The Singapore Business Times reports that in the Asia-Pacific region, more than 21% of the population is unbanked. This is most apparent in Southeast Asia, where more than 44% of people do not have bank accounts. The disparity between the banked and unbanked in the region creates opportunities for digital financial services to close the gap, with the acceleration in adoption already being seen in Southeast Asia. A 2021 report from MoEngage reports a 55% increase in daily users across all digital banking activities.

Source: MoEngage

This movement is led primarily by millennials and Gen Z, who have readily embraced services from online banking to digital wallets. In Singapore and Vietnam, for example, commercial banks have launched digital banking solutions targeted specifically for their younger consumers. UOB, a Singaporean multinational investment bank and financial services company, launched TMRW, an AI-powered mobile-only bank. And MSB, Vietnam’s leading commercial bank, launched TNEX, the first digital-only bank in the country.

Another fast-emerging trend is mobile payments, stemming from the increased usage of mobile phones in Southeast Asian markets. The Fintech Times reports that in the Philippines, there are at least 1.59 mobile phones for every person. Acceptance of mobile payments by both consumer and retailer has paved the way for non-financial companies like Grab, a leading mobile app for transportation and food delivery services in Southeast Asia, and regional e-commerce platforms like Lazada and Shopee, to offer their consumers new cash payment methods.

While giants like Apple, Google, Alibaba, and Tencent have led the way for card-based mobile wallets in more developed markets, stored value mobile wallets are more popular in emerging markets. Credit-card and debit-card usage are lower in the latter, paving the way for local players to grab a share of the growing pie. Some of the top mobile wallet players are GCash (Philippines), GrabPay (Malaysia), Ovo (Indonesia), TrueMoney (Thailand), and MoMo (Vietnam), per a 2021 Boku report.

The growth of digital finance technology and adoption is uncovering new opportunities for marketers in 2022 and beyond, and there are four ways in which these opportunities could be unlocked.

1. Delivery of hyper-targeted ads and end-to-end experiences

The growing scale and data captured by apps with digital finance components provide opportunities for hyper-targeted advertising, where audiences are selected based on their financial capability and purchasing behaviour. Moreover, the loop from awareness to purchase to loyalty can be closed all in a single platform. 

Grab is one of the largest mobile apps in Southeast Asia with a 142m estimated number of users from 400 cities and towns. GrabPay, its financial arm, has been showing robust growth with total payments increasing by 60% year-on-year. The app allows for targeting of audiences based on day-to-day transactions and activities such as the type of card and size of spending along with restaurant visits and shopping behaviours, going beyond the typical interest and affinity-based targeting that relies on proxies of engagement.

Source: Grab

Alongside targeting the right audiences, marketers can drive awareness and consideration through Grab’s placement assets, conversions are fluidly done through GrabFood or GrabMart and loyalty points can be provided through GrabRewards. 

2. Providing more meaningful offers and incentives

Based on the survey of global insurance provider Swiss Re, 58% of respondents across Southeast Asian markets actively searched for new insurance policies during the pandemic and nearly half are open to purchasing new policies because of the outbreak. Digital finance companies are increasing the accessibility of policies through micro-insurance with low cash outlays, especially appealing to Gen Z and millennials.

Marketers can now use digitally distributed policies to make offerings and incentives more relevant for younger generations. For instance, Digi Telecommunications, a mobile service provider in Malaysia, partnered with AXA Affin, a multinational insurance and finance company, to provide free life insurance to its new prepaid plan subscribers. Similarly, Tiki, an e-commerce site in Vietnam, partnered with FWD, a life insurance company, to provide free coverage for 100,000 customers. 

3. Scaling promotions beyond point-of-purchase

One of the key benefits of digital finance is the ease of distribution of digital vouchers and rewards. Mobile wallets are already being used as distribution channels for relief funds or e-vouchers of food and medicine. Brands can capitalize on this phenomenon through digital-based promotions and sampling, giving them a broader scale versus on-ground activations. This is especially relevant in the pandemic environment wherein mounting events or delivering items are more challenging due to varying restrictions. Instead of manually handing out coupons and prizes, marketers can now partner with e-wallet apps for cashback promos and automated rewards redemption.

