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Who Will Rise to Claim Payments in Southeast Asia?

Allison Karavos
May 14, 2019

The Southeast Asia marketplace economy is booming, with arguments over whether Thailand — with 11 million online consumers expected to double every three years — or Indonesia, expected to have a $130 billion e-market by 2020, is truly in the lead for the region. Beyond those two nations, there are a number of e-commerce and marketplace economy startups in other Southeast Asian countries, including 270+ in Singapore and over 30 in Vietnam.

The landscape for payments in Southeast Asia is particularly intriguing because it’s a potentially huge market with no one payments player dominating the region. China, has seen Alibaba and WeChat Wallet split their payments economy. The U.S. has PayPal and Venmo (now the same company), and Africa has M-PESA. But despite nearly a trillion dollars of potential value in Southeast Asia, no one has risen to the top. 2.5 billion people globally don’t have a bank account, and a hefty chunk of those reside in Southeast Asia. Most payments systems in the first world are tied back to bank accounts; even the ones that don’t, like M-PESA, tend to have solid local reach.

The Challenge of Payments in Southeast Asia

Perhaps the biggest challenge with creating a regional payments platform throughout Southeast Asia is that each country has a very unique culture. The adoption of e-payments or mobile payments varies greatly among the individual countries that make up the region. Take for example Singapore, 74% of the population still prefers card payments over other options. Whereas only 27% of payments are completed by card in Indonesia. Creating a payments platform that fits the cultural needs of individual countries in Southeast Asia will be key to creating a payments service that gains regional traction. Companies can and are choosing to tackle this problem in a number of ways:

  1.  A country by country expansion backed by local teams with a deep understanding of the local market
  2.  Strategic partnerships with payments businesses in target countries
  3. Purchasing/investing in local payments providers

Which method will drive the most success has yet to be seen!

Contenders Vying for Payments Dominance

So what payments companies in Southeast Asia are standing out in a crowded, locally-driven marketplace economy? Who could rise? We explore four innovative companies looking to succeed in Southeast Asia below.

The contenders:

  • Grab
    Grab, the Southeast Asian decacorn that originally started as a ride sharing app, is now headquartered in Singapore after originally launching in Malaysia. It jumped into the payments industry in 2016 with the launch of GrabPay. Now available throughout Southeast Asia, Grab offers a variety of financial services through its digital wallet, including payments, with plans to expand into micro-loans, insurance, and monthly post-payment options. Grab is using strategic partnership to expand its footprint in Southeast Asia and has partnered with Maybank, OVO, and SM Investments Corporation, to expand its footprint. GrabPay is expected to launch in Thailand in 2019.
  • Go-Jek
    Go-Jek is another Southeast Asian company that started life as a ride hailing app and expanded into the financial services scene. Go-Jek powers payments through its Go-Pay digital wallet which is Indonesia’s leading e-money wallet.
    Go-Pay has made significant inroads into Southeast Asia and has purchased three fintech companies—Kartuku, Mapan, and Midtrans—to help provide the foundation for its financial services and facilitate its expansion. The addition of these business gives Go-Pay access to technology and talent in the payments, lending, and savings spaces to help power their spread throughout the region.
  • Ant Financial
    Ant Financial, which originated from Alipay, is another financial technology company that could rise to take the payments crown in Southeast Asia. With a large and loyal consumer base in China, its home country, Ant Financial is making deliberate steps into the Southeast Asia region. Ant has made strategic investments in companies offering mobile payments wallets in the region to extend the reach of it services. Through investments and partnerships in local businesses Ant Financial now powers payments services in both the Philippines and Thailand.
  • Singtel Dash
    The Dash Platform is an all-in-one mobile payments solution from Singapore’s largest telco Singtel. Singtel has developed the Via alliance, which builds partnerships with other e-wallet and payments platforms around the world including Southeast Asia. As a result of the continuously evolving alliances Dash platform subscribers can now or soon will be able to pay for goods and services using their Dash wallet in a number of countries including Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, India, and China. Singtel is using these partnerships to bridge cultural differences between the countries within Southeast Asia to create a cohesive regional payments solution.


One of the reasons for the crowded payments space in Southeast Asia is that it’s genuinely a mobile-first part of the world. Consider the case of Indonesia:

Further evidence that Indonesians have embraced mobile-first initiatives comes from social media, with Indonesians having the highest mobile Facebook usage rate worldwide, with 63 million users in 2015. Further projections put Indonesians’ future Facebook access via mobile being almost 99 percent by 2018, showing a real dominance over desktop platforms. The mobile-first path that Indonesia has taken also allows retailers to focus on creating mobile functionality, presenting unique opportunities to dominate in the retail space.

Because some countries in Southeast Asia have massive populations (Indonesia, for example, is north of 250 million), the mobile-first movement is a huge deal. This allows the seller side to have hyper-personalized data and tailor their products even more, as opposed to generalized swaths of information about a huge population. That’s also why so many companies are rushing into the payments space — it’s a relatively low barrier to entry, and the inherently mobile nature makes for better decision-making around what users want.

70-80% of Southeast Asians should be on smartphones by 2021, which would approach U.S. and Japanese levels. But there are already major payments players in those spaces, and not so among the southeastern Asian economies.

Uniquely Southeast Asian

It should also be noted that one quirk of the Southeast Asian marketplace economy is that e-commerce developed before payments or logistics, meaning it spent years as a series of informal markets on platforms like Instagram. Only recently have payments been formalized in the area.

Also critical to understand in Southeast Asia: if you analyze net promoter score, a quality metric for customer advocacy, local payment systems — if fragmented — consistently score higher than major enterprise options based elsewhere. For example, in Indonesia Tokopedia (local) has an NPS of +7 while Amazon’s NPS is -24.

To fully understand how the sharing economy might impact and affect Southeast Asia and other regions where it’s not fully emergent, it helps to more broadly understand the landscape of the sharing/marketplace economy.

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