10th August 2021: The dynamic experience of a branchless banking agent in Indonesia   

Branchless banking agents have been one of the main pillars of the Indonesian government’s effort to promote financial inclusion. As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, Indonesian branchless banking agents continue to serve as a vital link, ensuring the delivery of social assistance to the last mile. The agents also bring banking services closer to people even as they limit direct visits to banks to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Heri, one of our diarists from Indonesia, is a banking agent. He also owns a corner shop from which he sells mobile phone supplies, such as airtime vouchers and phone accessories.  He also works for an internet provider as a sales agent, covering the whole Temanggung regency.

Heri usually has 10 agent banking customers per month. The customers are mostly young men and women. In general, Heri’s customers come to him to pay for their transactions in e-commerce platforms, such as Shopee, Bukalapak, or Tokopedia. Money transfers are another prominent category of transactions that keeps Heri busy, worth on average around IDR 500,000 (~USD 34.58) per month. He usually charges IDR 5,000 (~USD 0.35) to IDR 10,000 (~USD 0.69) per transaction from his customers as administration fees. Heri usually deposits around IDR 2 million (~USD 138.31) to IDR 5 million (~USD 345.77) per month in his agent banking account to meet the needs of those transactions.

Meanwhile, cash-out transactions are rare. When they do happen, Heri takes money out of his shop revenue. When he runs out of cash, he has to take a 30-minute motorbike ride to the closest bank branch. Despite the limitations on mobility brought about by COVID-19, Heri observed no significant change in his agent banking business as his customers mainly come from his neighborhood.

The graph below shows Heri’s revenue and proportion of banking agent transactions toward his total revenue:

The graph below shows Heri’s revenue and proportion of banking agent transactions toward his total revenue:The proportion of Heri’s nominal cash-in transactions toward his total revenue ranges from 11% to 25% per month. The transactions dipped in March 2021, as Heri had to renovate his shop during the month.

At that time, the local administration began a roadwork project near Heri’s house, which gradually made it tougher for customers to reach his shop. He had to eventually move his shop to a location nearby. Yet during the move and subsequent renovation, he could not offer in-person transactions, including agent banking services. However, he could still promote his corner shop products on social media and deliver them directly to the customers.

In May 2021, during Idul Fitri, the number of agent banking transactions increased as people needed to pay for their purchases in online shops or transferred money to their relatives. As seen in the graph, Heri’s share of agent banking revenue reached an all-time high in May compared to the past six months.

During our conversation last April, Heri said he preferred to be a non-dedicated agent, which has allowed him to offer various services and work more flexibly while juggling other responsibilities. “Dedicated agents do not receive any additional benefit from the service provider. Also, if I become a dedicated agent, I have to fulfill bank targets each month. I want to do this business in a relaxed way,” he says.

The presence of branchless banking agents can drive a wider financial inclusion. The introduction of new use cases, the provision of support, and more diversified services from service providers shall encourage the existing banking agents to sustain and improve their business. 

23rd July 2021: Why the corner shop business is a preferred choice of livelihood for many Indonesian women 

Studies in several Asian and African countries indicate that women tend to invest in their business less than men. Research on small and medium enterprises in Indonesia also revealed that women owners usually keep their businesses small and informal as they prioritize domestic duties. These studies suggest that while women do participate in the workforce and own businesses, social norms still play a dominant role in influencing women’s career and business decisions. These social and cultural norms lead to constructed social categorizations that have positioned women and men with implied roles and responsibilities, where women are expected to remain in the domestic sphere as caregivers and men are in the public space as breadwinners.
We have interviewed eight women diarists to understand why they opted for corner shops as the preferred choice of livelihood. We found three primary reasons. 

First, corner shop is deemed more manageable than other types of businesses.

1. Sari stays at home while running a corner shop that sells grocery items. She believes that women are sharper in picking and managing grocery items stocks because they have a good understanding of a household’s daily needs.  

2. Yuyun went back to her village after an unsuccessful perfume venture. Following advice that a business will be more successful if located near familiar people, she opened a corner shop at her house. In that way, she can look after her son too.


Second, a corner shop is usually built adjacent to the main house, hence easier to manage while simultaneously performing household chores and caring for family members.

1. Mira used to work in a factory, which kept her busy all day. In 2014, she decided to open her corner shop. She thinks that it has helped her earn some money while staying at home to take care of her husband, her two children, and her aging mother.

