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Forging your own challenger bank: Jenius by Bank BTPN

Publish date: 10 May 2021
Irwan Tisnabudi, Head of Digital Banking at P.T. Bank BTPN, talks about digitally-savvy customers in Indonesia and how it’s an environment ripe for disruption.
Why did your bank decide to launch a neobank/challenger bank and how did it proceed?

Bank BTPN has a strong track record in building new business. Since 2013, BTPN has developed a digital platform to expand the reach of services and facilitate the community in accessing banking services. We continuously innovate our banking solutions with seven new businesses within eight years, which cater to every segment's needs. Ranging from productive poor, micro business, SME, low income, the high-net-worth-individual, unbanked segment with BTPN WOW! in 2015 and mass affluent & digital-savvy market by launching Jenius in 2016.

Digital disruption is altering consumer behavior. With the high growth of internet and smartphone penetration in Indonesia, customers expect to have simple, fast-paced, yet safe service in their hands. Embracing these changes, banks should move fast and understand the needs of the digital-savvy market.

We believe that all daily decisions that we've made have financial consequences. Bank BTPN wants to meet customers' needs at the heart of digital-savvy Indonesia. To develop the right solutions for the digital-savvy, we focus on what matters to them and understand their needs through co-creation and collaboration.

Before Jenius was officially launched in August 2016, we did co-creation and collaboration with more than 1,000 Indonesian digital-savvy users for 16 months. We ask them about their pain points from the current banking services, what their aspirations were in life, and their expectations and hopes for a banking service. As a result, we introduced a new way of banking by simplifying how to manage finances from a smartphone.

We also built new way of working and culture through three pillars:
a. Change in Mindset: from Bank Centric to Customer Centric
b. Change in the way of Working: from Waterfall to Agile
c. Change in Culture: from Traditional Bankers to Diverse & Flexible Talent

Bank BTPN also developed Jenius as a start to implementing a digital transformation of the entire bank. Jenius collaborates with other business units to build a holistic digital ecosystem at Bank BTPN.

How is this neobank positioned? What are its main competitive advantages? How does its offering differ from that of the incumbent bank? Is it targeting a different type of customer?

As a financial institution, BTPN always introduces technological innovation to empower people financially. At Bank BTPN, our commitment is to understand our customers' needs, then provide products and services to help satisfy those needs. The best way for us to meet and understand our customers' needs is by listening, learning, and working together; we called it: co-creating. This is why we place so much value on our products, including Jenius. 

Jenius was conceived in January 2015 and officially launched in August 2016, clearly causing a splash (and disruption) in the market. It is evidently digital, being the first truly digital bank (the term neo-bank was not popular back then) in the country (specifically, offering all its products, services, and features through an app, with support via chat, email, social media, etc.). It also evidently disrupts, with:

• A very different brand identity, style, tone, and manner from traditional financial services (which has been imitated by several players since our launch, with more players communicating in a more informal style ("Kamu" vs. "Anda" in Bahasa, etc.))
• A genuine customer/life focus, not just in theory, but as evidenced by the design of the features, the UI, and its language. The seamless UI design allows users to easily understand the features; even a 74-year-old user can activate his Jenius account from home.
• A set of new features (Pay Me, x-Cards, $Cashtag, and many more) simply not available in the market previously. The revolutionary features focus on customers' needs to manage their finance simpler, smarter, and safer. For example, users can have up to 5 Jenius Visa Debit Cards that consist of 1 main card (m-Card), 3 additional cards (x-Card), and 1 virtual card (e-Card). This allows users to manage their budgeting and spending better and do online transactions easier with the Visa international network.
• A fully-digital approach, with not just some, but all features offered via digital channels, and even a fully digital registration/sign-up process, along with an innovative "ride-hailing-style" KYC approach.

Jenius is targeting digitally savvy people, so anybody who is digitally savvy will like Jenius as it is developed around their life and lifestyle as we put them before their money. So, we will walk together with them in terms of market strategy. We continuously co-create Jenius as we would like to ensure that we also evolve with them as they grow.

How dependent/independent is this neobank from the incumbent bank in terms of technology, management, finance, marketing and distribution?

Jenius is the newest banking service presented by Bank BTPN. Digital is at the core of the business (digital technology is part of the product), and the value proposition is not just an additional channel. We took digital as an approach, so the solution we provide is a new digital channel and the life finance solutions that focus on what matters to the digital-savvy user. Jenius was built by many stakeholders: a newly-built Jenius team, the existing Bank BTPN of which Jenius is a part, and multiple partners. The financial services regulator in Indonesia, the Indonesian Financial Services Authority (OJK), was also closely engaged in particular around KYC and customer protection, and Bank Indonesia about the connection to Indonesia's various payments systems. Furthermore, we had many interactions with key opinion leaders, bloggers, vloggers, and enthusiasts interested in Indonesia's new financial service style.

Many of these "digital banking enthusiasts" came together in our co-creation efforts, described previously. Beyond that, extensive customer research was conducted to ensure that the product design fit the target customer segment. Offering the best customer experience was a priority.

