TBI: No Effort Made to Compete With Wall Street

If you go back to 2007 the Indonesian TEFL market was rather different than the scene we see today. The market was dominated by two players: EF and LIA. LIA does not employ expat teachers so it is rarely even mentioned by expat teachers, but it has an extensive network of schools throughout all major Indonesian cities and clearly has a decent chunk of the market, especially in terms of student numbers. It is much cheaper than EF or TBI so it would have considerably less revenue per student than TBI or EF. But it makes up for this in sheer numbers. It has three schools in Bekasi, for example, while TBI and EF have one each. EF employs both expats and Indonesians as English teachers and has 65 schools in Indonesia, dwarfing TBI in terms of numbers and revenue. But as long as there was only EF and LIA to worry about, TBI was serving an obvious market niche. It was the same kind of product as EF, but it was seen as being more concerned with academics and less concerned with “fun” than EF. Since then the market has changed rapidly and TBI has fallen quickly behind. 

The arrival of Wall Street in 2007  was a game changer, but TBI has been extremely slow to respond. Wall Street was suddenly getting upwards of Rp 10.000.000 a year per student- probably around twice as much as TBI per student per month- and it had also reduced its reliance of expensive expat labor by introducing “blended learning”. This meant that much of the teaching was done by computers. They had struck upon a formula which enabled them to change more than TBI or EF had ever dreamed of charging while  keeping costs down at the same time by getting computers to replace a portion of face-to-face teaching. 

I went to meeting as far back as 2009 where Ibu Mariam, the hapless former TBI Director, acknowledged that TBI needed to introduce ‘blended learning” too if it wanted to see off the challenge from Wall Street. Typically, she said at that time that blended learning was on its way. But when we left the organization in 2012, not only was blended learning nowhere in sight at TBI, but they still had the same slow computers which they’d been using in 2007. Even EF had got with the program and was using new flat-screen computers at some of their branches. Mariam, Luke and their clique have always been long on promises, but like shady politicians they have no integrity and they aren’t as good as their word.

TBI has long known that Wall Street was a threat but they have done absolutely nothing to mitigate the threat. Not only have they reneged on promises to introduce “blended learning” and buy new technology, they have continually jacked up prices for the same, unimproved service year after year. Each year the command would come from Head Office to hike up prices by 10% even though TBI had invested none of the profits in improving the schools. It became increasingly clear to most managers that they were only interested in milking their existing customer base without improving their facilities and services.

Wall Street has long since overtaken TBI in student numbers. In terms of revenue, it is probably already twice the size as TBI as WSI is acknowledged to be much more expensive than TBI or EF. In terms of the future, we can only expect that this lead will expand, as WSI is planning to expand to TBI’s hometown, Bandung, later this year. With its professional marketing campaign, it will take a nice, juicy chunk out of the Bandung market as well, further eroding TBI’s pretenses to be a “premium” or “upscale” option. As much as they like to vilify whistle blowers and other dissenters, they have brought this dreadful situation on themselves.

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