and Chief Transformation Officer (CTO) of UnionBank of the Philippines Henry Aguda takes full advantage of all the perks technology has to offer. Championing his advocacy of digital inclusion, this leader is paving the way for the future of digital banking and beyond.


Almost five years ago, Aguda returned to the Philippines from Los Angeles upon receiving an invitation to work for UnionBank. His primary role: to convert the bank’s platforms to cyberspace. He accepted, and since then, this digital genius has been lending his knowledge and expertise on the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) space to further advance the company’s online presence, helping it to become more digitallyoriented and agile. His expertise was sought not to just simply “update” infrastructure, but also revamp the organization’s culture and business model.

To date, UnionBank has garnered other accolades like the Best Digital Finance Ecosystem Initiative, Application or Programme for ‘Eonbank’s Financial Marketplace’ and Mortgage Product of the Year at The Asian Banker Philippine Awards in 2019. In 2020, UnionBank was also named as the Best Digital Bank by The Digital Banker and the International Finance Awards. The Banker also named UnionBank as the 2020 Bank of the Year Philippines.

The “Best Digital Bank” has become synonymous to the esteemed organization. “When you refer to digital banking excellence, it’s UnionBank that they talk about—from branch to app to online to all the other services that we offer,” Aguda says.

 “We really changed the branch banking concept,” he adds. “UnionBank is one of the top financial branches in the world that’s been recognized for being innovative and transformative. We’re the only Philippine bank that’s there, so we’re carrying the Philipine flag. We’re very proud of that,” he shares.

From launching their state-of-theart robot called “Eve” who can take care of your transactions, to adapting an automated account enrollment via the app, to being one of the first banks to perform payments online, UnionBank has succeeded in revolutionizing the landscape finance industry.


But it isn’t just consumers who felt the leverage of going digital with UnionBank. Henry admits that, in his role as CTO, Senior Executive Vice President, and CTOO of the company, he had to create a shift in the culture of the organization, too. “There were a lot of traditions and rules, and the biggest challenge is winning their hearts and minds. They have to trust that if we go digital, they will not lose their jobs—it will actually improve their careers and we will not leave them behind,” the CTO explains. “And since we gave that psychological safety to our people, they’ve been with us on this journey.”

With their staff onboard and equipped to face the move, Henry and his team worked on modifying hardware and software systems, as well as the processes involved in upgrading them. This has turned into their competitive advantage, which no other bank has been able to duplicate.

Fast forward to 2020 and the lockdown happened. Instead of seeing this troubling situation as a detriment, it validated and affirmed UnionBank’s choice in going full-scale in the digital world. “Most of the initiatives that we deployed last year, we had them already since 2018. So when the pandemic happened, our people were immediately ready to work from home because most of our systems were automated and the app immediately worked,” Aguda relates. From their past records of 2,000 branch visitors per month, they now reach a whopping 2,000 app users per day—without hassle on both the consumer and the bank’s end.

We can credit this powerful shift to Aguda’s dynamic leadership. He describes his style as “very much situational.” When the situation calls for him to take on the reins and be decisive, Aguda plays this role well. “When we started the transformation, I still needed to increase awareness on methodologies and processes that people will have to adapt to. But

as soon as I see the organization embracing the methods and technologies that I’ve already advocated, I tend to pull back and be less controlling,” he points out. “So right now, I’m more of a coach and a mentor to a lot of the executives and junior officers of the bank. I encourage them to experiment and to make mistakes— not intentionally—that they hopefully can learn from. That’s the type of leadership that is necessary. It’s not one size fits all.”

“Mayroon kaming concept of ‘ubuntu’,” Aguda further adds. Ubuntu, a South African term which translates to “teamwork” or bayanihan, as Henry explains, keeps the bonds tied within the organization. The CTO labels it as a special culture, which shapes the working relationship of everyone in their teams.


It’s safe to say that UnionBank switched to the “new normal” with ease. And since they are operating at full capacity, the company arranged new and efficient efforts to adapt to the needs of the country and its people during the COVID-19 pandemic.

From the beginning of lockdown up to now, their branches are open with full banking services and ATMs available to support customers’ liquidity needs. They launched “Bank on Wheels” to support areas with large transaction requirements. UnionBank also assisted in the disbursement of the Department of Social Welfare & Development’s (DSWD) social amelioration program (SAP) cash assistance to 700,000 beneficiaries. Partner local government units (LGUs) were also supported in the distribution of cash or loan proceeds to their constituents. All these services were given for free, with the belief that their efforts will aid in the revitalization of the economy.

Apart from supporting government efforts, their digital platforms also provided access to payments, lending, and marketplaces to support the transaction needs of micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs). Furthermore, Henry spearheaded, together with the Philippine Digital Asset Exchange (PDAX) with digital KYC, to enable the public to conveniently invest while helping the country recover. It’s the first app-based, blockchain-enabled distribution of Retail Sovereign Treasury Bonds in Asia.

Of course, UnionBank continuously innovates with its app, creating an easy and hassle-free experience for every consumer, coupled with their active campaign to educate consumers about cyber criminals. “That’s our advocacy, to teach the public that there are criminals out there who might steal your password, your username, and your credit card credentials. We’re working closely with the authorities to catch these criminals, because what they’re doing is economic sabotage.”


Deep in his heart, this passionate man thrives in bringing digital inclusion to every platform he works on. Apart from his roles in UnionBank, Aguda holds several other titles, such as Chairman of UBX Philippines, the fintech spin-off of the bank; lecturer at the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman Technology Management Center; Board Member of Philippine Clearing House Corporation (PCHC); associate member of Institute of Corporate Directors (ICD); member of the Financial Executives of the Philippines (FINEX); and member of the Board of Trustees of Philippine Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV). His participation in all of these allows him to engage with more people to increase awareness in his advocacy.

He does so with UnionBank. “I try to align the efforts of the bank with my personal advocacy for digital inclusion,” he says. “We just have to get as many people in the digital space right now.”

These responsibilities may seem like a lot for a single person to take on, but Aguda makes it all happen thanks to good collaborators. Again, he refers to “ubuntu.” “I rely on trustworthy and effective teammates to get the word out and the job done.” For instance, the bank showed support in his endeavor by deploying people to several government agencies to help their IT organizations in developing better apps. There are also academic institutions who tap him to talk about digital transformation, which widens information dissemination on the topic.

And he won’t get tired of laying the cards in front of everyone for as long as he can. “My whole life has been devoted to digital inclusion,” Aguda puts it simply. It’s the legacy he wishes to leave behind—to get as many people aboard the digital space.

“I really believe that digital is the great equalizer. For as long as everybody has access to it, they have access to information. And information is power. In that sense, I aim to push the needle in terms of digital inclusion in the Philippines,” Aguda ends.

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