Originally published in Advancing ASEAN in the Digital Age Book, 14 November 2017.
Financial Inclusion for ASEAN’s Emerging Consumers
Over the last 50 years ASEAN has made huge strides in economic and social progress. Today ASEAN is an economic force to be reckoned with, boasting a GDP of US$2.55 trillion. The 630 million citizens of ASEAN are a young and growing population by global standards. Its labour force is the third largest in the world. As the working population continues to grow, it promises to boost GDP and individual wealth.
However, not everyone is feeling the benefit of this economic momentum. Despite the economic success of the past half-century, there are still an estimated 264 million adults in Southeast Asia who are unbanked, ie, lacking access to basic financial services like a deposit account. For this population outside of the reach of financial access, savings tend to be kept at bedside and borrowings come from shadow sources at high costs. The social and economic toll of this inequity is significant.
As we enter a fourth industrial revolution in Southeast Asia, technology provides the means of alleviating this inequity, and unlocking the potential to provide financial awareness and access to the region’s masses.
Accelerated data speeds on mobile networks and the proliferation of devices at historically affordable prices is driving a paradigm shift in the dissemination and consumption of information and services. Technology has emerged as a means to accelerating financial inclusion, increasing commerce and bringing about a digital dividend that could drive the next 50 years of ASEAN’s growth.
Nearly half of Asia’s population reside in rural areas lacking the services infrastructure common in urban centres. Reaching and serving these emerging customers require enterprises to revisit the way they operate, distribute and localize.
In June 2016, Allianz partnered with Indonesia’s largest ride-hailing company Go-Jek to offer health insurance to its 250,000 drivers and their families. With Go-Jek drivers typically taking home about a third of Jakarta’s average income per capita, Allianz designed an affordable health solution offering medical, hospitalization and inpatient benefits, with premiums deducted digitally from the drivers’ e-wallets, eliminating the need for cash transactions. Backed by a synergistic understanding and partnership with Go-Jek, this customer-centric and digital approach has meant Allianz is able to reach, and cater to these new 250,000 families in Indonesia, going some way towards close the protection gap in ASEAN’s emerging consumer class.
Investing in ASEAN’s Future Growth
Small businesses and micro-entrepreneurs are the backbone of many ASEAN economies, contributing substantially to income, output and employment, and playing an under-recognized role in lifting rural communities out of poverty. Yet, their potential and prospects are often hampered by the lack of access to financial capital for take-off and expansion.
To overcome this challenge, Allianz in 2016 pioneered the Trust Network Finance (“TNF”) programme, an open-source micro-equity project to reach the unbanked communities in Indonesia.
Agung Nugrohob is one of them. An owner of a chicken stall in Bogor, Agung is tired of renting and dreams of having his own equipment in order to expand his inventory. Under TNF, Agung receives cashless loans from Allianz via digital transfers, with repayments suspended for an agreed period until his business takes off. In addition, the shariah-compliant programme also provides micro-entrepreneurs like Agung with value-adding financial education and business mentoring. By bringing new solutions to old development issues, Allianz has been able to play a bigger role in driving sustainable micro-enterprise growth and job creation to support ASEAN’s emerging communities.
The next 50 years
With ASEAN poised to welcome millions of people into the middle class within the next decade, it rests on enterprises and policymakers to ensure last-mile financial access is within reach of this new segment of emerging consumers.
The road to financial inclusion is neither short nor easy. But it is an important one. As we mark 50 years of ASEAN and look ahead to the next half-century, our expectation is there will be more opportunities for private enterprises, digital players and policymakers to work together in closing the region’s protection gap, and to prioritize financial inclusion in ASEAN’s economic agenda.