Emerging Markets Tech: 5 Digital Trends to Watch

The unique challenges, both technical and cultural, of emerging markets translate into specific digital trends that are becoming clear across some of the world’s largest economies. There is growing demand for FinTech products among large underbanked populations, digital healthcare is a more pressing concern for the emerging world, music streaming looks to be making gradual inroads, lightweight apps designed specifically for emerging markets are being rolled out, and the sharing economy is expanding its reach beyond the developed markets. How quickly these segments develop in specific regions largely depends on growth in Internet usage and smartphone uptake.

Internet Users in Emerging Markets: 2009-2030



Source: Euromonitor International from International Telecommunications Union/OECD/national statistics

Note: Figures for 2015-2030 are forecast

Mobile FinTech in high demand

Although advanced financial operations tend to be linked more with advanced markets due to their sophisticated consumer banking systems, FinTech platforms are generally seeing higher demand in emerging markets. Underbanked populations and limited access to financial physical infrastructure have meant that consumers are increasingly reliant on mobile apps for basic banking operations as well as more complex wealth management services. On their side, financial businesses are placing their technologists not as servants of the rest of the company but as equals, allowing them to drive innovation quickly. With smartphone penetration rising, consumers in emerging markets will make more transactions via their FinTech apps. Household spending on financial services in developing countries will increase by 85.4% in real terms over 2015-2030.

Digital healthcare on the horizon

Healthcare costs are increasing in both developed and developing nations alike, but there is much greater concern about the availability of qualified professionals and the distribution of medical supplies in emerging markets. This is driving technology innovations aimed at low-cost, easy-to-use diagnostic devices, which can enhance efficiency and make best use of already strained resources. Today, the most rapidly growing healthcare markets in the world are located in emerging economies such as China and India, also countries where population increases are placing particular pressure on state and private apparatus. Therefore, online solutions will be key for sustaining and enhancing access to medical services for the emerging world’s 1.8 billion Internet users (as of 2014).

Music streaming is on the verge of a breakthrough

At present, advanced economies are almost entirely responsible for the success of music streaming, in particular the USA, UK and Europe’s major Western countries. These are nations with high disposable incomes and with consumers able to purchase services electronically. Yet the primary trend in music consumption going forward will be convincing consumers in emerging markets to purchase legal music rather than use free pirated alternatives. Music streaming companies such as Spotify have traditionally avoided major emerging markets due to the presence of wide-scale piracy. However, with more companies entering an already crowded market (Google, Apple, Amazon, among others), music streaming services tailored to emerging market consumers are likely to make a big breakthrough in the next few years.

Lightweight apps aimed at low-speed devices

As major digital brands look to enter markets farther afield in a bid to stave off market saturation in developed economies, providing apps that can operate on budget devices and at low-speed mobile broadband connections is key. Facebook has become one of the highest-profile companies to provide a lightweight app and certainly other international brands are set to follow. This trend is part of a wider consensus among technology companies that a “one size fits all” mentality will not get very far for emerging economies, where telecom landscapes can still be inadequate. Only 24.0% of mobile subscriptions were web-enabled in emerging markets in 2014.

Sharing economy on its way

While sharing economy services such as apartment rental service Airbnb are already mainstream in developed countries, the market remains nascent in the emerging world. A greater level of distrust towards fellow Internet users and cultural barriers have seen the “sharing’ mentality not embraced as quickly as anticipated. For example, the idea of sharing apartments or cars with strangers is looked at with some peculiarity by Russian or Indian consumers. Nonetheless, the urban middle class is gradually turning to such services, with a trickledown effect expected to drive wider acceptance of sharing economy principles. Local start-ups will play a particularly important role as they build services that are more compatible to the taste of local users.