3 Focus Areas for Unlocking Financial Inclusion in Asia

The second of a three-part, regions-focused series from the GSMA sheds light on how providers can address barriers to reaching the financially excluded across the continent.

While Sub-Saharan Africa has long been the epicenter of mobile money, Asia has experienced exponential levels of growth in the past few years. Since December 2014, the number of registered mobile money accounts has grown from 74 million to over 382 million. Today, 44 percent of the world’s registered mobile money accounts are in Asia.

More customers are using mobile money as part of their daily activities across Asia. Activity rates across the region have reached 31 percent. As of December 2018, South Asia had 13 deployments with over a million active customers and East Asia Pacific had nine, up from zero in December 2014. This growth has rapidly increased the proportion of adults with a mobile money account to a total of 22 percent in South Asia and 19 per cent in East Asia Pacific (EAP).

Despite this remarkable growth in registered accounts, Asia’s unbanked population remains high. According to the World Bank’s 2017 Global Findex, over 200 million people are financially excluded in East Asia Pacific. This figure is even higher in South Asia, where more than 360 million are unbanked.

Growth in the Asian market has been fueled by the rise of fintechs such as Alipay and tech giants such as Tencent. Ride-hailing companies, such as Grab and Go-Jek, have also entered the financial services space. These players have raised significant capital in the last few years, enabling them to connect with a wide variety of partners and develop many customer-centric use cases, including transportation and food, medical and financial services.

However, the use of fintech has not been equal, and marginalized populations like women and the underserved are disproportionately disadvantaged. The biggest question today is how the mobile industry will help to address the barriers to reaching the financially excluded across Asia.

For mobile operators and other financial services providers across Asia, this is a significant opportunity. It will be important to focus on three main areas:


The 2017 Global Findex found that lack of documentation was a critical barrier to accessing financial services, cited by 26 per cent of unbanked people in low-income countries. This also remains a challenge in some South Asia and EAP countries, where unlocking digital identity initiatives could help provide access to financial services to over 85 million individuals in South Asia and over 70 million in EAP.

Creating more relevant products

A variety of innovative products are emerging in Asia, from new stockbroking services to credit facilities to post-paid payments that facilitate the growth of e-commerce. These products are typically targeted at emerging tech-savvy consumers, but other customer segments need attention, too. With smartphone penetration predicted to reach 82 percent of the population by 2025 and the USSD channel becoming less relevant, there is an opportunity to offer products targeted to the underserved by leveraging the enhanced user experience and customer education capabilities of smartphones.

Bridging the gap between offline customers and online merchants

More and more customers are coming online. In South Asia alone, another 470 million users are expected to come online by 2025. In 2018, e-commerce transactions facilitated by mobile money grew 79 percent in value. However, while consumer spending has risen sharply, there are still gaps in payments, logistics and infrastructure. For countries to reap the benefit of e-commerce, the right strategies need to be implemented to bring the offline transaction to the online worlds. Large and widespread agent distribution networks allow mobile money providers to become valuable logistics partners and support the timely delivery of goods, as the “order and pick up” model can be used to order, pay, pick up and return goods at agent outlets. Agents can also help with on-boarding and educating customers about e-commerce products and carrying out transactions.

Large and widespread agent distribution networks allow mobile money providers to become valuable logistics partners.

To learn more about mobile money in Asia and discuss how it is shaping the digital inclusion landscape, learn about our Mobile 360 – Digital Societies event that took place this September in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. This year’s focus was “Digital Platforms Enabling New and Innovative Services.” If you’re interested in learning more, check out GSMA Mobile for Development.

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