Digital Financial Services for Financial Inclusion in Southeast Asia

The Institute’s latest research study seeks to better understand the adoption of digital financial services (DFS) across the SEA-6 region.

The Tech for Good Institute (TFGI) published The Platform Economy: Southeast Asia’s Digital Growth Catalyst last year, which surveyed the state of the digital platform economy across SEA-6 countries: the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Singapore, and Thailand.

Digital financial services (DFS) were found to be integral components of the platform economy, with the potential to address the challenge of financial inclusion. With the aim of understanding better DFS adoption in SEA-6, this report examines digital literacy, financial literacy, and consumer trust in providers as predictors of usage of DFS.  

Key Findings

Our findings inform a nuanced understanding of the relationship between consumers and financial service providers in the region. 

Overall levels of trust in both banks and digital financial service providers are high across SEA-6 countries: the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Singapore, and Thailand. Trust in DFS providers is slightly lower than trust in banks in all the countries surveyed. This finding echoes a recent study in Southeast Asia showing that new entrants in the financial technology (fintech) space are catching up with established financial service players in gaining consumer trust.

Digital literacy is the most consistent predictor of both e-wallet and non-e-wallet DFS usage in all six countries surveyed. This finding is unsurprising as a minimum familiarity with digital technologies is needed to access and use all DFS. For unbanked and underbanked individuals who had been excluded from the formal economy, basic digital literacy skills are crucial for them to access and use financial services on their mobile devices.

E-wallets services that facilitate payments and transactions are designed to have a low barrier to adoption, which explains their popularity and rapid adoption among consumers. On the other hand, non-e-wallet services like insurance, investment, and loans are more complex and either necessitate a minimum level of familiarity or appeal to certain types of users only. Financial literacy is a significant predictor of non-e-wallet usage in all countries.

Efforts towards increasing DFS usage in Southeast Asia may not follow the same playbook across the region. Policymakers and providers should customise initiatives to encourage confident adoption, so as to ensure that resources are deployed effectively and efficiently to maximise impact.

Beyond this paper, further research on populations who are not yet online, such as rural communities or those with no or limited access to the digital economy, is needed to realise the potential of DFS to better serve the unbanked and underbanked populations of Southeast Asia.

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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.