When I first stepped into the streets of Jakarta, I was taken aback by several things. First, this is a tech-inundated city. People are living in their phones — sitting, walking, riding on motorcycles — digital life, is life. Second, you see green. Not just the green from tree-lined roads filled with commuters, but from the green helmets of motorcycle drivers working for Go-Jek and Grab, two unicorn ride-sharing companies fighting for turf on the streets of the city.
Traffic in Jakarta is bad, really bad. It’s not a mistake that ride-sharing has taken off in the market with homegrown Go-Jek, regional giant Grab, and global behemoth Uber all looking to capture riders.
What results is a bloodbath of a platform war, with the companies jockeying for advantages where they can get them. It’s hard to tell who’s truly leading but the competition has spilled over to adjacent businesses lines, including food delivery, and most recently, digital payments.
Super platforms are a hot topic   in the financial inclusion world. A while back, I wrote about the lessons to be learned from market leaders like Alipay and WeChat when it came to the future of digital finance in Africa. Many now are taking the leap to suggest that these same Chinese companies are going to be what transforms the industry. There’s no denying that the gravity of fintech has moved east; that Shanghai, not London or Palo Alto, now holds the reins of innovation. But if you look at what’s been written so far, there is one glaring issue that breaks the narrative: “Cash-In, Cash-Out,” or CICO.
CICO is how cash enters and exits a digital ecosystem. It’s important because CICO is how digital and cash-based economies are able to interact. You might want to use digital currency to transfer money to a far away family member, but your local produce seller might not have the right incentives or infrastructure to accept digital payments.
In East Africa, cash to digital and back is handled by a network of mobile money agents. In the U.S., it’s handled by the brick and mortar banking infrastructure, underpinned by bank accounts. In China, the super platforms supply CICO abilities more like the U.S. than like East Africa. While you can cash out your wallet in some retail locations, debit card and bank account infrastructure still play a critical role in how cash interacts with digital payments.
Indonesia however, is pushing the agent-centric model forward.
How the stage was set for China’s super platforms
The Chinese Communist Party’s role in bringing bank accounts to China’s rural and lower income communities cannot be ignored. The rural banking expansion that China undertook in the 2010’s included several, billion dollar-plus rural bank IPOs combined with a surge of government-to-person payments designed to increase bank account adoption. These reforms were set into motion with centralized planning and regulatory directives focused on reinvigorating China’s rural banking sector on a global level.
Looking at the above table outlining bank account access, China is a clear cut outlier not only in bank account ownership, but more importantly, an outlier in how those bank accounts — and CICO points — were put into place.
Indonesia on the other hand, faces a similar path to those faced by many African countries. Its super platform must solve for CICO without the benefit of high bank account penetration.
So what allows Go-Jek to solve for CICO in a different way than the Chinese model? To answer that, we first need to understand what makes it such a different kind of super platform.
The DNA of a new super platform
Like other super platforms, Go-Jek offers a menu of services on its platform including everything from airtime top-up to bill pay to medicine delivery. Its competitors currently do not offer services beyond ride-sharing and food delivery. Go-Jek captured its user base through an initial value proposition of low-cost ride-sharing on motorcycle taxis (ojeks).
Here’s an overview of the major super platforms from the perspective of their own initial value propositions:
- Facebook — free and ubiquitous social networking
- Google — free and ubiquitous online tools
- Amazon — cheap and ubiquitous e-commerce (and web hosting)
- WeChat — free and ubiquitous messaging
- Alipay — cheap and ubiquitous e-commerce
We can also mention LINE, Kakao, and Paytm, but they can be roughly understood as archetypes of the two China-based models.
And here’s the ingredient list that make up Go-Jek’s super platform:
- Go-Jek — cheap and ubiquitous online-to-offline commerce
It should be mentioned that WeChat, Alipay, and Go-Jek are not just super platforms, but are super apps as well. They provide a mobile-first (sometimes mobile-only) experience where their entire suite of offerings live within one app on your phone. Contrast this with U.S.-based super platforms that live across multiple apps, desktop sites, etc.
The main differentiation however, is that none of the above super platforms other than Go-Jek provide a ubiquitous physical presence. It’s arguable that Amazon is heading in that direction with delivery, but even then, still depends heavily on a network of third-party domestic and international delivery services. Go-Jek’s core offering is a physical transport and delivery network.
