Can Fintech Close the Gender Gap in Financial Inclusion?

A new working paper by Yoke Wang Tok and Dyna Heng at the International Monetary Fund finds that fintech growth was not positively correlated with closing the gender disparities in access to financial services.

Fintech is frequently touted as a solution to the problems of financial inclusion. Southeast Asia is well-placed to capitalise on the benefits of digital financial services, with a booming regional digital ecosystem and a relatively young tech-savvy, mobile-native population. TFGI’s 2021 report on the Platform Economy in Southeast Asia found that 43% online consumers in the Southeast Asia-6 countries were also mobile wallet users. 

A new working paper by Yoke Wang Tok and Dyna Heng, titled ‘Fintech: Financial Inclusion or Exclusion’, examined the role of fintech in advancing the promise of financial inclusion. They found that greater use of fintech was significantly associated with a narrowing of the class divide and rural divide, but it was not positively associated with closing the gender divide.

Good, but not good enough 

Tok and Heng’s findings are in line with other recent empirical studies such as those highlighted in The Fintech Gender Gap. Using an Ernst and Young survey based on 27,000 adults across 27 countries, they found that a large fintech gender gap exists in almost every country in the sample – 29% of men use fintech products and services compared to 21% of women. They also found that individual attributes like age, income, education, marital and employment status accounted for a third of the gap, indicating that a gender gap exists even across people with similar demographic profiles. Gender differences in willingness to use fintech products – even if they are cheaper than the alternatives – accounted for half of the remaining gender divide. Responses from the survey suggested differences in attitudes toward privacy, as women reported being less willing to share personal data for cheaper rates.  

Another empirical study by the Asia Competitiveness Institute on ASEAN countries also reached similar conclusions.  The paper found a persistent gender gap in digital modes of payment. In fact, the gap was larger in more developed countries like Singapore and Malaysia. Overall, the financial inclusion gender gap was larger in older populations, particularly for larger transactions. 

Tok and Heng suggested that differences in preference between genders could also be attributed to the design of Fintech applications that are too male-centric and do not cater to women. 

Understanding gender-based differences in financial literacy, digital access, and preferences towards technologies and social norms can help governments and businesses design better products and policies to grow women’s digital capabilities. Such digital inclusion practices and policies specifically targeted at closing the gender divide will be necessary to fully realise fintech’s promise of financial inclusion. 

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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.