4. Increasing the accessibility of products and services

Traditionally, purchasing big-ticket items can only be done by the small base of affluent consumers paying with cash or with credit cards. Today, even the unbanked can pay in instalments with convenient applications and fast approvals through e-commerce platforms. Ecommerce platform Lazada partners with financial apps in the Philippines and offers LazPayLater in Indonesia to allow non-credit card customers to pay in increments. Shopee offers SPayLater in Indonesia and Thailand, wherein loans of select unbanked customers are approved in as fast as 10 minutes.

As more consumers try to stretch their money, they will be more open to purchasing in instalments with minimal interest. Instead of relying solely on credit cards, marketers now have the option to expand their financial partners to e-commerce websites and digital loan providers to enable more audiences to buy their products.

Digital finance adoption is accelerating as consumers become more knowledgeable about the industry’s products and services. Digital finance has created new possibilities for brands and retailers across a myriad of marketing touchpoints, and marketers should be capitalizing on these opportunities to be the first in reaping its benefits.

Elizabeth Shie (left) and Abygayle Brani (right)

This article was written by Elizabeth Shie, senior regional strategist at UM APAC, and Abygayle Brani, regional marketing & communications strategist at UM APAC.

The article is published as part of MARKETECH APAC’s thought leadership series What’s NEXT. This features marketing leaders sharing their marketing insights and predictions for the upcoming year. The series aims to equip marketers with actionable insights to future-ready their marketing strategies.

If you are a marketing leader and have insights that you’d like to share with regards to the upcoming trends and practices in marketing, please reach out to [email protected] for an opportunity to have your thought-leadership published on the platform.

India – India’s Paytm, financial services and e-commerce company, has unveiled its new year film, which showcases a culmination of how the brand’s service has helped every Indian household through the challenging past year brought about by the pandemic.

The film shows glimpses of its host of products and services that use digital technology aimed at improving consumers’ lives, including instant money transfers through the Paytm app, its voice-activated POS (point-of-sale) machine Paytm Soundbox, and mobile payment service Paytm All-in-One QR for the business of merchants.

The brand said the campaign, which is called ‘#Har Ghar ka, Desh bhar ka — Paytm, Proudly Indian’ – which means ‘Of every household, across the country’ – aims to act as a message of hope for the new year ahead, reaffirming its commitment to support all citizens as the nation enters a new year. 

Vice President for Product Marketing Abhinav Kumar said, “2020 as a year saw difficulties come in various ways. The world for once felt the same throughout — fear, anxiety, and many other emotions that swept across. Over the years, Paytm has been present in people’s lives and tried to make a difference in the best way possible. During these unprecedented times, we are glad to be a small agent of help which bridged the gap for many.” 

“‘Har ghar ka, Desh Bhar ka’ is our ode to the many who fought through these tough times and moved forward with courage. The new year brings in new hope and we would like to believe the best is yet to come,” Kumar added. 

Some of the brand’s dedicated COVID programs over the year included distributing hygiene essentials to frontline workers, and serving over 4.4 million meals to daily wage earners in the areas of Noida, Mumbai, Bengaluru, as well as Hyderabad, and Chennai. 

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – AirAsia’s payment platform BigPay has announced a new Bills Payment feature which allows users of the app to pay to more than 20 billers, ranging from telecommunication providers to energy providers.

Some of these billers include Astro, Celcom, Air Selangor, Sabah Electricity, and Sarawak Energy Berhad. 

With the new feature, billers are also enabled to set payment reminders, save transaction details and even split bills from one payment platform. 

“We are thrilled to launch our financial marketplace with Bill Payments. This brings us one step closer to becoming a one-stop solution for our users’ financial needs. 2021 will be an exciting year for BigPay as we have a pipeline of new products and features to be rolled out including digital loans, insurance, and wealth management. We can’t wait to bring all of this to our growing community,” said Salim Dhanani, co-founder of BigPay.

To access the Bill Payments feature on the BigPay app, users can simply click on the ‘Payment’ option from the main screen, select the preferred biller and insert the requested details. After confirming the transaction with a secure PIN, the user’s account will be debited. 

