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CEO: Chile's BancoEstado to expand branch network, digital banking services in 2016

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CEO: Chile's BancoEstado to expand branch network, digital banking services in 2016

State-ownedBanco del Estado de Chileaims to continue expanding through efforts to open more branches in remote Chileancommunities, broaden digital banking services and offer more insurance coverage,CEO Jessica López Saffie during a lecture in Santiago broadcast live by La Tercera.

BancoEstadoremains Chile's "most important" bank, she said at the event, noting thatit had 11.3 million clients in 2015, equal to about two-thirds of Chile's population.She added that 36.2% of all banking transactions, including credit and debit cardsand ATMs, were with BancoEstado products.

As partof its mission to expand financial inclusion and promote economic development inChile, the bank's strategy includes opening new BancoEstado and ServiEstado branchesin remote communities, she said.

"Whereverwe open a branch there is a before and after … the money stays in the communityand people don't have to spend it on transport," she said.

Thereare about 100 communities in Chile where a BancoEstado branch is the only branchin the community, but there are at least that many without a single branch, Lópezsaid, adding the bank aims to continue opening branches in these communities.

For example,BancoEstado recently opened a branch in Teodoro Schmidt in Chile's Araucanía Region,which will provide banking services to more than 15,000 people in the region.

The bank'snetwork of around 16,000 Caja Vecina terminals, which process banking transactionsin retail stores, also provide access to banking services for Chileans in remoteareas, she added.

CajaVecina, like the bank's CuentaRUT, which offers banking services to Chileans withoutbank accounts, has "had an enormous impact in terms of security and savingsin terms of time and costs," she said.

In additionto expanding its network of branches and Caja Vecina terminals, BancoEstado is increasinglyfocused on expanding its digital banking services, López said.

The bankcurrently has about 2.5 million clients that do their banking online and about 1.2million than use its mobile banking application. Digital banking "ischeaper for us [than traditional branches] and good for clients," López said.

Beyondbanking, the executive also pointed to insurance, noting that BancoEstado offerscoverage through BancoEstado Corredoresde Seguros SA, which is 49.9% owned by MetLife Chile Inversiones Limitada. As of December 2015,the insurer had issued 6.36 million policies, up from 3.09 million policies in 2006.

"Today,insurance is available to everyone and Chile is a very vulnerable country as shownby the number of catastrophes in recent years," she said.

Goingforward, BancoEstado aims to expand insurance coverage in various segments, includingearthquake, tsunami and life, to "protect people in vulnerable situations,"she said.

BancoEstado,which is Chile's third-largest bank as measured by loan portfolio assets, also aimsto continue to boost lending to small businesses as part of its financial inclusionstrategy.

In thisregard, it expects its total loan book to continue growing strongly after posting10% growth in 2015, she said. Importantly, this growth has not been accompaniedby an increase in delinquency or unemployment rates, she noted.

"Loansnormally grow at about 2x or 3x [the rate of] GDP, but we should grow about 4x [in2016]," she said. Chile's central bank recently lowered its GDP projectionfor 2016 to between 1.25% and 2.25%.

Finally,when asked how potential political or economic problems facing Chile's governmentcould affect BancoEstado in the future, she said that in the worst case the bank'scapital would be reduced, but she does not foresee this happening.