2. Hening used to work in a farm field with her husband. But since having children, she stopped being a farmer because it was challenging to tend to a child while working. With permission from her husband, she finally decided to open a shop at their house.


Third, though the corner shop business is small in size, it is enough to serve the purpose for most women.

The corner shop is indeed not the sole source of income in the diarists’ household. They are largely farmers who have patches of land where they cultivate tobacco, cabbages, potatoes, and chilies. Besides, the women diarists are not considered the primary breadwinner in their families; their husbands are. In many cases, therefore, such corner shop businesses serve more as an additional source of income to support the family.

Data shows that the eight women diarists we interviewed had a relatively stable net revenue during the first three months of 2021. However, it dropped in April 2021. 

To conclude

It turns out that economic proposition is not the sole driver for a woman’s decision to choose a livelihood option. Social norms greatly influence the choice they made, especially as they live in a close-knit rural community. The small corner shop business is deemed sensible for women who want to work while looking after the family.

[*] All names have been changed.

2nd June 2021: How the Idul Fitri holiday affected diarists’ personal expenses and revenues

Eid ul-Fitr or Idul Fitri as it is known in Indonesia is a big celebration across the country. During the celebrations, Indonesians usually wear new clothes and offer sweets and gifts to each other. It is no different in Temanggung and Wonosobo, Central Java, home to our corner shop diarists from Indonesia. Members of the community visited each other at their homes despite restrictions on travel in the middle of the pandemic.

The graph above shows the diarists’ total revenues and personal expenses from April to May, 2021. It shows a positive trend from the end of April to early May, 2021. The rising revenues in weeks 29 to 31 indicated that customers bought more supplies before Idul Fitri to prepare for the celebration. This explains the 34.5% increase of the average total revenue per week during those weeks near Idul Fitri. Understandably, the average personal expense per week shot up by 69.4%, while the percentage of personal expense of total revenue increased between before and near Idul Fitri. In week 27, the proportion of personal expenses took up to 9% of the revenue. But in week 31, it rose to 16%. 

We also analyzed the proportion of expenses during week 31 to see how the social and cultural habits played a part in the Idul Fitri spending. 

The pie chart suggests that clothing purchases contributed to 40% of the diarists’ total personal expenses[*]. The new clothes were not only for the diarists, but also for their families.

For instance, Utami, a mother of two, spent around IDR 1,200,000 (~USD 83.3) for new clothing. Meanwhile, Heri, albeit childless, spent IDR 1,250,000 (~USD 86.7) because he bought new clothes for his nephews. Such examples are commonplace during Idul Fitri in Indonesia. The tradition of buying new clothes also applies to those who follow other religions besides Islam. Mira, a Catholic, spent IDR 633,000 (~USD 43.8) to buy new apparel because she wanted to celebrate together with her Muslim relatives. 

Diarists had different ways to cover their extra expenses during Idul Fitri. Fatimah said she prepared for Idul Fitri by taking some of her savings from CU Lestari, a microfinance institution, while Heri took a loan worth IDR 10,000,000 (~USD 694) in March, 2021. Besides using the loan to restock goods for his shop, he also prepared the money for extra expenses during Idul Fitri.

Utami said on a phone call with us in early June, 2021 that she was overworked during Idul Fitri. “I had to close my corner shop several times during the week to visit relatives and neighbors. I even forgot what I spent my money on because I was really busy,” said Utami. However, as the festive season ended, diarists gradually returned to their routines, including reopening the corner shops to recover their financial flow. 

External events, such as social or religious events influence the financial decision-making of the diarists, particularly in a close-knit community. Social pressure continues to affect the diarists’ decisions to sustain the traditions, despite the pandemic or motivation to save more money. 

[*] Household expenses include house rent, transportation, cash gift, groceries, religious expenses, cigarette or tobacco, food at home, salary of domestic help, sweets or snacks, vegetable, expenses on cooking fuel, food bought from outside, such as snacks and soft drinks, jewelry, toiletries, and non-vegetable items.

[**] Utilities include water charges, bill for post-paid phone, internet bill, and electricity charges

April 27th, 2021: The possible effect of government food staple assistance on the corner shop sales

The Government of Indonesia has been distributing some social assistance, including food staple, and allocated around IDR 43.6 trillion (~USD 3.2 billion) for beneficiaries to relieve the impact of COVID-19[1].

