Bridge Southeast Asia

David Bonifacio, CEO & Founder

Towards Intelligent Impact

My news feed is full of exciting technological advancements. From health breakthroughs to literal rocket science, from faster telecommunications to cleaner energy, it seems that nothing is truly impossible.


But impossible is the reality for many people, particularly millions of our countrymen in the Philippines. It seems, that after generations of poverty, the idea that they will someday escape the fear and pain that come with lack is truly impossible. I don’t need to do a survey. I just need to look out the window. I don’t need to review the statistics. I just need to walk through the busy streets of Manila. For all our good intentions, for all our social media posts, for all our donations, all our fundraisers, all our projects, and all our NGOs, the scourge of poverty remains.

This is why the idea of Intelligent Impact is very important to us at Bridge. Intelligent Impact is not simply a digital solution to an old problem, or a new cure to an old disease. Intelligent Impact, for us, is providing measurable, scalable, and sustainable solutions to our issues, particularly the issue of poverty in the Philippines. We want to be able to objectively point to over 1,000,000 people set free from a cycle of generational debt.

Measurability

After over a decade in social work and community development, I’ve many times been very disappointed with my results. Despite all my efforts and the efforts of others, I find that, by objective metrics, my impact was actually very minimal. How many talks have I given? How many successful people have I produced? How many blogs have I written? How many principled people have I produced? How many causes have I promoted? How many homes have we built? How many poor people have we uplifted? I think it’s important to know the reality of whether our efforts are leading to real solutions or simply a delaying of the problem. It isn’t enough to feel good about ourselves, to be able to check a “social work” box, or to be receive the social recognition of being involved. We want to take the lead in highly measurable, meaning highly transparent, highly countable, and highly judge-able impact. We want to know, “Is this person really better off according to objective metrics?”

Scalability

One of the statements I dislike a lot is this, “I do my part in my own little way.” How convenient! We have massive social issues, issues we vocally opine on, yet, when it comes to taking ownership of the issue, we retreat into our own safe and respectable, “I do my part.” Seeking scalability is acknowledging that these issues are massive and that the actions needed to address these issues are also massive. We did not start Bridge to help “in our own small way”. We started, resourced, and are building Bridge to impact millions of people, particularly in the area of financial poverty.

Sustainability

Another thing I dislike, actually, hate is a better word, are well-meaning opinions coming from people aren’t paying the cost of those opinions. A social media post claiming solidarity with people suffering from an issue such as poverty, while we type away on an expensive device as we sip on an expensive cup of coffee, is not compassion. Talk is very cheap. Opinions are very cheap. Real commitment is seen when we go out to pay the cost of our ideals. As an organization, we are very cognizant of the costs of our goals, and we greatly value the people and organisations who provide us with the resources to achieve our ideals. But we don’t see them as endless sources of funds. We see them as stakeholders, meaning, they have a contribution to our mission, but they also must get something in return. So building a sound business model is important to us. We don’t ever want to be “donor dependent” nor unstrategic simply because we’re beholden to the financial interests of others. We want to make sure that we capture massive value in return for the massive value we provide.

Real Impact

When we combine measurability (and the accountability that comes with) with scalability and sustainability, we have a very difficult task ahead of us. We cannot hide behind our motives. We need to face our results. We cannot retreat to our comfort zones. We’ve committed to scale. And we cannot keep asking for handouts. We’ve chosen to own our own destiny. But this, we believe, is the only way towards real impact. Nothing of significance is achieved through easy paths, and shouldn’t we be more than willing to do the necessary hard work of achieving such a valuable objective? Even as we grow (we’re one of the fastest-growing HR Tech companies in the country), even as we innovate (launched first savings app in the country), and even as we improve lives (lowest monthly interest rate), we remain unsatisfied. There’s so much more people to serve, more improvements to our model, and more impact to be made.

The Game Should Define the Score

This is Part 2 of an article I wrote titled Escape Velocity.

If you were to score 100 points in basketball, that would be quite a high scoring output, and generally seen as a good thing (unless your competitor scores more). But if you were to score 100 in golf, now that would be horrible because your score reflects the number of shots it takes you to close a hole. The less shots the better in golf. The point is this: it’s not so much about the number of your score but about what the score represents depending on the game your playing.

Many of the credit scoring systems were not developed for today’s emerging market. A credit score that was developed for another time, another condition, and another market is what is used to score credit in emerging markets. And then we wonder why most people in emerging markets don’t have access to credit cards and still go to loan sharks. Of course! He or she is scored for another game! We are expecting basketball scores when they’re playing football.

