Three-Quarters of Asian Adults Are Not Financially Literate, According to Standard & Poor’s Study

Back to Media Releases | Download PDF

Three-Quarters of Asian Adults Are Not Financially Literate, According to Standard & Poor’s Study

S&P Survey Identifies Low Levels of Financial Literacy, Mismatch between Financial Skills and Credit Usage in Asia

HONG KONG, Dec 2, 2015 – In one of the most extensive measurements of global financial literacy to date, the Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services Global Financial Literacy Survey (S&P Global FinLit Survey) finds that 73 percent of adults in Asia do not adequately understand key monetary ideas, including risk diversification, inflation and compound interest. While the survey established regional differences in knowledge between East Asia, South Asia, and Southeast Asia, the percentage of financially literate adults across the continent was lower than the global average. Two-thirds of adults worldwide are financially illiterate, according to the survey.

The survey results come from interviews conducted with more than 150,000 adults in more than 140 countries who were tested on their knowledge of four basic financial concepts: numeracy, risk diversification, inflation, compound interest (saving and debt.) The data were collected in 2014 by Gallup as part of the Gallup World Poll and analytical support was provided by researchers at the World Bank and the Global Financial Literacy Excellence Center (GFLEC) at the George Washington University.

Singapore is home to the highest percentage of financially literate adults (59 percent) in Asia, while only 18 percent of Cambodian and Nepalese adults were able to correctly answer the questions on basic financial concepts. The survey also uncovered information about varying levels of consumer knowledge about of financial products. In China, 63 percent of adults who own a credit card are financially illiterate. Overall, 28 percent of Chinese adults were financially competent.

Significantly, the survey found younger Asians more likely to be financially adept than older respondents. In Hong Kong, 58 percent of residents between the ages of 15 and 34 are financially literate, compared to 31 percent of residents over 55. In Taiwan, the 15-34 age cohort were almost twice as likely to be financially literate as the over-55 group.

“We are committed to creating stronger financial markets all over the world,” said Courtney Geduldig, Executive Vice President of Public Affairs at McGraw Hill Financial, parent of S&P Ratings. “We believe there are correlations between financial literacy, financial access, and the strength of markets. Addressing financial literacy is a key strategy in building stronger, more accessible and sustainable markets around the globe.”

“Understanding concepts like interest, inflation and the importance of savings are at the core of economic development,” said Matthew Bosrock, Executive Managing Director and Head of Asia-Pacific for Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services. “A lack of basic financial understanding is one of the factors obstructing faster growth in Asia. This survey gives policymakers the tools to identify the gaps in education and also a chance to improve access to financial products.”

Excluding China, 40 percent of East Asian adults were sufficiently familiar with the financial concepts tested by the survey. The East Asian results are higher than the global average of financially literate adults (33 percent), while Southeast Asia’s scores were closer the global average at 31 percent. Less than a quarter of South Asians correctly identified the concepts posed by pollsters, a significantly lower percentage than the global average.

The survey defines East Asia as China, Hong Kong SAR, Japan, South Korea, Mongolia and Taiwan. South Asia comprises Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, while Southeast Asia includes Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

While the array of financial products available in Asia continues to grow rapidly, S&P’s FinLit Survey suggests that most consumers lack a general understanding of credit, compound interest and other key concepts. In China, credit card ownership has nearly doubled since 2011, yet less than half of the respondents could not correctly answer the survey questions on interest.

Financial inclusion presents both a challenge and an opportunity in other Asian markets as well. About 47 percent of adults in India – 415 million adults – lack a bank account. Roughly 80 percent of those without bank accounts have weak financial skills, according to the survey.

Additional major findings from the S&P Global FinLit Survey include:

  • 61 percent of adults in China do not save for old age. About 72 percent of those non-savers have low financial literacy scores, according to the survey findings.
  • Six out of 10 Chinese adults do not have formal savings, and about 20 percent of the adult population is unbanked. Only about one-third of formal savers in China are financially literate and just 52 percent of them understand interest.
  • 73 percent of Indian men—and 80 percent of Indian women—are financially illiterate. Combined, only 24 percent of Indian adults are financially literate, the lowest score among the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) club of nations.
  • 38 percent of Indian adults with a tertiary education are financially literate; compared to 30 percent of adults with a secondary education, and 18 percent of adults with a primary education.

