Southeast Asia is fast becoming an e-wallet-first region. WARC Asia Editor Rica Facundo explores how brands can take advantage of this profound shift in consumer behaviour at the intersection of emerging technological trends.

This article is part of a Spotlight series on e-wallet marketing in Southeast Asia. Read more

Much has been said about the region’s digital decade. By 2030 Southeast Asia’s internet economy is projected to grow between US$700 billion and US$1 trillion by 2030. But what type of technology and consumer paradigm will enable us to get there?

Four in five Southeast Asian consumers plan to use cashless payments, with e-wallets leading the charge. I saw this in action when I finally went home to the Philippines earlier this year. I couldn’t believe my eyes! While any form of digital banking used to be a bane, this was no longer the case. E-wallets are fast becoming the norm, with signs found even at the various kiosks and mom-and-pop stores.

This is a major signal of a profound shift in consumer behavior, and it’s just the beginning. Similarly to how a majority of Southeast Asian consumers circumvented the computer and went straight to mobile, is the same happening with e-wallets providing access to financial services without credit or debit cards?

This is why for this Spotlight edition we focus on how Southeast Asia is fast becoming an e-wallet-first region. We explore questions such as:

  • What are the emerging use cases for e-wallets that brands can capitalise on?
  • What opportunities do “super wallets” provide as an effective marketing channel for brands?
  • Beyond usage, promos and cashbacks, how might financial brands drive and redefine customer loyalty?
  • What is the role of brands in a fast changing and often unregulated fintech landscape?

Here are four key opportunities that our contributors shared about the rise of e-wallet marketing in Southeast Asia. Also take a look at our first ever infographic showing key data-driven insights about the e-wallet opportunity in Southeast Asia.

A versatile medium driving innovation and inclusive growth for SEA’s booming digital economy

E-wallets are at the intersection of multiple trends, from e-commerce to gaming and Web3. But it’s a powerful driver of change because it’s a tangible technology for consumers to grasp and use to participate in various digital economies.

  • A lifeline for the unbanked and underbanked:In our interview, Neil Trinidad, VP of Crypto, Insuretech and Datatech of GCash, shares that many users may have never set foot in a bank before. This is caused by several reasons such as “The bank is inaccessible from where they live,” or “Banks can seem intimidating for many Filipinos who don’t have the financial means”.

The reality is that in Southeast Asia it’s often easier to obtain an internet connection than a bank account. This is why inclusion and innovation are at the heart of the e-wallet value change, writes TBWA’s Jean Arboleda in a country deep dive on the Philippines.

“Brand trust and credibility are key when it comes to financial services. Brands must understand and address their users’ motivations and fears. For example, unbanked users may be intimidated by complex user interfaces or complicated terms.”

  • Gateway to blockchain: No matter how far in the future it might feel, e-wallets are a gateway into crypto and blockchain, with the adoption of wallets accelerating not just off the back of the pandemic but in developments of Web3.

Our contributors Michael Patent and Acacia Leroy from Culture Group argue that: “As a gateway into Web3 and all its features – from NFTs to DAOs – blockchain wallets will enable marketers to experiment with new ways to serve consumer needs across social connections, self-improvement, self-expression and social status.”

A more dynamic way of understanding the consumer

Payment technology is becoming more sophisticated. But our contributors share that its potential for brands is in the myriad of data-driven ways it enables marketers to understand and target the customer beyond static profiles and traditional segmentation.

  • A goldmine of insight: In our interview Priyanka Gargav, Head of Commercial, SEA & Hong Kong for Adyen, shares insights about the untapped potential of payments data:

“E-wallets are becoming more about the front-end interaction with the customer than a stored value source. This is why for marketing, the untapped potential is how each cashless payment can be an insight.”

  • Different ways to segment: GCash’s Neil Trinidad shares that there is no one way to describe who the e-wallet consumer is in the Philippines.

“It’s quite diverse. This is because the data GCash is able to collect – across different demographics, use cases, etc. – has allowed us to identify over 50 different audience affinities on GCash that our partners can target.” This can include online shoppers, foodies, K-pop fans and sharp investors.

  • A “synapse” for omnichannel retail: In our conversation, Priyanka and I further discuss the key function that an e-wallet provides marketers in their omnichannel retail strategy.

“If unified commerce is a reality, where marketers no longer have to think of online and in-person payments as separate, then the retailer can have a single source of truth. This can help customise and personalise the experience for the consumer.”

Converting customers closer to the bottom line

Superwallets are following a similar trajectory to the popularity of superapps in the region, providing a one-stop shop of utmost convenience for consumers across various verticals. But the difference is that with consumers using the same e-wallet channel to pay for a variety of different services, this provides a direct link for brands to effectively drive conversions at the right moments.

  • E-wallet as an efficient media investment:

ShopeePay’s Agatha Soh shares that:

“E-wallets accelerate the time taken for a consumer to go through the entire marketing funnel. While all stages of the funnel are important, e-wallet adoption is especially impactful in the consideration, conversion and advocacy stages.”

  • A more targeted customer journey: OMG Indonesia’s Deependra Shekhawat provides a case study into one of their campaigns for McDonald’s and GoPay.

“With Indonesians integrating e-wallets into their daily lives and using the same environment for different purchases and purposes, it becomes easy to track their digital footprint… These data points help brands to understand consumers’ consumption behaviour and enhance their experience by sending relevant offers that are aligned to the consumers’ interests and needs.

  • Designing a virtuous cycle and ecosystem:

Dentsu’s Ahmad Ghozali and Arindam Bhattacharyya write about making the value exchange seamless and relevant.

“Make the reward system seamlessly tied to the relevant consumer and prompted at the right purchase point, e.g., if a user wants to buy a movie ticket along with a meal, there must be an in-the-moment gratification offering and the system will act as a reminder to the end user to say they have points and rewards credited” 

Redefining customer loyalty: An opportunity to go deeper

Currently, the e-wallet landscape is highly competitive and saturated as different players fight to win over a consumer’s wallet with a slew of services, touchpoints and discounts. However, many of our contributors, including Accenture Song’s Zain Suharwardy, argue that “these quick ‘fixes’ can encourage usage but may not build brand loyalty and true customer lifetime value”. Our contributors give other alternatives to develop true loyalty.

  • Push the purpose lever: Zain further argues to expand the definition of consumer value to foster deeper connections, especially with many APAC consumers coming out of the pandemic reevaluating their priorities.

“For brands, this means a paradigm shift from creating brand differentiation in an age of abundance to staying relevant in an age of heightened duty of care.”

  • Position with financial wisdom: There is no turning back with money increasingly going digital, and often innovation goes faster than the regulations that are meant to protect the best interests of the customer. BBH’s Faraaz Marghoob, Ruth Lim and Felicia Ong make the case for financial brands to step up in this type of environment.

“Given the inherent risks in the new world of digital finance, perhaps brands need to move beyond merely teaching people about financial products and more towards educating them about sound, eyes-open decision-making when it comes to their money – financial wisdom, if you will.”

  • Tap into the emotional nature of true loyalty: TSLA’s Eunice Tan argues that true loyalty is rooted in emotional connection and feeling seen by brands, providing an opportunity for differentiation in a category often associated with point accumulation.

“For many young people in Asia, virtual banking and e-wallets represent excitement, aspiration and a gateway to living life more richly and confidently. Beyond quick-win acquisition tactics, brands have a responsibility to create not only literate consumers but confident ones. Confident consumers beget more confidence in the brand, which drives advocacy – an important brand differentiator in an already saturated market.”