Indonesian banks battle for savings

A Bank Tabungan billboard on a main Jakarta street shows off its prizes to attract depositors. It gives away a Vespa motorcycle for depositors who are willing to put 60 million rupiah (S$6,200) savings and not withdraw it for several years. -- PHOTO:
A Bank Tabungan billboard on a main Jakarta street shows off its prizes to attract depositors. It gives away a Vespa motorcycle for depositors who are willing to put 60 million rupiah (S$6,200) savings and not withdraw it for several years. -- PHOTO: WAHUYUDI SOERIAATMADJA  
Mr and Mrs Zaenal Muttaqin receiving a symbolic key to a Yamaha motorcycle prize that they won from saving money at Jakarta-based Bank Central Asia. -- PHOTO: BANK CENTRAL ASIA
Mr and Mrs Zaenal Muttaqin receiving a symbolic key to a Yamaha motorcycle prize that they won from saving money at Jakarta-based Bank Central Asia. -- PHOTO: BANK CENTRAL ASIA
Ms Stella Trisnasari, a depositor of Jakarta-based Bank BTPN, who said it feels good to know that her savings were used to lend to a fried banana seller whose outstanding loan was a mere million rupiah. -- PHOTO: Bank BTPN 
Ms Stella Trisnasari, a depositor of Jakarta-based Bank BTPN, who said it feels good to know that her savings were used to lend to a fried banana seller whose outstanding loan was a mere million rupiah. -- PHOTO: Bank BTPN 

Billboards featuring prizes from luxury cars to free holidays in lucky draws for placing savings and time deposits in certain banks have sprouted in recent months as Indonesia heads towards greater monetary tightening. 

The central bank has been absorbing rupiah to defend its weakening against the US dollar, causing a liquidity squeeze in the past several months. 

To keep fueling lending, banks have resorted to going the extra mile to stay ahead. Offering attractive interest rates to customers is no longer a sole norm for getting adequate funding. 

The move has proven a success. Some banks have managed to keep existing customers and attract more. 

Mr Zaenal Muttaqin, a resident of Magelang, Central Java, recounted the time when he was alerted about wining a Yamaha motorcycle prize from Jakarta-based Bank Central Asia (BCA). 

“I and my wife were about to leave town when I received a call from BCA, and we decided to turn back. We almost couldn't believe it. We believe it only when we arrived at our BCA branch,” said the 40-year-old depositor, who pledged he would never switch bank accounts. 

Competitor Bank Rakyat is currently offering depositors a Range Rover, a Mercedes S Class, and 16 Toyota Alphard vans. Bank Tabungan is giving away a motorcycle to a customer who places a 60 million rupiah (S$6,000) savings and commits to keep the money in the bank for several years. These banks share a common aim, to grow their loans. 

Loans at Indonesian banks rose 20.3 per cent  to 3,957 trillion rupiah at end-October 2013, from 3,289 trillion rupiah a year earlier, according to the central bank data. Bank deposits rose 14.7 per cent to 3,521 trillion rupiah.   

This has happened even though Bank Indonesia has been aggressively absorbing rupiah liquidity by selling debt notes in a bid to curb the rupiah weakening, which last week breached the 12,000 mark against the US dollar, and currently keeps hovering at that level. 

But not all banks are playing the lottery game. Jakarta-based Bank BTPN instead is offering its rich customers a chance to meet up with the bank’s less prosperous borrowers – the small traders, farmers and fishermen in villages who have taken loans of 5 million rupiah or less.

That impressed enlightened depositors such as housewife Ms Stella Trisnasari, who is married to a tea and bottled mineral water producer. 

“We found out for ourselves that our money was being channeled to those who live a very simple life, but could still smile everyday, and witnessed how meaningful a fraction of our savings was used to lend to these people,” Ms Stella. 

The seasoned tea taster said it made her feel good to know that her savings were used to lend to a fried banana seller whose outstanding loan was a mere million rupiah.  

Depositors like Ms Stella could also get a chance to give training or share experience to help empower these mass-market, low income borrowers, said Ms Helena (one-word name), BTPN's retail funding business head.  wahyudis@sph.com.sg