Why ASEAN's Gig Economy is Key to Winning the Digital Banking War
Forbes Indonesia|July 2021
ASEAN’s gig economy was in its nascent stages in 2018 when a KellyOCG report found that most hiring managers were using freelancers to save costs, drive innovation, and keep a competitive advantage.
Kaspar Situmorang

Three years later, the local gig economy has expanded even further to include hundreds of millions of motorcycle riders, drivers, administrators, salespeople, and other task-doers across multiple webs and mobile apps.

Due to a wide variety in the types of local gig workers -- ranging from those who use apps sporadically as an additional income stream to those who depend full-time on super-apps like Grab and Gojek or on-demand work apps like GoGet and Fiverr -- quantifying how big the gig market and its workforce is has been difficult.

In Indonesia, where there were some 70 million informal workers pre-pandemic, the Grab ecosystem alone contributed Rp77.4 trillion ($5.3 billion) to GDP in 2019.

The dependence on millions of workers in the gig economy across Indonesia and the rest of ASEAN has raised many social safety nets and financial health issues. Yet, while governments have stepped up with new labor laws to address the former, banks remain reticent to address the latter.

Gig workers face financial health problems because they lack traditional social safety nets like employer-provided insurance or pensions and don’t have time to explore more complex banking products beyond simple savings accounts. Instead, most of them are simply hustling each day, constantly on the move, and chasing gigs.

A 2020 UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) report on the financial health of gig workers in Malaysia and China found that the majority have very little financial freedom and not much wiggle room to do the things they enjoy. Moreover, with barely any savings left over from essential expenses and debt obligations, many gig workers are ill-equipped to deal with financial emergencies such as unexpected medical bills.

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