Fostering Trust in Southeast Asia’s Digital Economy

Tech for Good Institute’s report on digital financial services has found that people in Southeast Asia are more likely to trust technology if they trust the service provider. Winning public trust will involve not just coding and digital security, but a wider drive towards institutional integrity. In addition, technologies such as digital identification systems need to be designed to be inclusive.

By Ming Tan, Founding Executive Director, Tech For Good Institute

New research into digital financial services by the Tech for Good Institute has showed that one of the most consistent predictors of trust across Southeast Asian countries is the perception of the service provider’s integrity. This is not just in terms of the service provider being honest, but also in terms of having a strong sense of social justice and having sound principles that guide the company’s behaviour. On the other hand, respondents’ propensity to trust technology itself did not significantly predict trust in any of the Southeast Asian countries.

So winning public trust for the tech sector in this region is not just about coding and security – institutions need to show that they have integrity across strategies, systems and services. SGTech, the trade association for Singapore’s tech industry, has defined digital trust as: “the confidence participants have in the digital ecosystem to interact securely, in a transparent, accountable, and frictionless manner.” In the same report, the association argues that building digital trust will involve both technologies – including Distributed Ledger Technologies, Privacy Enhancing Technologies and Governance, Risk, and Compliance technologies – and social, political, legal, economic, environmental and ethical considerations.

Digital identification technology is at the forefront of these debates. Across Southeast Asia, countries have implemented or have started to develop national digital identification systems, using technology such as biometric and face verification. These can increase efficiency in existing enterprise processes and reduce the cost of providing services. The oft-cited use case would be for “know your customer” (KYC) purposes in financial services. The digitalisation of personal identification will also enable new business models. Alternative data, such as bill payments or online shopping transactions can be used to develop credit risk models for individuals and small businesses.

The technology surrounding digital identification will continue to evolve, and national digital ID systems will be integrated into a wide range of systems, including healthcare, social assistance and even exam-taking. Looking to the future, digital identification will also facilitate virtual interactions, assets and commerce. Industry analysts predict that around 25% of people will be spending at least an hour a day in the metaverse for work, shopping, education, or social media by 2026. Digital identification systems will form the foundation of continued innovation in the digital economy.

Governance, industry standards and interoperability across jurisdictions will be necessary to maintain trust in these systems. An analogy would be the governance and standards of biometric passports, involving multiple international organisations, including the International Organization for Standardization and the International Civil Aviation Organisation.

There has been some progress in this direction. In Southeast Asia, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Model Contractual Clauses for data transfers coordinate and harmonise data regulatory policies. The region is also working towards an ASEAN Trust Mark Scheme for e-commerce to boost the confidence of digital consumers. ASEAN is also developing policies for a Unique Business Identification Number system to support companies with cross-border trade, market expansion and better access to financing in the region. This will be vital for small and medium enterprises to grow.

It is not the technology itself that people need to trust, but the institutions using it Image: Tech For Good Institute

Winning public trust in digital identification technology will require public and private sector initiatives for collaboration and harmonisation of systems. Digital ID systems should also be designed to be inclusive, especially when they become necessary for public services such as welfare programs, assistance grants, and healthcare. The digital divide in Southeast Asia remains significant, with some 150 million adults in the region – or nearly a third of the population – still lacking access to digital technologies. As more people adopt digital identities, governments and organisations should work together, demonstrating continued integrity and commitment to all citizens by promoting digital inclusion through access and literacy.

One of the most consistent predictors of trust across Southeast Asian countries was the perception of the service provider’s integrity Image: Tech For Good Institute

Technology should be a tool to help institutions do their job better, not to displace or replace them entirely. Public institutions take years and or even generations to build and secure the trust of their citizens. As these traditional trust institutions and intermediaries seek to use emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning and blockchain to improve their operations, they must also work to ensure these are used responsibly and inclusively.

The views and recommendations expressed in this article are solely of the author/s and do not necessarily reflect the views and position of the Tech for Good Institute.

This article was first published by the World Economic Forum on November 23, 2022.

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Mouna Aouri

Programme Fellow

Mouna Aouri is an Institute Fellow at the Tech For Good Institute. As a social entrepreneur, impact investor, and engineer, her experience spans over two decades in the MENA region, South East Asia, and Japan. She is founder of Woomentum, a Singapore-based platform dedicated to supporting women entrepreneurs in APAC through skill development and access to growth capital through strategic collaborations with corporate entities, investors and government partners.

Dr Ming Tan

Founding Executive Director

Dr Ming Tan is founding Executive Director for the Tech for Good Institute, a non-profit founded to catalyse research and collaboration on social, economic and policy trends accelerated by the digital economy in Southeast Asia. She is concurrently a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Governance and Sustainability at the National University of Singapore and Advisor to the Founder of the COMO Group, a Singaporean portfolio of lifestyle companies operating in 15 countries worldwide.  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 and the founding Executive Director of COMO Foundation, a grantmaker focused on gender equity that has served over 47 million women and girls since 2003.


As a company director, she lends brand and strategic guidance to several companies within the COMO Group. Ming also serves as a Council Member of the Council for Board Diversity, on the boards of COMO Foundation and Singapore Network Information Centre (SGNIC), and on the Digital and Technology Advisory Panel for Esplanade–Theatres on the Bay, Singapore’s national performing arts centre.


In the non-profit, educational and government spheres, Ming is a director of COMO Foundation and Singapore Network Information Centre (SGNIC) and chairs the Asia Advisory board for Swiss hospitality business and management school EHL. She also serves on  the Council for Board Diversity and the Digital and Technology Advisory Panel for Esplanade–Theatres on the Bay, Singapore’s national performing arts centre.


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.