Philippine News

Insight: AdSpark Intelligence roundtable discusses the Filipino psyche in The Great Reset

MANILA, PHILIPPINES — “The new normal” is a term that’s been thrown around a lot since the COVID-19 pandemic started in early March. It’s an attempt to pick up the pieces after the coronavirus basically paused the entire world, forcing millions to adjust to new safety protocols and a literal lifechanging situation.

For the Philippines in particular, many have been attempting to deal with this pandemic while running companies both big and small, or merely trying to find out how they can survive in the face of adversity none of us expected to see in our lifetimes.

In a panel dubbed “The Great Reset” hosted by adobo magazine, a selection of panelists was invited to share their insights and experiences as we enter this new era. A roundtable conversation across creative, health, and business sectors to discuss topics and findings on the Filipino psyche based off AdSpark Intelligence’s recently compiled whitepaper entitled “The Great Reset.”


The panel was composed of Country Marketing Head of Grab RJ Cabaluna, CEO and Co-founder of Kalibrr Paul Rivera, Head of In-app Payments of GCash Ferdie Perez, Freelance Events Photographer Magic Liwanag, and Marketing and Communications Head of Rustan’s Dina Tantoco. The panel was moderated by Kumu’s Director of Communications and founder of Next Theory, Victoria Herrera.

In that whitepaper, AdSpark examined five key areas, namely:

  1. A more fragile world and a more fragile me
  2. Work persistence despite perils
  3. This crisis is personal
  4. The new role of entertainment, classes, and kitchen creations: a sense of completion
  5. Holding onto hope amidst uncertainty

With these key areas in mind, the panel shared the insights they have assembled from their respective areas of expertise and expounded on why in spite of the uncertainty of these times, they still persevere. Watch the discussion:




don’t think we’ve actually fully reset yet,” said Paul. “And the way I’ve reflected on this as a business leader is every assumption that I’ve made, data points that we have and strategies that we have built to build Kalibrr have all been thrown out the door.”

“This, I think, is beyond a reset. It’s going to be a revolution in the way that companies are building their businesses. It’ll be a revolution in the way consumers choose to interact with businesses, most likely digital and online first and offline second,” he added.

“I think it’s forcing us as leaders within the company and as people within the company to really have to adapt and adapt quickly in a world where we can’t even predict what next month will look like, what next month’s performance will look like. We’ve never operated in that type of environment before so, for me, I think we’re still in the middle of this Great Reset,” Paul continued.

“As an ePayments platform, the pandemic has kind of given us a chance to refocus the products and services that we can offer the community,” said Ferdie of GCash. “There have been a lot of studies going around about how cash is actually a transmitter of the virus and we’re trying to support that with the fact that government with transportation industries, with merchants on the retail and clothing industries, etc. to make sure that cashless payments are the priority.

“Aside from that, we want to make it convenient for people to stay at home. So the fact that people need to go out to pay their bills, to buy goods, to buy prepaid load, etc. We made it available inside their cellular phones so that they can continue with their transactions so whether they have to go out and have that risk of getting the virus,” he pointed out.

“The pandemic has enabled us to grow multiple times,” Ferdie noted. “(GCash) has been there ever since but now, because of the pandemic, people got the chance to enjoy that and try it out for the first time. I guess the challenge really now is to sustain that and make sure this alternative than the previous one when we go to the new normal.”

For an events photographer like Magic, this Great Reset basically turned his world upside down: “This is really personal and it hits a vein. I’ve felt fragile ever since this whole lockdown began, ever since COVID-19 began. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what’s next.”

“Of course, the biggest threat is not having events. As an events photographer, I shoot concerts, I shoot brand events, launches here and there and, back then, my problem was I had a schedule, I had a calendar to follow, I had lined up events,” he relates.

“I’ve been really fragile to the point that I’ve been depressed. I was telling my wife that I don’t know what to do next. I don’t know how to bounce back, but then there are days also that you’re allowed to feel that way,” Magic says about the uncertainty he’s been facing.

“You’re allowed (especially as freelancers) you’re allowed to feel sad about what’s going on, but there’s hope,” he shares. “For me, it’s just bouncing back. I had to pivot my services, from my business model as an events photographer to, right now, I actually service livestreams. I make small setups for brands or clients who would love to do livestreams.”

With the pandemic forcing people to stay indoors, there was little to no means anymore for Grab to offer ride sharing like they did in the past. Other services that they offered became more prominent as a result.

“For Grab, it’s really all about safety, convenience, and reliability,” says Grab’s RJ. “On safety and hygiene, these two are now part of that reset that we have. It’s practically a norm now. We want to ensure communities that we serve here that we have that strong standard on safety.

“This new initiative that we launched called GrabProtect is aimed at safety and hygiene that covers across different Grab services, so these are steps that we take across the board on your experience with Grab,” he added.

“It starts with an online self-declaration form with our partners, even through physical barriers in our cars, to masks, and even through cashless transactions, to hygiene training across different partners, even with our merchants. We put this in place to give that ease and peace of mind for everyone. All of that leading to contactless rides to contactless deliveries with GrabFood and GrabExpress even,” RJ noted.

“In retail and in the store, the big huge focus really has been on safety,” noted Dina of Rustan’s. “So much so that our safety protocols were worked on by even our CEO herself because when a lot of people opened up, we weren’t ready yet, so we just decided safety first for our employees and our customers.”

“That means really studying everything, taking best practices from everywhere and following the guidelines. The key to all of that is execution. It’s really how we implement it in the stores. It’s not just overnight and you have to continue every day. That’s how, I think, you can really make your customers feel safe,” she shared.

“After all of that, it’s communicating it. It’s planning properly, executing it, and communicating it. We have a bunch of videos about that and signs all over the store and emails to our customers. We really hope they do feel safe when they shop,” said Dina.

