Defining true resilience (or when a brand becomes a verb)

Published October 24, 2021, 12:12 AM

by Philip Cu Unjieng


Among the buzzwords of this pandemic era, when it comes to the arena of economic and commercial activity, you’ll find “pivoting,” “resilience” and “adaptability.” In particular, when those words are used in relation to FinTech and e-commerce, it would seem that the companies and businesses that have somehow managed to flourish and experience growth during the pandemic, will have those qualities cited by observers and third parties, as the primary reasons for their success.

But those observations have the benefit of hindsight, or at the very least, describe the current situation, and the success already being enjoyed by these flourishing companies. These observations often preclude the “blood, sweat and tears” these companies have undergone, and how the seeds for this success were planted long before the pandemic got its grip on the world. One of the FinTech companies that’s often held up as the best example of resilience and adaptability is GCash. It’s phenomenal growth and popularity during this pandemic is difficult to ignore, and I love how the brand is even being used as a verb – as in “I-GCash mo na lang!”

But the truth is that it was a long and arduous road that GCash had to take, and that there are reasons why the old adage “Many are called, but few are chosen” fits in this particular case – as it wasn’t like GCash was the only available digital e-wallet when COVID struck. There are reasons that predate the pandemic that made GCash “the chosen one.”

So let’s do some fact-checking, and I’m certain some of you reading this will end up raising their eyebrows. First, GCash is not a “pandemic baby!” It may surprise some of you to learn that GCash was established way back in 2005, primarily as a remittance service that made use of a phone’s USSD (Unstructured Supplementary Service Data – similar to SMS or Short Message Service). As the first GCash app iteration, an e-wallet, GCash had it debut in 2012 – and it was in 2015, with the creation of Mynt, the holding company of GCash and Fuse Lending, that we saw the heavy focus on digitalizing basic services such as buy load, send money, pay bills, etc. 

Martha Sazon, President and CEO of Mynt, which operates GCash.


Through 2017 to 2019, GCash introduced the Pay QR/Scan, the first e-KYC (electronic Know Your Client authentication process), and joined BSP’s InstaPay Network (paving the way for interbank transfers). The democratization of financial services on GCash also began in earnest with GSave and GCredit being established. In 2020, these services were joined by GLife, GInsure, GInvest, GLoan, GCash PO, and GCash Padala. So you can see how the app was continuously evolving around the idea of inclusivity, from products available on the platform, to the one-click user experience GCash was aiming for. GCash is now the #1 interbank sender and receiver.

With the pandemic, without a doubt, the GCash e-wallet proposition became more relevant, and practically a necessity – promoting health, safety, and security via cashless payments. GCash was even seen by enterprising pinoys in the tricycle driver, sari-sari store, and wet market vendor sectors, as a way to remove the need for “barya” or loose change. GCash Biz Powerpay+ is one of their business solutions platforms that allows MSME’s, BPO’s, and businesses to send out salaries, allowances and commissions via GCash.                 

So you can see how it was a process, a commitment to make GCash the most useful, practical, and convenient e-wallet app, that paved the way for its success. From some 20 million registered users pre-pandemic, they now have 48 million and growing. Active users, use GCash more than twice in a day on average. Daily Active Transactions peak at 12 million, with over 800 partner billers, and over three million merchants and social sellers that accept QR code and P2P payments.

This is Martha, buying fresh fish from a seashore vendor, and ‘paying’ with GCash – showing just how widespread is it’s reach and use. And yes, the vendor had no idea who she was.

And in this world of FinTech, of the stereotypical nerds and geeks, did you know that at the helm of GCash is a woman? Martha Sazon is the president and CEO of Mynt. She assumed the role in early 2020, having previously been a senior vice president at Globe, as head of the Broadband Business.

So I love how Martha is breaking glass ceilings here. She’s a champion for women empowerment, for those advocating for more female representation in the corporate boardrooms of particular industries. I’m not going to be naive and say we don’t have a good number of women CEO’s as it is. But let’s be honest, they’re often to be found in companies that have to do with personal care, beauty, retail, or are family-owned. To see a professional like Martha rise to the top in FinTech is still a rarity, and I’ll offer her my salute for being such a great example and potential inspiration to young girls who feel awkward or like an outlier, in the pursuit of their passion and interests.

I have three sons, but if had a daughter, I’d make Martha Sazon a peg for what my imagined daughter could achieve in her professional career. As for GCash, it’s not surprising to acknowledge its’ so-called “overnight” success, when you factor in how hard it’s endeavored to be that most ideal of e-wallet apps when the time came for all of us to need one.