Illustration of financial technology (fintech). (Shutterstock/File
Indonesia is currently a hotbed for investment in its digital economy. Unlike a decade ago when smartphones were considered luxury items, 72 percent of Indonesians now have access to a smartphone, and internet penetration has gone beyond urban centers.
With its four unicorns, the country now proudly ranks sixth in the world in terms of the number of locally bred billion-dollar tech startups. From online marketplaces to transportation solutions, the digital economy has changed the way Indonesians live.
Financial technology, colloquially referred to by many as fintech, is touted as the next frontier in the digital economy. Essentially, fintech encompasses any use of technology that aims to compete with conventional banking methods and the delivery of financial services.
The statistics paint a rosy future for fintech companies: A poll run in 2018 showed that 70 percent of millennials use fintech services, compared to 26 percent in 2016. This is especially important given the demography of Indonesia.
We are now experiencing a demographic dividend in which the share of the young working population is much larger than the share of the nonworking population. In fact, 34 percent of Indonesians reached their productive years at the turn of the millennium.
As such, almost all fintech companies prioritize millennials as their target market. Not only are millennials more tech-savvy than older generations, but winning the hearts of millennials will ensure continued success in the foreseeable future. Wherever you are in Jakarta, you cannot miss the many billboards advertising fintech services.
The benefits of fintech for millennials are obvious. For a fast-paced generation where convenience is key, one no longer needs to worry about withdrawing cash or the hassle of keeping spare change.
By a single swipe on your smartphone, you can make payments and keep track of your finances. Promotions, discounts and cashbacks can be applied automatically for every transaction.
As many as 59 percent of the millennials prefers cashless transactions, and many believe a digital wallet is better than a real wallet.
There is little doubt that fintech will have positive impacts on Indonesia. In fact, there are many claims that tech companies have triggered a wave of financial inclusion in the country, where previously unbankable people now have access to financial products.
However, questions remain for this nascent industry. First, we need to understand what millennials really think about fintech. So far, the digital economy narrative has been effectively controlled by the service providers. Armed with a huge trove of cash to spend on marketing and advertisements, fintech companies portray a picture in which fintech makes life easy for everyone.
But do the millennials agree with this? To what extent has fintech made life truly simpler and better for them? Current explorations into understanding the relationship between millennials and fintech companies have hitherto yielded limited results.
There are several arguments that may even suggest that fintech is making life more complicated. For example, most of the millennials I know personally still carry cash and their debit and/or credit cards. I have yet to meet anyone who only carries a smartphone wherever they go.
The reason for this is actually quite rudimentary. What happens if your phone runs out of battery? What happens when you run out of internet quota?
What happens when the Wi-Fi is not working or when the servers are down? About 35 percent of people surveyed in 2018 still have doubts about the reliability of transactions made through their smartphones.
In fact, Indonesia is still a country where cash and ATM-banking are prevalent. According to Bank Indonesia, 55 percent of financial transactions in Indonesia are still conducted through ATM machines.
Moreover, while we tend to view fintech as one big entity, it is in reality a plethora of companies competing with each other.
Imagine a scenario many citizens of Jakarta are facing on a daily basis. You go to your regular coffee shop for a daily dose of caffeine. At the cash desk, you see posters of three competing companies offering cashback if you pay using their digital wallet.
You then browse through your phone to open all three apps. You realize that you don’t have enough credit on the app that offers the most cashback. Annoyed, you go to top up your digital wallet. Afterwards, you return to the cashier and queue from the back of the line again.
Millennials now face a considerable shoe leather cost whenever they want to make a simple transaction, which cash or debit and/or credit cards can offer because they are accepted universally. It is as if we are living in a country with multiple currencies.
Thus, choice can sometimes create more confusion. Fintech companies that offer credit or payday loans are another example of this. Do we really need to have 10 fintech companies offering the same product or service? How do we even know which ones are legitimate and which ones are a façade for malign activities?
In September 2018, the Financial Services Authority closed down 182 fintech companies for operating illegally.
Despite these issues, before our eyes fintech is revolutionizing the way we spend money. But it should not stop us from unpacking the complex relationship between fintech companies and their customers. We need to expend effort and time to investigate both the ease and difficulty of using fintech services from the perspective of millennials. The results of such research will help shape policy that allows Indonesia’s digital economy ecosystem to improve and flourish.
Whether we like it or not, fintech is here to stay. The best step forward is for millennials to voice their opinions and enter the discourse on how fintech impacts their lives.
The writer is the CEO and cofounder of Populix, a consumer insights platform.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.