“Now, consumers expect safety by default,” Paul said of how things have changed. “If you don’t have your foot pad, if you don’t have your automated alcohol, if you don’t have your automated temperature check, if you don’t have a digital contract tracing form, you’re already kind of behind.”

“The consumers are quite smart, they’re quite diligent. They’re going to make decisions based on convenience and about safety. So, if you’re a business owner/business operator, this is now top of mind,” he cautioned.

Regarding the biggest threats to the GCash business, Ferdie said, “The biggest question is sustainability given the rampant growth in the past couple of months. We don’t know if we did enough to make sure people will stay on the platform. It was fortunate that we got people to try it out the first time given that they had no choice, they couldn’t go out. They can’t go to a sari-sari store and buy load.”

“The question now is, even after ‘the new normal’ is there, as restaurants open up, as stores open up, did we do enough to keep them on the platform? The question is, did we do enough to convince them and is going cashless now the new normal given that we’ve seen that in the past couple of months, significant growth across the board?” he asked.

“From a personal perspective, or from an employee perspective, we’ve seen businesses really adapt well to the work-from-home setup,” Ferdie bared. “I’m really amazed by how fast people have shifted. Back in March, people were really curious about how the work-from-home setup would work, but in a couple of weeks, you’ve seen how people adjust quite well. We’re still delivering, we’re still performing at the same level of productivity as we did in the past.”

“The willingness of the market to adapt to this new digital norm that we have,” was RJ’s initial answer when asked what the biggest threat to their business was. “We in Grab will continue to innovate so as to help consumers and our partners throughout this time. We’ve also recently launched GrabMart. It’s our on demand, online grocery and even other goods delivery service. It’s something folks can really try out. I guess at the end of the day it’s about how willing people are to adapt to this new digital life that we have. It’s really about willingness to adapt.”

Asked what changes in people’s eating habits he has noticed since quarantine, RJ said, “Orders are more ordering from home instead of offices. So, we see a lot of family ordering. Milk tea is still a big thing. People still look for it even during the pandemic. It’s like comfort food especially during the first parts of the lockdown when we had to pause services. People were constantly looking for milk tea on the Grab app. I guess it was helping them manage through this time. People have also started shifting to cashless with GrabPay for Grab services even outside of the Grab app.”

Whereas Grab and GCash has thrived despite the pandemic, businesses like Rustan’s and Kalibrr have been shifting their attention toward going online.

“For Kalibrr, it’s actually been quite easy,” Paul noted. “We’re a technology company and historically we have already had a culture to promote work, flexible work hours, everybody has a laptop. We’re output driven rather than time driven.”

“Since we went into the pandemic, it’s been four months since I’ve seen my team in person. I actually haven’t stepped into our office once in the last four months. My wife is pregnant so she’s high risk. I have to be extra careful. But the shift has been quite easy for us,” he bared.

“I think the big shift and transition that I’m seeing in our industry is, historically, pre-COVID, the last few years, it’s been a very employee-centric market where there was perhaps a limited supply of talent and skills in the market and over-demand of jobs,” Paul pointed out.

“I feel like that’s flipped now where you have much more supply of all skill levels on the market and perhaps not as many jobs and job opportunities in the near to midterm. So that supply and demand has been shifted and the power is a little bit now with the employer and I think second, the big shift, where we run a recruitment company is now how will recruitment be done moving forward,” he added.

“The era and the world where companies invited strangers into their office to do an interview, to take a test, no longer exists,” Paul warned. “Everything will now be done online, online recruitment, online assessment. The whole process will be managed online It’ll probably be done remotely, and we want to be there to help our partners, our customers make that shift and that transition.”

“We are definitely not business as usual,” Dina lamented. “Right now, we had to push ourselves to really become more digital. We were pushed to be more flexible. We just put up our mobile shopping, it’s called Personal Shoppers on call.”

“We basically wanted to mix in the idea of a really personalized service because a lot of the retailers, if not all, are already doing something on Viber where you can shop with someone on their store with Viber. Because we really want to remain customer-centric, how do we keep that personalized service in the digital world?” she asked.

“It’s really the training of the sales associate and really getting them to listen to the customers, ask them what they want, and make them feel they’re being taken care of on a personal level,” Dina added. “We have curbside pickup along with that so it’s the flexibility there too. You can order from your home and we can send it to you or you can pick it up curbside. It’s really about being flexible.”

In the case of Magic, as a freelancer, the shift to digital has been different compared to the bigger businesses. He said, “Knowing my world, it has always been physical. I always have to be there in events, to shoot. This whole shift to online everything, to be honest, I had to learn new skills.”

“The biggest adjustment for me is basically learning that skill on how to do livestreams because that is how I shifted my business model. I became a supplier for some brands, for some people who want to do livestreams at home, and since most of the businesses now are driven online, I had to learn it and follow through,” he continued.

“There’s little that we can do right now, but with the time that we have, I think we make the most out of it,” Magic concluded.

Thus, even as COVID-19 continues to cast its long shadow across the world and businesses left and right are forced to shutter their services because of the current reality, hope remains something that we cling to. It isn’t easy because so many of us were used to the old status quo and our old habits were built upon years, if not decades, of doing things a certain way.

Yet adjustments have needed to be made whether it be the way we pay our bills, the way we order food, the way we shop, the way we go for job interviews, or the way we try to earn a living. It would be easy to just give up and surrender to the direness of the situation.

The psyche of the Filipino has always claimed to shine brightest in the time of adversity, and perhaps now is the best time to put that theory to the test. The Great Reset is indeed upon us. How we shift, become flexible, or even rise above it is on our shoulders now.

Partner with adobo Magazine

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