Understanding the Role of Trust in Digital Financial Services in SE Asia

This article summarizes five key insights from an upcoming paper by the Tech for Good Institute on the role of trust in usage of digital financial services in six countries in Southeast Asia.

Southeast Asia has witnessed a massive digital adoption spurt: more than one-in-three of current consumers are new to digital services and more than 90% of them intend to continue using such services

However, up to 60-70% of the population in Southeast Asia is still underbanked or remained underserved by traditional financial institutions. Digital financial services (DFS) providers can help to close this gap. In the 2021 Tech for Good Institute’s study on the Platform Economy, we learnt that some 70% of digital lending users did not have prior access to loans. DFS uptake can improve the delivery of both public and private services, as evidenced in the development and use of PromptPay (a real-time, bank-agnostic e-payment solution) in Thailand. To unlock the potential of DFS for financial inclusion, we must understand barriers to usage. 

Oft-cited barriers to DFS usage include the lack of access, due to underdevelopment of physical infrastructure and digital infrastructure, as well as gaps in financial and digital literacy. Another frequently cited important barrier is trust.

Trust is challenging to define, measure and understand. The Tech For Good Institute (TFGI) sought to better comprehend the role of trust in DFS usage through a six-country study across Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam to: 

  • assess consumers’ trust in traditional banks and non-bank DFS providers
  • test different factors that may predict trust
  • question the role of trust in DFS usage. 

Here are five insights from the working paper:

  1. Trust in financial service providers in all six Southeast Asian countries surveyed is generally high. Although the research found that trust in DFS providers is lower than trust in banks, the difference is marginal. 
  2. Integrity and communication are the most ubiquitous predictors of trust in DFS providers.
  3. Trust in providers positively predicts e-wallet usage in half of the countries surveyed. When it comes to usage of other DFS such as investment, insurance, and loans, Thailand is the only country where trust in providers is negatively correlated with usage, suggesting that the more users use these products, the less trust users have in providers.
  4. Financial literacy and digital literacy also predict trust in DFS providers: financial literacy predicts trust in all countries while digital literacy predicts trust in half of the countries surveyed. 
  5. Financial literacy and digital literacy also predict product usage. Digital literacy positively predicts usage of all DFS in all countries. Financial literacy only positively predicts e-wallet usage in Malaysia, but positively predicts usage of other DFS such as investment, insurance, and loans in all countries.

Partnership between the public and private sector can advance safe, inclusive and responsible digital financial participation. Transparency, facilitated by communication and continued demonstration of competence are vital to fostering trust. Governments can build on the existing trust in institutions, while continuing to invest in digital access, digital literacy and financial literacy. However, this is not just the government’s job. Fintech companies and DFS providers should share this mission, not just as corporate citizens, but also because it is good for business and the inclusive growth of the sector. 

Photo by Jonas Leupe on Unsplash

Download Agenda

Download Report

Latest Updates

Latest Updates​

Dr Ming Tan

Founding Executive Director

Dr Ming Tan is founding Executive Director for the Tech for Good Institute. She is concurrently a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Governance and Sustainability at the National University of Singapore. Her research interests lie at the intersection of technology, business and society, including sustainability and innovation.


Ming was previously Managing Director of IPOS International, part of the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore, which supports Singapore’s future growth as a global innovation hub for intellectual property creation, commercialisation and management.


Prior to joining the public sector, she was Head of Stewardship of the COMO Group, a Singaporean portfolio of lifestyle companies operating in 14 countries worldwide. Her portfolio covered sustainability, brand and data privacy. She was concurrently the founding Executive Director of COMO Foundation, the private philanthropy of the owner of the COMO Group.


As a company director, she lends brand and strategic guidance to SuperNature Pte Ltd, COMO Hotels and Resorts (Asia) Pte Ltd, COMO Club Pte Ltd, and Mogems Pte Ltd. In the not-for-profit space, Ming is an Advisor to Singapore Totalisator Board and serves on the boards of Esplanade–Theatres on the Bay, Singapore’s national performing arts centre, St. Joseph’s Institution International and COMO Foundation.


As part of her commitment to holistic education and the arts, she also sits on the Advisory Panel of the Centre for the Arts of the National University of Singapore.


Ming was educated in Singapore, the United States, and England. She obtained her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Stanford University and her doctorate from Oxford.