In Temanggung, Central Java, the low-income households have started receiving food staple assistance since May 2020[2]. Each household received food staples worth IDR 200,000 (~USD 13.85) which consisted of rice, eggs, cooking oil, instant noodles, and sardines. While the assistance was a well-meaning intervention to ease the burden of the impacted households, it turned out that some corner shop owners saw a decline in revenue from their food staples sales. Some diarists who live in Temanggung shared that their food staple sales kept decreasing, assuming that one of the factors was food staples distribution from the government.

“Since the government distributed food staple assistance for more people—including those in my area—during the COVID-19 pandemic, I see that my food staple sales have reduced.” said Fatimah during our discussion in April 2021. 

The data above reflects that Fatimah’s revenue on food staples has decreased since October 2020, the time when more people started receiving food staple assistance. 

Rima and Aisyah also shared similar concerns as Fatimah. During our discussion in April 2021, Aisyah further added that food staple assistance distribution had affected her sales, causing her four-barrel-stock of rice left unsold.

While they understand the importance of social assistance to the low-income community, the diarists hope that the government can also engage with the local corner shops in distributing the food staple assistance in the future. For instance, the government can involve the local corner shops as their distribution agents and give them incentives. Otherwise, the corner shops can also sell their goods with lower price while receiving subsidy from the government.

[1] MSC, Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Program Keluarga Harapan (PKH) beneficiaries and program implementation,

[2] Temanggung Regency, Pemkab Temanggung mulai salurkan sejumlah bantuan sosial “The government of Temanggung Regency started to distribute social assistance”,

April 2nd, 2021: The diarists who own service-oriented corner shops are struggling to bounce back from the COVID-19 shock

It has been a year since the pandemic hit the lives of the corner shop diarists. Most corner shops—especially those who sell groceries—have bounced back to normal. For instance, right after the pandemic hit, Hening’s revenue ranged within IDR 30 million (~USD 2,079). But since November 2020, her revenue started to increase to IDR 33 million (~USD 2,285) per month. Meanwhile for Fatimah, her revenue ranged around IDR 2 million (~USD 138) in the beginning of the pandemic. Since November 2020, she received about IDR 8 million (~USD 554) to IDR 11 million (~USD 761) per month.  However, for diarists whose businesses offer services, better days are quite far ahead since their customers have less income due to the pandemic. 

Yanti owns a beauty parlor in Wonosobo. Before the pandemic, she had around 50 customers per day. But the customer footfall fell—even to zero—during the week of large-scale social restriction. As a result, her revenue dropped significantly from IDR 45 million to IDR 21 million per month. She also had to reduce her workforce from five to only three people. 

Meanwhile, Edi, who owns a mechanic workshop, also reported a significant drop in revenue. The majority of his clients were tobacco farmers whose income was affected by the tobacco price drop during the pandemic. Besides, the ojek drivers of Prau Mountain tourist area who visited his place for motorbike service, came to his shop less regularly since there were no tourists coming. Furthermore, the increase of the spare part market price by 20% pushed Edi to lower the spare part selling price by 50% to make it more affordable.

However, the situation has slowly returned to normal. During our conversation, Yanti mentioned that her customers slowly started to come again, although it was quite scant compared to the time before the pandemic. Meanwhile, as suggested by the chart above, Edi has gradually recovered his revenue after December 2020. More farmers have come to fix their motorbikes at Edi’s place during the beginning of the planting season in January 2021. Edi also observed that more people visited Prau Mountain since January 2021. This was likely due to the decreasing number of COVID-19 cases and the start of vaccination programs. As tourists started coming, more ojek drivers returned to the operation and often used Edi’s service.

We observe that groceries shops tend to get their businesses back as there were no longer strict social restrictions, allowing people to go outside and get the basic necessities, such as food and amenities. Fatimah, one of our diarists who sells groceries, also said that people started coming to buy the basic necessities from corner shops. That is unlike the early pandemic where people were more inclined to buy groceries in bulk in the traditional market.  

Meanwhile, as people in Wonosobo were trying to survive from the pandemic and fulfil daily necessities, spending money in beauty salon or mechanic was considered as secondary needs and therefore not prioritized. The service-oriented corner shops still need more time until customers have more budget to use their services.

Last Updated: August 10, 2021