Singaporean elders’ tryst with digital inclusion

While Singapore has been at the forefront in terms of bridging the digital divide among its citizens, elders in the country are yet to emerge as active participants in the online economy.


More than four-fifths of senior citizens in Singapore own smartphones and many are aware of digital apps. According to Visa’s Digital Inclusion Study, 81% know of ride-hailing apps, 74% have heard of food delivery apps and 73% are aware of the existence of apps for mobile banking.

However, when it comes to actually using these apps Singaporean elders hold themselves back. Only 31% of Singaporean seniors actually use mobile banking apps, and the same story is present in other industries. Only 29% of seniors in the country have tried ride-hailing apps and just 22% have used apps for shopping.

Singaporean seniors also seem to fall behind in terms of ownership of credit and debit cards. Just 46% own credit cards only 36% possess debit cards.

Shopping online is another area where Singapore elders are passive participants—only 25% of seniors have shopped online during the last one year. The cautious apathy of the elderly towards using digital applications is also reflected in the fact that a majority of them—52%—still consider cash as their preferred payment method.

Digital fraud plays spoilsport

While adapting to the rapidly transforming world of digital technology remains a challenge for elders, concerns over digital fraud seem to be one of the key reasons that prevent seniors from becoming active digital participants.

Globally, online fraudsters have been increasingly targeting elders. Also, a recent survey by information services firm Experian and market researcher International Data Corporation (IDC) found Singaporeans to be apprehensive about digital services offered by private players.

The survey found 18.5% of Singaporeans were affected by digital fraud in the past 12 months, with the vast majority of victims coming from older demographics. In terms of consumers’ trust in digital services, Singapore scored just 2.3 out of 10 as customers felt companies are not managing the post-fraud experience well, according to the survey.

In Singapore alone, more than 800 people, including elders, recently fell prey to an e-commerce scam involving victims making payment for purchases at online marketplace Carousell that were not delivered to them.

In another instance, Singapore Customs authorities were forced to remind customers to be wary of deals that seem too good to be true after at least nine people fell victim to two sham websites claiming to offer branded guitars at a 90% discount.

E-commerce scam cases in Singapore are also rising. E-commerce scams rose by 58% from 808 cases in 2017 to 1,277 cases in the first half of 2018, according to the Singapore Police Force (SPF).

The total amount cheated out of victims’ accounts also increased 43.1% to S$930,000 from S$650,000 (US$677,000 from US$473,000).

Learning modules are aplenty

Singapore has made continuous efforts aimed at enhancing digital inclusion for elders. Recently Visa partnered with People’s Association to boost digital inclusion for Singaporean seniors. Visa will be organising sessions at Visa University to inform and guide seniors about digital payments with hands-on training sessions as part of its Seniors for Smart Nation programme.

The Singapore government-owned Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) also aims to teach the elderly how to use technology and prepare them for a digital lifestyle. The curriculum covers topics such as digital government services, chat apps, use of e-payment, identifying online scams and fake news.

As part of its Silver Infocomm Initiative, which promotes IT awareness and literacy among the elderly, IMDA also organises intergenerational IT boot camps to encourage seniors to foster bonds with the young, by being engaged digitally.

The boot camps aim to leverage the natural skills of Singapore’s young digital natives and pair them with elders who may not have been exposed to information technology.

The camps cover a variety of topics such as how to type on a keyboard and use a Windows 7 computer and a mouse, navigating online banking and accessing government portals. These camps are also known to enhance a sense of community and sharing among participants in addition to refine their communication skills.

Digital inclusion is increasing slowly but steadily 

Digital technology opened fresh domains of knowledge and awareness for digital natives, the opportunities arising out of the ubiquity of the Internet are not shared evenly, and a larger segment of the population is left wondering what the digital revolution is all about.

In an age where content consumers are increasingly becoming content creators, having access to digital technology is not enough. Digital inclusion is about transforming users of technology into participants in the internet revolution.

In a broad sense, digital inclusion combines digital literacy, information technologies and internet access to enable all sections of users to navigate the digital realm. For Singaporean seniors, overcoming the psychological hurdle to become active digital participants can happen only through access to enhanced learning programmes which are aplenty in the country. Therefore, their transformation from digital awareness to active participation in the fast emerging online economy is only a matter of time.