Just as we (Bridge) believe that traditional credit scoring does not work in the emerging market game, traditional materialistic, short-term gains driven, and purely financial scores are the wrong scores for helping an organization serve the underbanked. I don’t know how many times we have been questioned for “leaving money on the table” by aggressively dropping our interest rates. We do this because we are clear about our game: provide Access to the underbanked, and we are clear about our score: the number of people who have reached Financial Escape Velocity. Profitability, sustainability, and efficiency are important to us, but only because it allows us to beat those who would insist on keeping the poor grounded.

Let me end this post with two questions we hope everyone will ask themselves:

  1. What am I doing to achieve Financial Escape Velocity?
  2. How am I helping the people I care about achieve Financial Velocity?

If these questions matter to you, we would love to connect.

Escape Velocity

I really dislike it when people compare Bridge Access to other loan companies.

I dislike it because “loan company” fails to capture what we do, how we do things, and why we do things.

Yes, we do offer loans, with some of the lowest monthly interest in fact, but that is just part of the full value we offer our customers. What we really provide is Access.

Access to what?

Financial Escape Velocity.

In physics, escape velocity is the minimum speed needed for a free object gravitational influence of amassive body.

At that speed, the object is able to zoom to escape from the off into space, no longer hindered by the forces that keep other objects grounded. Similarly, our low cost loans are about removing the gravitational influence of high interest rates on our finances. Our auto deductions are about removing the gravitational influence of our lack of discipline as well. Our low cost insurance removes the gravitational influence of life’s risks. And our low cost savings and investments remove the gravitational influence of lack and slow financial growth. To put it simpler, Bridge Access removes the forces that keep the finances of millions people grounded.

The reason why the rich get richer is because they’re beyond escape velocity. Financial Physics, such as the benefit of compounding interest work in their favor. The poor, those who haven’t escaped, suffer from the same forces that help the rich get richer, such as compounding interest, but this time to their detriment.

Picture this: A 43 year old man, who used to spend P2000.00 on interest monthly, on a P10,000.00 loan, and he’s most likely earning P12,500 in pre-tax income. With Bridge Access, he will only be paying P200 a month in interest. P200! Even more, he is incentivized (by even lower interest rates) to flip some of his interest savings into our low cost savings, insurance, and investment products, which are as low as P550 a month.

With other loan companies, even the new digital lenders, they’re only offering the ability to borrow, and at usurious rates! As you can see with Bridge Access, the savings we provide is so significant that it enables our customer to escape the pressures of high interest (through low interest rates), of bad financial decisions (through forced savings), and some of life’s risk (through low cost insurance). This allows them to reach a higher level of financial security, which is one step closer to financial escape velocity. Remember, Bridge Access is not about digitizing lending. We are about giving the millions of emerging underbanked workers Access.

Here’s a recap: Bridge Access provides low-cost Financial Access to the Emerging Underbanked Workforce so that they can achieve Financial Escape Velocity. We are building a financial rocket ship. This covers what we do and how we do what we do.

Now let me tell you about WHY we’re doing this.

Emerging Access

As more people from around the world hear about Bridge, one question I get asked more often is, “So what is Bridge?”

Let me answer this: Bridge is a People Technology Company. What that means is that we are committed to using technology to improve the productivity and rewards of people, specifically, of workers, those putting energy into generating value.

I’ll share my thoughts on Productivity in another post, but I would like to share on what we believe to be the right way of rewarding workers, something we call Emerging Access.

Emerging Access means helping people grow (emerge) through better options (Access) and equal opportunity (Access).

We wanted to go beyond the current very transactional, purely material, highly impractical, and, frankly, very uncreative, ways of rewarding workers. Basically, when scoping the field we saw the following situations:

1. No Rewards

2. Salary-Based Rewards

3. Performance-Based Rewards

4. Material Rewards

The No Rewards situation obviously is not sustainable because the competition for great talent is harder than ever. This is possible in industries that utilize redundant labor, but don’t expect any dynamism from people who are not rewarded commensurately. This is particularly true for contractual employees. There is an extreme example of this, where employees are not only not-rewarded, but negatively exploited, such as when companies charge employees for disbursements of their own salary (yes, this happens quite often). So the guy who is already taking home very little is charged to withdraw his own pay. If you’re a company that’s ok with this, shame on you!

The Salary-Based Rewards situation is limited by annual schedules. In a fast-moving world, with people less and less willing to wait, working all year for a potential 2-5% salary increase when being expected to deliver 10-20x is not only NOT motivating, it gets discouraging. Despite that, this is the basic arrangement full-time employees rely on for rewards, and can be built on.

The Performance-Based Rewards are a great way to link Productivity with Rewards, but it usually on credits one kind of performance, such as beating sales targets, hitting production quota, or being on time consistently. I personally think it’s a good idea to utilize performance-based incentives as part of your overall compensation plan, but just keep in mind that to get the best out of a worker, you can’t have them running around with blinders just trying to achieve one kind of metric. Today’s company needs more collaboration, more agility, and more resourcefulness, hardly the qualities of someone who is narrow-minded.

Material Rewards, which include things like gift vouchers and flexible benefits, are also well-meaning, tax-maximizing ways of rewarding workers. One of the things I like about this is the options it gives workers. This is a step in the right direction. The main reason why I, personally, don’t choose it is because we, including me, tend to value material things over abstract things. For example, given the choice between taking a rest leave and converting that leave into points for buying a new phone, I, and I would think most people, would opt for the phone. I don’t want my team trading in much-needed rest for more “things”. I want them recuperating, creating margin in their life, having experiences out of the office, and truly recreating. People are more than just “make money to buy things” beings. Materialism has a way of making us live to work to afford things. I want my people experiencing the richness of life, and realizing that there are amazing things we can create and huge needs one can address. You will only recognize these if you move away from purely material motivations.

But the biggest thing going against these situations is simply this: Senior management is not incentivized to increase rewards commensurate to productivity. Why? Because they’re incentivized (meaning their own salary and bonuses) are mostly hinged on profitability, and how does a company become more profitable? By increasing productivity (sales, output) at a rate that’s higher than expenses (including cost of labor). So management is constantly faced with a “us or employees” decision.

So what should a company, a leader, whether CEO, Team Leader, or HR Manager do? How do they bridge seemingly competing ideas of rewarding employees more and increasing profitability.

The “AND” of Rewards

Bridge Access users can enjoy discounts and flexible payments on Lazada among many other merchant partners.

(Caption: Bridge Access users can enjoy incredible shopping options on Lazada among many amazing choices.)

At Bridge, one of our values is Understanding, captured by the statement, “In a world of “OR” look for the “AND”. So we developed a way to reward employees without costing employers, and without trapping them in a purely material mindset, we call our platform Bridge Access.

Here’s how it works: Employers make Bridge Access available to all their employees completely free. Employees can now enjoy low-cost loans (removing the lender-borrower relationship between employers and employees), low-cost placements (which includes savings, investments, and insurance), and low-cost purchases (from popular sites like Lazada, FoodPanda, and more). All these low-cost options are geared towards one thing: generating savings for the worker, who we also incentivize to put into forced savings, investments, and insurance, achieving not only material gain but financial inclusion AND financial security as well.

Here’s the end goal for every worker: Lower debt, higher savings, AND still be able to afford the life you want.

Again, this doesn’t cost the employer anything. They don’t even guarantee any repayments. They’re simply a partner in giving their own employees more access.

Other than basics of loans, placements, and shopping, Bridge Access has Bridge Points, a non-monetary way of rewarding employees who exhibit good behavior, from coming in on time to regularly donating to a chosen cause (we want to teach them to give too).

And we’re just getting started. There are more amazing merchants on the platform and scheduled to go live. The best way to do learn more about the platform is to make an account and try it out. It’s easy and free.

Emerging Access

I’m going to get personal here, and business is personal, especially when we’re talking about lives and livelihoods. I have a one year old, and every day I think about the kind of future I would for him, the future I can prepare for, and the future world he’s entering. I think about these because I care for him. He is valuable to me. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard leaders and companies say, “People are our most valuable assets”, only to watch how they treat their people. So much for valuable. You don’t treat someone who is valuable as disposable. You don’t reward someone who is valuable with the bare minimums. You cultivate them, train them, develop them, encourage them, prune them, and, of course, truly reward them. You develop them to be their best version of themselves (as seen by their productivity) and you are overjoyed to see them succeed and enjoy life.

Personally, I love seeing my team’s vacation photos, especially when they’re with their family. I love seeing them trying new experiences, traveling, and resting. And I love enabling them with ways to access these things. I love it so much, we built a company to help other companies enjoy it too.