RinggitPlus has announced the results of the 2023 RinggitPlus Malaysian Financial Literacy Survey (RMFLS), which offers a snapshot of Malaysians’ financial behaviours and sheds a light on the unique challenges faced by the rakyat.
This year’s survey also brings to the forefront additional findings across digital financial literacy, scam prevalence, gender disparities, and Gen-Z’s financial outlook.
Resilience in a Challenging Financial Environment
In the face of persistent global economic challenges and rising inflation, Malaysians find themselves equally impacted, tackling ongoing financial hardships. 32% of respondents believe their financial situation is worse than in 2022, with more than half (55%) of respondents admitting to feeling anxious, frustrated, or embarrassed about their current financial situation.
It is not hard to see why. This year, 71% of respondents could only save less than RM500 each month, while 67% state that their emergency savings can last them for three months or less. Meanwhile, 55% of respondents admit to spending equal or more than what they earn each month, essentially living paycheck to paycheck.
While these figures certainly look demoralising – they are largely unchanged when compared to our findings last year – they are quite unexpected. Given the global economic headwinds, Malaysians should be worse off in their financial habits. Instead, this year’s survey results tell us that Malaysians demonstrated surprising resilience by taking charge of their finances: a remarkable 94% of respondents took proactive measures to improve their financial situations this year. The top three actions include cutting back on leisure activities, eating out less frequently, and diligently tracking expenses.
Prevalence of Scams Prompt Urgent Digital Financial Literacy Awareness
One of the key findings from the survey is that an astonishing 94% of respondents reported encounters with potential scams or fraud attempts this year, highlighting the pressing need for digital financial literacy among Malaysians.
It is therefore hardly a surprise that governing bodies are taking this matter seriously, with the banking industry launching a refreshed and aggressive anti-scam awareness campaign, and the government increasing funding for the National Scam Response Centre (NSRC) for the upcoming year.
Separately, the RMFLS survey also reveals a cultural shift in trust when it comes to financial matters: 68% of Malaysians turn to social media for financial insights ahead of traditional sources such as friends and family. This raises a unique concern in an era misinformation and the growing emergence of unaccredited “financial gurus” online.
These findings are a strong indicator that the definition of financial literacy has broadened. Besides traditional financial concepts, digital financial literacy now also encompasses measures to safeguard personal and financial information online and to identify reliable sources of information. Enhancing digital financial literacy is crucial in empowering Malaysians to make smarter financial decisions.
Disparities in Financial Security
The RMFLS 2023 survey also highlights the financial vulnerabilities faced by Malaysian women. Due to a combination of low work force participation and a growing wage disparity, Malaysian women are more exposed to financial shocks.
The survey reveals that 75% of female respondents save less than RM500 per month, compared to 66% of men. In addition, 69% of female respondents can survive for less than three months with only their savings compared to 64% of men. With more female respondents saving less, it leaves them more vulnerable in the face of financial emergencies such as job loss or unexpected expenses.
The struggles to save affect the ability for Malaysian women to grow their money and ultimately build a retirement nest. Only 44% of female respondents have started investing (compared to 56% of male respondents) and similarly, 51% of female respondents have financially started planning for their retirement – 10% fewer than male respondents.
As such, initiatives by the government including those in the Madani Economy Framework and in Budget 2024 will play a crucial role to address this concerning trend. For example, Budget 2024 includes financing support specifically for female entrepreneurs, while tax incentives to encourage women to re-enter the workforce have also been announced. These are part of a broader goal by the government to increase female participation in the labour force.
A Promising Path to Financial Independence for Gen-Zs
The survey also challenges the prevailing notion of Gen-Zs prioritising instant gratification and living for the moment. The key findings suggest that Gen-Zs may be more financially responsible than believed.
In fact, when compared to the national average and other generations, there are no statistically significant differences that convey a lack of financial responsibility and literacy among Gen-Z respondents. For example, 68% of Gen-Zs save less than RM500 a month, compared to the 71% national average or 70% of Millennials.
The survey also reveals that 48% of Gen-Z respondents have already started investing, which is a promising sign for building wealth over the long term given their young age.
Despite the challenges of entering the workforce during a pandemic paired with high cost of living, Gen-Zs appear to be just as resilient as their fellow Malaysians. These circumstances may have spurred them to actively pursue financial independence at an earlier stage in their lives.
“The RMFLS findings this year highlight the new challenges that Malaysians face, and serve as a reminder that they can only be overcome through collaborative efforts from all parties across the government, the financial services industry, and the rakyat. I am inspired by the resilience demonstrated by Malaysians in addressing financial adversities, and we at RinggitPlus will continue to play an active role in improving digital financial literacy in Malaysia,” said Yuen Tuck Siew, CEO of RinggitPlus.
“With that in mind, we will be collaborating with RMFLS partners to intensify the creation of financial literacy content, especially on social media. We remain committed in our journey to helping Malaysians, one wallet at a time,” he added.
As part of the RMFLS 2023 initiative, RinggitPlus is working with partners GXBank, CTOS, and Capital Dynamics to produce a series of social-first educational content focused on various pillars of personal finance.