A comprehensive overview of the survey findings can be found at


Top 30 countries for financial literacy

Bottom 30 countries for financial literacy


Adults who are financially literate (%)


Adults who are financially literate (%)



Yemen, Rep.


















United Kingdom








The Netherlands












New Zealand


Kyrgyz Republic






Czech Republic




United States






Iran, Islamic Rep.








Sierra Leone




El Salvador








Macedonia, FYR


































Slovak Republic


West Bank and Gaza






Source: S&P Global FinLit Survey


About the survey

The survey is based on interviews with more than 150,000 adults across 148 countries.

Data collection began in March 2014 by Gallup as part of the Gallup World Poll and was analyzed by researchers from the World Bank and the Global Financial Literacy Excellence Center (GFLEC) at the George Washington University.

The interviews were conducted face-to-face in economies where telephone coverage represents less than 80 percent of the population or is the customary methodology. In most economies the fieldwork was completed in two to four weeks. The surveys were conducted in the countries’ native language. The sample in each country was around 1,000 adults.

Survey questions

The S&P Global FinLit Survey covers fundamental concepts for financial decision making, such as basic numeracy, compound interest, inflation and risk diversification. The literacy questions that measure these four topics are as follows (list of answers in brackets with the correct answer in bold):

  • Risk Diversification

Suppose you have some money. Is it safer to put your money into one business or investment, or to put your money into multiple businesses or investments? [one business or investment; multiple businesses or investments; don’t know; refused to answer]

  • Inflation

Suppose of the next 10 years the prices of the things you buy double. If your income also doubles, will you be able to buy less than you can buy today, the same as you can buy today, or more than you can buy today? [less; the same; more; don’t know; refused to answer]

  • Numeracy (Interest)

Suppose you need to borrow 100 dollars. Which is the lower amount to pay back: 105 dollars or 100 dollars plus three percent? [105 dollars; 100 dollars plus three percent; don’t know; refused to answer]

  • Compound Interest

Suppose you put money in the bank for two years and the bank agrees to add 15 percent per year to your account. Will the bank add more money to your account the second year than it 3 did the first year, or will it add the same amount of money both years? [more; the same; don’t know; refused to answer]

Suppose you had 100 US dollars in a savings account and the bank adds 10 percent per year to the account. How much money would you have in the account after five years if you did not remove any money from the account? [more than 150 dollars; exactly 150 dollars; less than 150 dollars; don’t know; refused to answer]

A person is defined as financially literate when he or she correctly answers at least three out of the four basic financial concepts described above.


About McGraw Hill Financial:

McGraw Hill Financial (NYSE: MHFI) is a leading financial intelligence company providing the global capital and commodity markets with independent benchmarks, credit ratings, portfolio and enterprise risk solutions, and analytics. The Company's iconic brands include Standard & Poor's Ratings Services, S&P Capital IQ and SNL, S&P Dow Jones Indices, Platts, CRISIL, and J.D. Power. The Company has approximately 20,000 employees in 31 countries. Additional information is available at


Media Contacts:

Ola Fadahunsi, Hong Kong (852) 2532-8061;

Michelle Lei, Beijing, (86) 10 6569 2961;

Emi Nakata, Singapore, (65) 6216-1193;


Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services, a part of McGraw Hill Financial (NYSE: MHFI), is the world's leading provider of independent credit risk research and benchmarks. We have approximately 1.2 million credit ratings outstanding on government, corporate, financial sector and structured finance entities and securities. With nearly 1,400 credit analysts in 26 countries, and more than 150 years' experience of assessing credit risk, we offer a unique combination of global coverage and local insight. Our research and opinions about relative credit risk provide market participants with information and independent benchmarks that help to support the growth of transparent, liquid debt markets worldwide.