London – Digital monetization company Centili has appointed Olivier Letant, former senior vice president for strategy & operations of Kuala Lumpur-based mobile payments and acquisition platform Apigate, as its group chief operating officer.

Letant brings in more than 20 years of experience in management, M&A, and international relations.

In Apigate, he was in charge of the overall corporate strategy, strategic planning & analysis, product strategy, as well as the firm’s M&A, and risk management and compliance. Prior to Apigate, he also headed the strategy and analysis of Malaysia telecom Axiata.

Centili’s reach spans globally, serving several APAC markets such as China, Thailand, and Malaysia. The firms’ main solution is connecting merchants with mobile operators, helping to turn existing users into paying customers through monetizing digital content and virtual goods.

For his new role, Letant will be responsible for the company’s growing global operations, as well as its key projects and product delivery, from feasibility assessment to the commercial launch.

“Olivier has a great mix of big picture strategic thinking and a hands-on leadership style. He has a reputation for setting a high bar, focusing on impact, and building trust within the organization. We strongly believe we will benefit from his skill set, his experience in [technology, media, and telecom] (TMT), as well as from his insight into the Asian markets, which are instrumental to our next growth stage.” said Centili Group CEO Zoran Vasiljev.

Commenting on his appointment, Letant said, “I look forward to working with Centilians to continue to establish the company’s leadership position in digital monetization. Centili is a dynamic and game-changing company with authentic culture and strong values, and I am excited to contribute to its next growth stage.”

Manila, Philippines – Philippine mobile service provider Smart Communications has teamed up with Southeast Asian e-commerce platform Shopee to give Smart postpaid users the option of paying their bill through ShopeePay.

Regulated under the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, ShopeePay is a mobile wallet which allows users to cash in and pay for items within the Shopee app.

With this partnership, Smart postpaid users can easily and securely pay for their postpaid bill directly on the Shopee app.

To pay for their postpaid bill, users need to log-in to the Shopee app, activate the ShopeePay wallet, and then top up with their selected payment method. Afterwards, users need to go to “Load, Bills & eServices,” tap “Postpaid Mobile” and then “Select Smart or Sun as the Biller.”

Subscribers of Smart Bro Postpaid and Sun Postpaid can also use the feature. Pay settlement through ShopeePay will also allow users to redeem Shopee coins which can be used for other purchases in the Shopee app.

Singapore – Over the past 12 months, more than half of businesses in Singapore or 67% of them have used fintech in running their operations, and within this percentage, the top three forms of fintech used emerged to be mobile payments or digital wallets, robo-advisory or chatbots, and open banking APIs, according to a report by CPA Australia.


Mobile payments recorded the most adoption with 47% of businesses, followed by chatbots with 34%, while 30% said they have used open banking APIs.

Singapore has been widely known for being a top technology hub, and as the coronavirus started threatening safety, the government has further encouraged the use of fintech. In April, the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) urged individuals and businesses to use digital finance services and e-payments to help contain physical contact.

Amid social distancing directives, more businesses have expressed desires to adopt fintech, with 73% expecting to use at least one fintech product or service in the next 12 months, with a third of them citing COVID-19 as a reason for further usage, to operate anew amid disruptions in operations.

The most boost in adoption is seen to come from the need to increase efficiency in doing business, with nearly 6 in 10 respondents, or 59.1%, identifying it as an important factor. Meanwhile, more than 4 in 10, or 43.6%, of businesses expect to use fintech to help them better understand and improve customer experience. 

The top three most used fintech are still the same ones seen to drive the adoption for the coming months. About 42.7% of businesses believe that they will use mobile payments the most, followed by robo-advisory and chatbots with 23.6% , and open banking APIs with 19.1%.


While the report revealed that a positive adoption of fintech is on the horizon, it also found certain factors that hinder businesses to jump in.

The top concern showed to be cybersecurity with 34% identifying it as a barrier, while a lack of fintech understanding and knowledge within the board and senior management was also a concern with 30%. Meanwhile, 26% simply did not consider fintech to be necessary for business.