S'pore ranked most financially inclusive market but needs to buck up in some areas: Survey

Financial inclusion is a priority for Singapore as it seeks to grow its status as a global financial hub in Asia. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - Consumers in Singapore are better placed than others around the world when it comes to the ease of acquiring financial services and products, said a new survey.

It found that the country was tops in the area of financial inclusion, beating powerhouse economies such as the United States, Britain, Hong Kong and Japan.

Financial inclusion, according to the World Bank, means individuals and businesses have access to useful and affordable products and services to meet their needs, ranging from transactions and payments to savings, credit and insurance.

It also states that these needs must be met in a responsible and sustainable way.

The inaugural survey conducted by US-based Principal Financial Group and the Centre for Economics and Business Research in Britain was used to compile the Global Financial Inclusion Index.

It placed Singapore at the top as the most financially inclusive market, followed closely by the US, then Sweden and Hong Kong. Britain was 13th and Japan 22nd.

Financial inclusion is a priority for Singapore as it seeks to grow its status as a global financial hub in Asia, said Principal Asia president Thomas Cheong.

Singapore had mixed scores across the various assessment benchmarks but scored highly because it has the least complex corporate tax system among all 42 markets surveyed.

It also did relatively well in online connectivity, a measure based on fixed broadband and mobile cellular subscriptions, and impressed in overall education levels. However, it scored lower on the availability of government-provided financial education.

The country was also marked down on its regulations championing the consumer and its deposit insurance system, which protects bank customers' deposits up to $75,000 per depositor per bank.

There were better scores for the relatively easier access to credit here and the quality of development in the fintech space, although the survey noted that the use of real-time transactions is still not very prevalent.

Ms Seema Shah, chief global strategist at Principal Global Investors, the investment arm of Principal Financial Group, said Singapore and other economies in Asia and South-east Asia where the middle class is growing are investing in initiatives to boost financial inclusion.

Ms Shah added that wealthier ones like Singapore and Hong Kong can "cherry pick" the most financially inclusive aspects of other markets to shape the infrastructure, regulation and the structure of their financial systems.

This will allow them to "create the leading global economies of the next 100 years".

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