Visit, a free, interactive, and informative portal to access highlights from our credit research offerings. Consider this your portal to perspective:

Copyright © 2015 by Standard & Poor’s Financial Services LLC. All rights reserved.

No content (including ratings, credit-related analyses and data, valuations, model, software or other application or output therefrom) or any part thereof (Content) may be modified, reverse engineered, reproduced or distributed in any form by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of Standard & Poor's Financial Services LLC or its affiliates (collectively, S&P). The Content shall not be used for any unlawful or unauthorized purposes. S&P and any third-party providers, as well as their directors, officers, shareholders, employees or agents (collectively S&P Parties) do not guarantee the accuracy, completeness, timeliness or availability of the Content. S&P Parties are not responsible for any errors or omissions (negligent or otherwise), regardless of the cause, for the results obtained from the use of the Content, or for the security or maintenance of any data input by the user. The Content is provided on an "as is" basis. S&P PARTIES DISCLAIM ANY AND ALL EXPRESS OR IMPLIED WARRANTIES, INCLUDING, BUT NOT LIMITED TO, ANY WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY OR FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE OR USE, FREEDOM FROM BUGS, SOFTWARE ERRORS OR DEFECTS, THAT THE CONTENT'S FUNCTIONING WILL BE UNINTERRUPTED OR THAT THE CONTENT WILL OPERATE WITH ANY SOFTWARE OR HARDWARE CONFIGURATION. In no event shall S&P Parties be liable to any party for any direct, indirect, incidental, exemplary, compensatory, punitive, special or consequential damages, costs, expenses, legal fees, or losses (including, without limitation, lost income or lost profits and opportunity costs or losses caused by negligence) in connection with any use of the Content even if advised of the possibility of such damages.

Credit-related and other analyses, including ratings, and statements in the Content are statements of opinion as of the date they are expressed and not statements of fact. S&P's opinions, analyses and rating acknowledgment decisions (described below) are not recommendations to purchase, hold, or sell any securities or to make any investment decisions, and do not address the suitability of any security. S&P assumes no obligation to update the Content following publication in any form or format. The Content should not be relied on and is not a substitute for the skill, judgment and experience of the user, its management, employees, advisors and/or clients when making investment and other business decisions. S&P does not act as a fiduciary or an investment advisor except where registered as such. While S&P has obtained information from sources it believes to be reliable, S&P does not perform an audit and undertakes no duty of due diligence or independent verification of any information it receives.

To the extent that regulatory authorities allow a rating agency to acknowledge in one jurisdiction a rating issued in another jurisdiction for certain regulatory purposes, S&P reserves the right to assign, withdraw or suspend such acknowledgement at any time and in its sole discretion. S&P Parties disclaim any duty whatsoever arising out of the assignment, withdrawal or suspension of an acknowledgment as well as any liability for any damage alleged to have been suffered on account thereof.

S&P keeps certain activities of its business units separate from each other in order to preserve the independence and objectivity of their respective activities. As a result, certain business units of S&P may have information that is not available to other S&P business units. S&P has established policies and procedures to maintain the confidentiality of certain non-public information received in connection with each analytical process.

S&P may receive compensation for its ratings and certain analyses, normally from issuers or underwriters of securities or from obligors. S&P reserves the right to disseminate its opinions and analyses. S&P's public ratings and analyses are made available on its Web sites, (free of charge), and and (subscription), and may be distributed through other means, including via S&P publications and third-party redistributors. Additional information about our ratings fees is available at

STANDARD & POOR'S, S&P, GLOBAL CREDIT PORTAL and RATINGSDIRECT are registered trademarks of Standard & Poor's Financial Services LLC.

To manage your Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services subscription preferences, please click here.

If you do not wish to receive any more promotional e-mails from Standard & Poor's Ratings Services, please click here to unsubscribe.

Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services, 55 Water Street, New York, NY 10041