Gender Divide Meets Digital Divide in ASEAN’s Financial Ecosystem

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the rate of digitalization across many everyday activities, one of which is payment modes. As e-commerce levels rose and the need for contactless payment methods became more urgent, the increased adoption of digital payments has been welcomed. With rapid changes in technology in recent years, the traditional methods of financial services have been transformed. Looking at ASEAN, there has been a surge in e-wallet providers and the use of digital payments using mobile money. However, such technological advances can often overlook certain demographics and lead to digital divides.

ACI’s paper titled ‘Gender Divides in the ASEAN Payment Eco-system’ assesses one such digital divide, that of gender. Women are increasingly disadvantaged in the changing financial landscape due to historical and cultural reasons. ACI explores this in the context of ASEAN payment systems by constructing a cross-sectional dataset on individual payment usages in the ASEAN member states using the World Bank’s 2017 Global Findex Database. In ASEAN, only Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand recorded female account ownership rates over the global average rate of 69%, while other nations even fell behind the global lower-middle income countries average rate of 58%. ACI researchers analyse the reasons and outcomes of such a disparity, terming the use of cash and financial institutions as traditional payment channels, and the usage of credit/debit cards and mobile money as digitised channels. The analysis is conducted on both regional and country levels.

The research finds that while women use cash more than men, the gender divide is prevalent in the digitised payment method of mobile money, and to a larger extent in more developed economies such as Singapore and Malaysia. Insufficient funds to open and maintain accounts is a major factor. High costs to access financial services is another factor that presents too high of an opportunity cost for unbanked women who lack consistent income sources. Additionally strict requirements for identification serves as a barrier especially in several developing countries that lack comprehensive national identification databases. Women are also less likely to have their own account when another family member, usually a male, already has one.

However, hope lies in the exponential development of the IT industry, which has transformed the digital finance scene. New technologies such as AI, machine learning, cloud computing and big data analytics, and the increasing affordability of smartphones and personal computers have helped to introduce new users that were previously unbanked. ASEAN, with its rapidly expanding digital economy, is positioned to capitalise on these new innovations. Efforts by policymakers to make a more financially inclusive region for women can include better overall technological infrastructure, digital training for women, and increasing mobile access for women. Currently these barriers hinder the female population from educational and employment opportunities, leading to a cycle whereby they end up as unpaid family workers and lack financial independency.

By Sunena GUPTA

Researchers: Wen Chong CHEAH, Ammu GEORGE, Taojun XIE

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