By Ana Olivia A. Tirona, Researcher

WILFRIDO T. GONZALES, a 74-year-old retiree, has no intention of using an electronic wallet (e-wallet) and is strongly against it. However, physically queuing and traveling to places have become quite a challenge for his day and age.

“I don’t use e-wallets or any online financial apps. I don’t intend to use them either. I still go to the bank and line up in bayad centers to pay bills. However tiresome it can be at my age, at least I know that the money is directly handed to the receiver,” Mr. Gonzales said in an interview with BusinessWorld.

However, in the case of 60-year-old interior designer Marite D. Medez, e-wallets have become a game changer for her.

“I only started using e-wallets because I needed them for one of my businesses back in 2022,” Ms. Medez said in a separate interview.

“I didn’t like the idea of using an e-wallet at first. And then one day, I had about 10 customers paying through e-wallets and only my staff had an account at the time. Until I had the app myself, I didn’t need to rely on anything else like going to the bank or cashing cheques,” she said.

The potential of Filipino senior citizens in the digitalization of financial services is often left unnoticed. However, specific barriers exist in e-wallet applications that the untapped segment could overcome and could further the central bank’s goal of digital financial inclusion.

In the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas’ (BSP) National Strategy for Financial Inclusion (NSFI) 2022-2028, the underserved and unserved segments of the country are part of the financially excluded persons that it targets to accommodate in their seven-year plan.

“Senior citizens, just like other underserved sectors, are also afforded the financial inclusion benefits from the priority initiatives of the NSFI, including digital finance,” the BSP said in an e-mail interview.

“In fact, one of the four strategic objectives identified in the NSFI is to promote inclusive digital finance as it enables cost efficiencies and innovations that improve the customer experience, affordability, availability, and personalization of welfare-enhancing financial products and services,” it added.

In the 2021 Financial Inclusion Survey (FIS), it was estimated that there are 5.4 million senior citizens. The share of senior citizens that own a smartphone more than tripled to 39% in 2021 from 12% in 2019. Similarly, the elderly population that has access to the internet rose to 26% in 2021 from 8% previously.

Those that hold an electronic money (e-money) account reached 11% of the senior citizens. They remain to be the smallest age group that utilizes e-money, next to those who are 50 to 59 years old (21% share).

Of the Filipino elderly, only 37% have a savings account in 2021 and about 54% of their pension payouts were received through an account. Moreover, 80% of Filipino seniors still made transaction payments as of 2021.

In the research paper titled “Younger Persons are More Likely to Adopt the Mobile Wallet than Older Persons, or are they? The Moderating Role of Age” (2015) by Norman Shaw, the hypothesis that age as a moderator in terms of adopting to e-wallets was proven otherwise.

Results showed that the intention of use was slightly different between the younger generation and the senior citizens, but the age difference was not significant.

Despite this, there is still a gap between the elderly and the digital experience. Both Ms. Medez and Mr. Gonzales face constant struggles in the digital age.

“How to use it at first was the hardest part. I didn’t know what I was doing. It’s still very convenient in my opinion, I pay off all my bills through e-wallets,” Ms. Medez said.

For Mr. Gonzales, he uses his smartphone as his source of daily news, entertainment, and communication.

“I already have difficulty understanding some of the icons and features in my own iPhone, what more with an e-wallet,” he said.

The common ground for both these pain points is the digital experience that could be constantly improved. Thus, user experience (UX) and user interface (UI) are essential ingredients to creating a holistic service for these senior citizens.

UX is the design process developers use to create smooth and purpose-driven software. UI, on the other hand, is the process of creating a pleasurable and easy-on-the-eyes look for a specific application.

Fulltime UX designer Jed C. Cordova points out that a good e-wallet experience depends on the target demographic. His experience involved developing an e-wallet catered to sea-based workers for the smooth transaction of money without the need of stepping foot on shore.

“In my experience, based on the sample of seafarers, we also covered senior citizens as part of the demographic. Most of them are above 60 years old. But even those who are in their mid-50s, most of them are very resistant to e-wallets,” he said in a Zoom interview.

