BACOLOD CITY, Negros Occidental, Philippines – Tucked away in a corner south of Lacson and west of Galo streets, where it forms an angled smile, is UnionBank’s premier branch in Bacolod.
This branch is right along the main avenue that has seen changes in Bacolod throughout the decades.
Just across this bank used to be Brownman Shoes, the first shoemaker-cobbler in the city where hacendados or sugarcane planters had their custom leather boots and loafers crafted.
Also across it, a bit diagonally to the north is an empty lot that used to be a gasoline station. Beside it is a building, now abandoned, where a girlie bar named after a fruit said to have been found by Eve in Paradise once stood.
This bar was a lonely witness to stabbing and shooting incidents inside it as nude women pranced on its stage.
If you go down facing north, where the road hits Burgos Street, you will find Three Brothers, once famous as a gathering place for reporters who drank away their trauma after reporting about dead soldiers, bodies riddled with bullets from rebels who were brought to the funeral parlor, Alisbo, a bit across it at the height of the insurgency in Negros.
Or after covering stories of reed-thin children during the sugar industry crisis brought to the then Provincial Hospital in front of the karinderia.
All these were almost daily fare for reporters in the 80s.
Daily, for years, outside the eatery, goats were tied with plastic ropes to old wooden electric posts, their tails wagging, not knowing they will soon blend with potatoes and aromatics in a tomato-based sauce to soothe the nerves of traumatized reporters or people from all walks of life who patronize the eatery, wanting to have a bowlful of their stewed goat, kaldereta, once said to be the best in town.
Also near UnionBank, up south before the Rizal Street junction is a hotel now called Business Inn.
In the 1960s, there was no hotel, just a building where among its occupants was a radio station named dyEZ of the Manila Broadcasting Company owned by the Elizaldes, an old rich Philippine family.
DyEZ was the first music station even if it was on the AM band.
Now, dyEZ, known as Aksyon Radyo, it is among the AM stations with mainly news programming as a host of music stations have sprouted since the 80s all over the city.
The bank looked small, almost nondescript except if you see its original logo, a solid blue rectangle with letters in gold that says “UnionBank.”
Its motto then was “the strong union.”
It has been years since this branch opened, catering to a steady stream of clients, then mostly hacendados and businessmen in this now highly-urbanized city, once just a lifestyle and entertainment hub for plantation owners waiting for their sugarcane to mature before its juice can be extracted: much money for them, a bit of it for their workers.
Like MBC, it is owned by an old rich family, the Aboitizes, of Spanish descent, that has interests in shipping, finance, and other industries.
Since 1986, when a dictator fell, and the city grew, now with a population of half a million, and as malls sprouted and the economy changed, UnionBank-Lacson’s vaults kept the money and its staff managed the finances of its expanding clientele.
As the world entered the Information Age, the bank, too, started to change, a branding campaign spearheaded by new blood, still an Aboitiz, Ana Maria, married to a Delgado.
Branding, the byword these days in marketing, is said to require a good logo and tagline, that three-word slogan that is believed to cement brand recall.
The problem, sometimes, is that branding stops at image and does not lead to improved services.
Is it in the case of UnionBank?
Step inside UnionBank-Lacson and one can see this branding transformation.
Or even before you step inside.
Outside, the redesign stares you in the face.
The old logo before the entrance is gone. Instead, an orange frame, seemingly avant-garde with the stylized U and B logo prominently in the middle, above it.
Step inside and you feel the change.
On your skin.
With a harsh summer already beating down on the province, UnionBank-Lacson’s airconditioning has been upgraded.
In the receiving area, the temperature makes you want to stay, even sleep, thanks to several three-tonner, or bigger, split type air conditioners that blow a cool breeze.
And it does not look like a bank, more like a VIP area at the airport pre-departure area.
Except for the free arroz caldo and fresh fruit.
To the left of the receiving area, above the glass wall is the new motto in built-up or 3D letters: “the future begins with u,” a tagline that defies the three-word convention but makes a reference to both clients and the bank.
The sofas for clients are like those found in lounges, soft, comfortable, in muted grey and the cushioned seats remind you of an Eames chair, with grey cushions.
Soft, too, but not cushy.
Almost talking to the client, as if saying: you are welcome.
Go further inside and you will see the themed walls, one painted with masks of the MassKara Festival that seem to pop out in photos, an Instagrammable-worthy touch that plunges you deep into a cultural icon of Bacolod, barring debates, of course.
And then the lights.
Embedded in recessed ceiling parts are purpose lights, LEDs that scream environment-friendly, and cost-efficient, a smart management move in this city that is among those with higher power rates.
It would be fair to say that this redesign is European-inspired.
Like the carmaker Bugatti that does not have a machine shop but an atelier, more identified with works of art and not a piece of machine, as in the case of the billion-peso Bugatti Veyron.
This writer can heap praises in the rebranding but does it really translate to better services?
It depends on how a client sees it.
For one, UnionBank has gone digital.
Apart from the redesign, UnionBank users can now deposit checks using a photo.
Not a selfie but of the check.
Yes, Virginia, this one is not as unreal as Santa.
Whether a UnionBank, “on us” check or an “off us” or a different bank’s check, you can deposit it with a simple snap of your smartphone.
Talk about tech making life more convenient.
Then there’s the iPads. Yes, the Apple ones not the knockoffs that line the service table.