The Philippines Growth Dialogues: Mariana Zobel de Ayala

BPI vice president Mariana Zobel de Ayala discusses the Filipino consumer and how technology will be an equalizer for businesses in the Philippines.

Mariana Zobel de Ayala is vice president at Bank of the Philippine Islands and is responsible for the bank’s retail client strategy and analytics. She serves on the boards of directors of BPI’s Asset Management and Trust and of several companies under the Ayala umbrella, across Ayala Land, AC Health, and the Ayala Corporation Technology Innovation Venture fund. Her professional experience includes serving as deputy head at Ayala Malls and working at J.P.Morgan Chase. In a recent discussion with McKinsey, Zobel de Ayala talked about consumer insights and her thoughts on technology as a business equalizer in the Philippines. This conversation is part of the broader Philippines Growth Dialogues interview anthology, which explores the opportunities and challenges to future-proof the country's next horizon of growth and innovation. An edited version of the discussion follows.

The tech-forward consumer

McKinsey: What do you think have been the most exciting recent developments in the Philippines? What is your outlook for the country in the next decade?

Mariana Zobel de Ayala: The next decade is going to particularly interesting for the Philippines. Filipinos are uniquely adaptable as a people, which means that any global changes in technology are, I believe, consumed at a much faster pace. Because of this, growth around technology will have quite a magnified impact on the Filipino consumer—on quality of life, on financial inclusion, and on general access and connectivity—hopefully translating to benefits in education and exposure.

The growth in fintech, tech entertainment, and e-commerce are reflective of the comfort that Filipinos have with this space. The speed of these new opportunities will result in a more empowered consumer with more choice on how and what to consume. This will drive healthy competition for mind share and completeness of product offerings—whether offline or online. Such competition, driven by a more discerning consumer, will result in a better outcome for the country as a whole. I believe this is one of the greatest benefits of technology.

The speed of these new opportunities [in technology] will result in a more empowered consumer … This will drive healthy competition for mind share and completeness of product offerings—whether offline or online.

Uplifting Filipinos through education, infrastructure, and healthcare

McKinsey: What continue to be areas of stagnation in the Philippines? And what more do you think can be done to uplift the country?

Mariana Zobel de Ayala: Inequality—whether in education, financial inclusion, or healthcare—will continue to challenge our growth potential. True progress will come when Filipinos have more control over their destiny—a line I borrowed from my cousin and colleague—and that will only come, in turn, if basic needs are provided at a level that is competitive globally. Investments—whether from the public or private sector—in education, infrastructure, financial services, and healthcare have massive potential for contributing to our competitiveness as a country and for revealing the true productivity and possibility of the Filipino.

Recognizing value chains as powerful institutions

McKinsey: What do you feel are some misconceptions that global players may have about the Philippine market? And what can be done to dispel these?

Mariana Zobel de Ayala: The Philippines has generally been branded as a service-driven market, and we have a fantastic wealth of individuals that are contributing to many sectors in countries other than the Philippines. I would hope that in the next decade, we’d see a shift in this by finding ways to grow the country’s attractiveness and the competitiveness of employment opportunities locally. I believe that a flip in this imbalance—this brain drain—would be an indication of true progress and economic development.

I would hope that in the next decade, we’d see a shift in [the Philippines being seen as a service-driven market] by finding ways to grow the country’s attractiveness and the competitiveness of employment opportunities locally.

Digitalization as an equalizer

McKinsey: What more do you think can be done to help small and medium-size enterprises in the Philippines take advantage of opportunities in your industry?

Mariana Zobel de Ayala: Digitalization has a massive opportunity to serve as an equalizer for the Philippines. It will bring costs down for a lot of opportunities in the financial-services space and in other consumer spaces. That’s going to allow for greater access and participation of the Filipino producer and consumer.

Comments and opinions expressed by interviewees are their own and do not represent or reflect the opinions, policies, or positions of McKinsey & Company or have its endorsement.