“Simply because they don’t want to learn. That’s the main pain point we have gathered,” he added.

In the design perspective, AIRR Labbs Digital Designer Leila A. Alibudbud emphasizes the importance of a good interface for e-wallets.

“If it’s easy to figure out where things are, that to me is a good interface,” she said in a separate Zoom interview.

An app with a good interface “has icons that are easily understandable and you know what the icons mean at first glance without having to look at the text underneath it. It uses readable font and font size that is readable. Mostly, the little details that go into design still have a huge impact.”

The central bank strives for a “bigger” digital payments ecosystem. With that, BSP supports all initiatives for the advancement of digital infrastructures.

“The BSP also continually broadens its financial literacy and consumer protection programs that cater to the needs of the different segments and age groups of the unbanked,” BSP said.

Likewise, initiatives that are supported by the central bank include digital financial literacy programs and implementation of the consumer protection regulatory framework.

Also, the BSP pushes to collaborate with relevant stakeholders to “develop innovative payment channels that can cater to the needs of senior citizens.” Examples of which are the electronic distribution of pension and social aid through PESONet and InstaPay, the central bank’s regulated electronic fund transfer channels.

Stepping up to the ideal e-wallet experience is G-Xchange, Inc. which offers GCash, and is a subsidiary of Globe Fintech Innovations, Inc. The e-wallet application is also one of BSP’s regulated electronic money issuers (EMI).

GCash Head of Digital Experience Michelle S. Fernandez said the company strives to continuously improve the app while maintaining inclusivity for all 72 million of its users.

“Not everyone is tech-savvy. Not everyone knows how to navigate complex apps. We have to make sure it’s really understandable and friendly to all kasi GCash nga para sa lahat,” she said in a Zoom interview.

For first-time downloaders, GCash ensures that users are familiar with the interface through an onboarding step-by-step process of what the app is and its features. To upskill the digital literacy of those new to the app, video tutorials are also available on their website for ease of use.

Most notably, Ms. Fernandez acknowledges the pain points that exist among senior citizens toward e-wallet usage.

“We do know that [e-wallets] are something that they actually need more. They shouldn’t be going out too much, or exposed to physical cash as it can be a health concern and it can be unhygienic. So, [senior citizens] should be the ones to avail of this service more for their own convenience. We really do consider that when we do our designs. My mom is my main use case because I get a lot of design insights from her,” she said.

GCash started as a Globe Telecom, Inc.’s money transfer service via SMS in 2006. It then transitioned to an app in 2016.

“GCat (the cat mascot of GCash) was still very prominent. The icons were very thin, and fonts were smaller. There was a little bit of a rebrand in 2020. But then, it was really [in 2022] that we changed about 60% of the app visually. A bit of the experience changed as well,” Ms. Fernandez said.

Considering feedback from senior citizens, the GCash team ensures that everyone is included and accessible to the e-wallet service.

“We were actually resizing our fonts and our icons real time as we were speaking with the senior citizens. So, we would check, “How about this? Is this font or icon size okay?” and they would say “Lakihan mo pa (Make it larger).” And, real-time, we would enlarge the font size. Then they would react “okay, tama na ’yan. Nababasa ko na ’yan (that’s good, I can read it already),” Ms. Fernandez added.

Other than the visual and functional aspects of the app’s features, GCash also includes those with physical challenges.

“We also consider the mobility and reachability aside from just the size and color contrast. Some people are colorblind. So that means they won’t be able to tell the difference between some of the shades we use. That’s why we have more contrast. And again, maybe that’s not the most modern way of designing, but it’s a more considerate way of designing,” Ms. Fernandez said.

Thus, it is considerate to understand the target market’s needs. Regardless of age, it all boils down to how the needs for the service can be provided in a simple and all-accepting way.

“Generation Z (those born between 1997 and 2012) are more prone to be able to adapt to changes. But as you get older, you just want to stick to what you know. And you don’t want to be so inconvenienced about relearning things,” Ms. Fernandez said.

“It is our job to adjust for them.”