• Talent: many of the skills required in the newly-built Jenius team (in particular agile IT, digital marketing, data analysts/scientists) are very scarce indeed. Finding this talent and attracting it to our team was extremely hard. However, we made much progress developing an employee value proposition (including, in particular, work culture elements) that makes Jenius (and Bank BTPN) an attractive place to work for the people we need. From informal dress codes to flexible working hours to a very different work environment.
• Mixing "tech" and financial services cultures: on the one hand, Jenius needs digital talent (in IT development, in marketing, etc.); on the other, it is a financial service provider that has to be very conscious of and careful with regulatory compliance, customer protection, and risk management. Creating a culture in which people with both skills and experience feel comfortable and work effectively and collaboratively is not straightforward. It has taken many team discussion sessions to find the right compromises, the right middle way, and to create the mutual respect and understanding necessary for this.
• In terms of organization as a FinTech company like Jenius, agile is a given. A genuine focus on customer needs is at the core of who we are. Plus, Jenius likes to co-create the solutions with customers and other stakeholders to ensure we really get them right. Doing that without agile (IT) development is pretty much impossible. Our app needs to change every couple of weeks, not twice a year.

To create a "fintech-like" workforce, Jenius encourages its employees to embrace a digital mindset through experimental learning and experimentation via programs such as in-house training. More than 500 employees have gained exposure to digital culture, agile methodology, and other digital concepts. The dominant focus regarding Jenius is to build an agile culture: be adaptable and optimistic regarding all challenges and continually strive to improve the organization's capacity.

We believe digital transformation is being envisioned as the next frontier for banks in emerging Asia. The focus has been transforming banks into an omni-channel presence with seamless integration between different technology platforms, such as mobile, desktop, and notebook/tablet.

How successful is this neobank so far? What are its main successes? Its main challenges? How do you see this neobank evolving in the next five to ten years?

As one of the pioneers of digital banking (neo-bank) in Indonesia, Jenius has continued to respond to the Indonesian digital savvy community for the past four years positively. Up to now, Jenius has more than 3.1 million users from all over Indonesia. We also already gathered more than 1,000,000 voices (inputs, ideas, and feedback) from the Indonesian digital-savvy community and more than 19,000 co-creators (Jenius community) already joined at We are also beyond happy to hear various inspirational stories from users about how Jenius can help them achieve their dreams and have a better financial life.

All of this can be achieved through continuous improvement in terms of technology and features and the usage of different marketing and communication approaches. We positioned our users as partners to grow together through the co-creation and collaboration process. We always put them first in every decision, not only in developing and enhancing new features but also in the business process, including how we communicate with them. We build two-way communications through various channels. We believe the offline presence is still important in Indonesia.

We combine the online and offline presence to reach out and educate more audiences. Besides the online channel, people can get further information about Jenius, doing the account opening, and asking about the details of Jenius application through Jenius Live (booth) at malls in more than ten major cities in Indonesia.

As the first banking solution for the retail segment in Bank BTPN, Jenius gets full support and commitment from the management and shareholder. This allows us to move fast by developing and implementing more efficient business processes.

There are three main challenges in developing Jenius. First, how to educate people about the concept of digital banking (neo-bank), including the products & features. Second, the cybersecurity awareness for bank customers. The convenience provided by digital banking (neo-bank) must be followed by continuous improvement in security and quality from the service provider and vigilance and care from users when conducting online and offline financial activities. Third, stay relevant. The digital world is moving very fast, and there are always new technologies, new trends, and new ideas.

The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated penetration and adoption of digital access, including in the financial services sector. People are also increasingly more aware and proactive in managing their finances. We can’t predict what will happen in the digital banking industry because it’s moving fast; even during the past 1 – 2 years there has always been new technology, new trends, and consumer behavior changes. What we can do is to keep evolving and stay relevant to the needs of the digital-savvy. In Jenius, we aim to stay co-cocreating and collaborating with the Indonesian digital-savvy community and like-minded partners to build a better digital economy ecosystem in Indonesia.

More generally how do you see neobanks competing in the future banking landscape? Do you believe that a Netflix-like or an Amazon-like neobank could fundamentally reshape banking services?

Neo-banks appeal primarily to the digitally-savvy consumers who no longer want to deal with the bureaucracy and lack of flexibility of traditional banks. This generation wants to have the most relevant features and banks that understand their financial needs. And this is exactly what neo-banks offer them: speed, friendly customer support, and relevant services. Neo-banks are all about convenience and respect for the customer’s time. The ones that will succeed will be the ones who can keep their adoption rate growing while having enough experience to sustain.

Besides, Jenius has always brought co-creation and collaboration from the beginning to provide relevant financial services. We are reinventing and reshaping banking by listening to our customers and potential customers to provide more relevant and complete financial solutions to meet the various needs that continue to grow. Not necessarily to develop a Netflix-like or Amazon-like neo-bank, but the key is to listen and collaborate with the digital-savvy.
Download the full paper "Challenging yourself: How traditional banks are forging their own challenger banks" and read more of these exclusive interviews.