It’s this ability to provide a ubiquitous physical presence through its drivers that will allow Go-Jek to offer CICO through a seamless, on-demand service.
The plan is already in motion; here are Go-Jek’s instructions to cash-in via driver:
Initial results look good. Go-Jek’s CEO, Nadiem Makarim said that he “can’t think of any platform that moved everyone from cash to digital money so fast.”
Cashing in is just half of the equation.
Right now, Go-Jek’s users can only cash-out through partner banks. It’s unclear if Go-Jek will offer its users the the ability to cash-out through its drivers, but if it ever chooses to do so, it will have a strong foundation of user data, drivers, and cash liquidity to work with.
However, Go-Jek and its competitors have an incentive to keep their user’s money digital and reduce cash-outs all together. To do this, especially as Go-Jek expands outside of Jakarta, will largely depend on how well its e-commerce offerings serve new markets. More specifically, Go-Jek’s offerings are often online-to-offline (“O2O”) commerce, where goods and services are marketed online, but purchased (and/or delivered) offline (e.g. Groupon, GrubHub, etc.).
Go-Jek’s O2O offerings have largely been an urban phenomenon. They work best in areas with a critical mass of customers, merchants, and drivers.
However, we can look at Grab, Go-Jek’s fiercest competitor in the country to understand how O2O commerce could look like outside of Indonesia’s urban centers.
Serving last mile customers
In early 2017, Grab purchased Kudo, an O2O startup that helps last-mile customers with e-commerce purchases. The company started with a kiosk model, later pivoted to an merchant agent model, and now has a network of over 500,000 agents spread across 500 towns in Indonesia. Kudo’s agents offer digital products (airtime, bill pay, transportation tickets) but also serve as local e-commerce brokers with access to millions of items at wholesale prices. Kudo’s agents often serve users who are offline or otherwise don’t yet have the compatible devices or digital fluency to shop online.
After the Grab acquisition and integration into GrabPay, Grab’s digital payments offering, Kudo’s service offerings expanded to include Grab driver recruitment and on-boarding. It’s clear that the Kudo acquisition was not only a play to reach last mile customers, but also to add last mile drivers. All the offline e-commerce buyers who rely upon Kudo for purchase and delivery are now Grab users, adding an offline-to-online-to-offline commerce component to GrabPay.
Now, imagine if Go-Jek expanded its super app outside of Jakarta through a similar strategy. It would be a network of drivers and merchant agents providing cash-in points to a wallet linked to a menu of O2O services plus the ability to reach last-mile customers and their spending data. Building curated digital financial services on top of that platform of users, drivers and agents, O2O services, and data would be promising.
Contrast the Indonesian vision for cashless society with China’s “Taobao” villages and you have another reason why the super platform and financial inclusion discussion needs to involve Go-Jek.
Does this matter for fintech in Africa?
The M-PESA mobile money model is really an agent-banking breakthrough. The WeChat and Alipay model simply isn’t. This isn’t to say that Chinese super platforms won’t play a role in Africa’s digital financial services; they almost certainly will, but they will face a real challenge in adapting to the agent-banking model.
However in Indonesia, you have a super platform that’s starting to take agent-banking and combine it with ride-sharing and O2O commerce in a really innovative way. Go-Jek and Grab are specifically trying to expand into smaller towns through agent-based strategies that are not reliant on bank accounts.
If they’re able to crack O2O commerce in last mile communities, the lessons for several African mobile money markets will be immense. Here are a few developments I’m excited to see play out:
- Will demand to cash-out force Go-Jek/Grab to expand its driver-based CICO services? How will regulations evolve around driver-based CICO?
- Are there O2O delivery services that make sense for lower-income, last mile customers? Are there ride-sharing scenarios that make sense?
- Can O2O e-commerce for last-mile customers provide enough of a initial value proposition to bring them on as registered users?
- What type of data will be unlocked? How will last mile digital financial services be improved through this data?
Super platforms are here and will continue to help shape fintech in emerging markets. It’s time to bring Go-Jek into the conversation.
*Originally published on DFS Medium (Mar 7, 2018)