SMB payments today, tomorrow in Asia Pacific

In Asia Pacific, small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) are vital to the region’s economies. They are anything but small. The 200 million SMBs across Asia Pacific today account for 60 per cent of GDP and employ 70 per cent of the labour force.¹

The digital era has ushered in a new era of growth for these SMBs. Today, SMBs can access to a wider range of payment methods beyond cash, such as digital wallets, credit and debit cards, and bank transfers, allowing them to meet increasing consumer demand. Card payments are also becoming popular among Asia Pacific’s consumers, with over a third of consumers surveyed by Visa having applied for a card in the first half of 2023.² 

The benefits of digital payments are clear. In Asia Pacific, over 70 per cent of SMBs surveyed by Visa indicated that started accepting digital payments experienced an increase in turnover. But more can be done to accelerate SMB adoption of digital payments. 


Challenges and opportunities today

As digital payments become a more popular way to pay, it is important that no SMB is left behind. SMBs in underserved regions, such as in rural areas, may face lingering challenges in adopting and effectively using digital payment solutions.⁴

Furthermore, SMBs with international ambitions often face a maze of diverse payment regulations and technologies, which can be complex, especially for smaller firms. With over four in five Asia Pacific SMBs keen to do business regionally or globally, it is essential for governments and regulators to support SMBs' international growth.⁵

The digital literacy gap is also preventing some SMBs from embracing new forms of payment. In 2023, 56 per cent of SMBs expressed a desire to enhance their knowledge of payment technologies to bolster their operations³. Notably, this figure rises to 60 per cent among women-led SMBs³.


Future-proofing SMBs for tomorrow

While governments and regulators support SMBs in their digital payments journey today, we also must future proof SMBs to thrive with digital payments tomorrow.

One way is to create supportive digital infrastructures and environments for SMBs to come online. For example, in 2021, Vietnam’s Ministry of Finance worked with Visa to help Vietnamese farmers and SMBs in agricultural areas accept digital payments without additional hardware.⁶ A software-based tap to phone solution allowed them to be onboarded quickly by using their mobile devices as point-of-sale terminals.

Second is to prepare SMBs for the future by helping them to adopt and deploy emerging payment technologies, such as open banking and embedded finance. Central banks in Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines are advancing open banking initiatives, one of which is Bank Indonesia’s drive to explore open Asia PacificI standardisation, a critical component of open banking innovation.⁷ Developments in these areas can make transactions like cross-border payments more seamless and transparent, helping SMBs to grow. In February 2024, Visa also unveiled its refreshed Singapore Innovation Center to co-create and accelerate the delivery of payment innovations to market, including embedded finance, which is projected to generate a USD242 billion revenue opportunity for Asia Pacific financial institutions by 2025, with a significant portion from SMBs.⁸ 

Third, raising digital literacy is also a catalyst for SMB digitalisation. As SMB owners become more familiar with technology, they will feel more comfortable using digital payments. To raise the bar, governments and regulators should accelerate upskilling initiatives for SMBs, especially for women-led businesses and underserved communities, with policies. As an example of how this might work in practice, in 2023, the Cambodian Ministry of Women’s Affairs and the National Bank of Cambodia rolled out the “Promoting Financial Literacy for Women and Women Entrepreneurs” programme.The course provides Cambodian women with essential digital skills training, forums, and workshops to help empower them economically through digitalisation.

Creating an environment fostering innovation, transparency, and inclusivity is vital for SMBs to thrive in digital payments, especially as they are such a significant part of the region’s GDP. Swift adoption of supportive digital regulations and infrastructure by regulators and governments is imperative to maintain SMBs' competitiveness and resilience amid evolving digital payments landscapes. By creating a secure and dynamic payment ecosystem through policies and partnerships, governments and regulators can enable more consumers and SMBs to participate in the digital economy.


¹ Visa Research, Enabling Small Business – The Engine of Growth, September 2023

² Visa Asia Pacific Blog, Asia Pacific consumers seek stability while shift to digital continues, 2023

³ Visa, Asia Pacific SMB Research 2023, 2023

Asian Development Bank, Meeting Asia’s Infrastructure Needs, February 2017

UOB, UOB Business (SME & Large Enterprises) Outlook Study 2023, 2023

Visa, Visa to set Vietnamese farmers up for digital transformation, 2021

Bank Indonesia, Indonesia Payment Systems Blueprint 2025, 2019

⁸ BCG, BCG research for Embedded Finance, commissioned by Visa, November 2022

⁹ Visa, Financial literacy and women empowerment programs underscore Visa’s commitment to Cambodia, 2023

Discover more SMB insights from Visa in our research paper: