Mobile wallets: Southeast Asia’s new digital life hack

Mobile-payment wallets have become a vital part of the Southeast Asian consumer landscape, allowing financial access for millions of previously excluded people. As online spending soared during the COVID-19 pandemic, wallets saw a surge in newly registered users. Uptake of this convenient technology now far outpaces that of credit cards in the region’s emerging markets, thereby revitalizing the payments ecosystem.

The very notion of digital wallets has changed. Wallets are no longer simply a value store: they are a medium for every type of payment—and more. What started out as a closed-loop payments platform is fast becoming a front-end engagement channel, enabled by a multitude of open and semi-open payment networks. Wallets have greeted the rise of BNPL (buy now, pay later), cryptocurrency, and cross-border payments by enabling transac­tions through these modes too. Beyond this, digital wallets are becoming access points for gaming, commerce, and loyalty, in some cases emerging as “super apps” or financial superstores—hubs of financial connectivity.

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