Project Bertumbuh: Looking for the Financial Equivalent of a Motorbike

Our first experience in Jakarta consisted of walking through mud and over broken stones to get to a client meeting. The streets, congested because of severe traffic, meant taking a taxi the 3.6 km would have taken too much time. So, off we went, negotiating the heat in our business attire.

A team of frogs including Brandon Edwards, Ravi Chhatpar Hannah Regier and myself are in Indonesia to work with BTPN, a large Indonesian bank, on a financial inclusion project funded by CGAP to research and identify new ways the poor can have access to money. According to The World Bank, only 19.6% of Indonesians have an account at a formal financial institution. While people can indeed save and borrow funds through informal networks, they do so at a cost (both in high fees and absence of safety and regulations.) Not having money is actually more expensive.

Whether paying school fees, starting a business, or the ability to respond to an emergency without going into crippling debt, being able to save and get loans when needed can mean the difference between a life that’s moving forward and one that’s stuck in gridlock. In the end it comes down to this: when people have access to money, their lives can get better.

Looking at the Indonesians stuck in traffic, I wondered whether this project would widen the lanes of the road and give people more room on the margins of their lives so when a vehicle from another lane veered in, it wouldn’t crush them. Or whether it was the financial equivalent of a motorbike – the flexibility to weave in and out and be able to capitalize on the gaps to zip ahead. Would the system need to change fundamentally or could innovation in products and services do it?

At the end of the day, I realized the answer was both. Witnessing the ingenuity of the commuters is very much like the research work we will be doing. In integrated teams of frog, Dalberg, CGAP and BTPN, we will spend time with Indonesian housewives as they become entrepreneurs, blue collar and informal workers, small enterprise owners and farmers to see what inspirational behaviors they use in the exchange of money, goods and energy. Those insights will be translated into concepts, both of a foundational nature (the widening of the roads so to speak) as well as products and services (the motorbikes) that people can use to get ahead fast.

We hope you’ll be in the field with us in a virtual sense. We’ll post what we see and what we think it means, and ask you for your thoughts and suggestions. Our hope is that as a collective we can create new ways for people to access their money. You can follow our work in realtime on Twitter andInstagram through the hashtag #InsightsIDN.

Gigi Gormley

Gigi is an American born, Italian-at-heart, former design researcher and strategist at frog. She is passionate about agriculture, gut bacteria and the outdoors.

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