Despite lower mobile penetration rates, there is a higher percentage of smartphone users in several Asean nations making online purchases than in developed nations such as Japan and Britain.
The finding was published in a research paper released by Maybank Kim Eng yesterday.
The smartphone penetration rates in Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia ranged from 13 per cent to 30 per cent of the respective populations in 2013, according to the research paper.
Yet 50 per cent to 60 per cent of smartphone users in these three Asean countries made purchases online.
That compares with the 40 per cent to 45 per cent in the United States, Japan, Britain and Australia, where overall mobile penetration was well above 60 per cent in 2013.
Details of the publication were released yesterday at the Invest Asean 2015 conference held here. The research captures the extent to which the economies are prepared for the digital economy.
In Singapore, the smartphone penetration rate is 90 per cent, with 45 per cent of the people making online purchases using their phones.
"These 'millennials' are tech savvy and very sensitive to social events, with a strong sense of fairness and justice," said Datuk Abdul Farid Alias, president and chief executive of Maybank, Asean's fourth-largest bank by assets, referring to young people born between 1980 and 1995.
"We have to keep up with the hipsters. We have to keep up with the techs. So that's our strategy as well," he added.
The research cited the high costs of installing fixed lines in homes as one reason young people in developing Asean countries make more online purchases on their phones. Given this, the paper predicts that mobile broadband will drive significant electronic connectivity in Asean.
Maybank officials at the conference touted the Asean growth story, saying the region has 600 million consumers with an average age of 28, and with 60 per cent of them millennials.
Maybank Kim Eng also announced a strategic partnership with Kiva, the first and largest micro-lending online platform for the Asean region. The partnership is an expansion of a Maybank programme that provides access and support to entrepreneurs, said Maybank Investment Bank chief executive John Chong.
The project is expected to help the lives of more than 10,000 underprivileged entrepreneurs across the region in one year.
Kiva lenders have used the Internet to support entrepreneurs in more than 80 countries, making loans of as little as US$25 (S$34). It has assisted over 200,000 borrowers in Asean with starting and growing businesses, improving their homes and going to school, said Ms Karen Little, Kiva's director of development.