The SEC Divides in COVID-19 Recovery

What is the portrait of the Filipino into the renewed reality? Acumen’s insight indicates there isn’t a singular one—the different SECs of Filipino society present a range of realities as Filipinos step out of quarantine on different footing.

The challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic to Filipino life is no longer a mystery to many. Filipinos, who have tuned into the news throughout the quarantine period, are well aware of the hardships that our society has faced from massive job losses to an uncertain road to recovery. However, it’s important that while we may all have a common understanding of what has happened, the COVID-19 outbreak has not affected Filipinos equally and the actual impact of COVID-19 has differed in severity across Filipino SECs.

“We are still living comfortably but we tried to implement better saving habits now that we are all quarantined at home.” - Young Adult, Single, SEC B

Source: Acumen Advancing for Business Recovery Study (Business Stakeholders and Consumer Research), May 2020

SEC ABC1 who are wealthiest of Filipinos and represent 18% of the Philippine population [i] have experienced the least impact by COVID-19. This is not to say that they have been unaffected, but to highlight that they’ve been able to adjust their lives with less friction compared to other Filipinos. For the most part, ABC1s have been able to shift to working from home, continue to have a stable income and/or sufficient savings, and have the generally resources to promote their own safety in our renewed reality by, for example, living in housing developments where safety protocols are enforced, having a private vehicle to avoid public transportation, or having the monetary resources for ample disinfectants and personal protective equipment. Their lifestyles have been inconvenienced given restrictions on movement, travel, and other activities, but for the most part, they were able to comfortably adapt.

On the other hand, SEC C2 who are the middle class of Filipino society comprising 27% of the Philippine population [ii] have been more profoundly affected. The Filipino middle class has experienced job losses and are managing a limited budget for their household. They are also reliant on public transportation, which has been highly limited during the quarantine period, restricting their access to goods and increasing the difficulty of caring for their family. Today, SEC C2s are getting by, but their resilience is being tested. They are not able to sustain the current way of living indefinitely.

“Bike or motorcycle may be the new mode of transport” - YA, single, Lower C

Source: Acumen Advancing for Business Recovery Study (Business Stakeholders and Consumer Research), May 2020

SEC DEs, representing 55% of the Philippine population [iii], are the worst hit and struggling for survival. With 72% of the unemployed in April 2020 being those without college degrees [iv], SEC DEs are likely highly represented in the population lacking employment today. Throughout the pandemic, this segment of the Filipino population has been reliant on assistance from LGUs and the national government to make it through each day. With their livelihood mostly reliant on sectors like transport or informal work, the return of any stability to their lives is uncertain.

With these images in mind, it’s evident that there are at least three distinct portraits of Filipinos entering the renewed reality and they’re all on very different footing for recovery. This translates to different goals and approaches in transitioning to the renewed reality:

  • ABC1s are likely to focus on maintaining their family’s safety while exploring ways to regain the life luxuries they enjoyed pre-COVID such as travel, salon/spa services, and dining out.

  • C2s will focus on stabilizing their finances—securing a job as soon as possible and keeping a strict watch on their budgets. As they regain a sense of security, they’ll reintroduce spending on simple "me" products or "treats,” minor indulgences like coffee from their favorite cafés, food delivery, or other small splurges for themselves.

  • DEs will simply strive to survive. Faced with uncertainty on how long public assistance will continue, DEs will be doing all they can to scrape together an income and provide the absolute basics for their families.

Businesses looking to rebuild their relationship with consumers will have to be cognizant of these different realities for Filipinos. They must concretely define who their market is and deeply understand their lifestyle, priorities, goals, and needs to be able to clearly establish the relevance and value of their products or services in Filipino’s lives and wallets. Businesses will need to closely align their path to recovery with their target market’s journey to stability, working hard to ensure that they are in tune with the key moments defining consumer’s adaptation to the new normal.

Learn about Acumen Navigate’s solutions for re-connecting with consumers and building brand relevance by visiting this page.

Founded on proprietary research on Filipino consumers and businesses during the COVID pandemic, Acumen Navigate provides a suite of services anchored on a consumer-centric approach, helping businesses make informed bets and take keen action to recover and grow their business in this volatile and uncertain period.

[i] Family Income and Expenditure Survey, PSA, 2015 [ii] Ibid. [iii] Ibid. [iv] “Employment Situation in April 2020,” Philippine Statistics Authority, 5 Jun 2020,

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