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The KBZ heiress bringing digital development to Myanmar

No country faces a greater challenge in turning cashless than Myanmar. But KBZ’s digital wallet is making progress, under the supervision of a 29-year-old member of the family dynasty.

KBZ's Nang Kham Noung, also known by her western name Marlene

Four years ago, Euromoney stood in a branch of KBZ Bank in the Yangon suburb of Kamayut. All around us was cash – bales of it, piles of it, spilling out of rice sacks. Behind the teller desks there were three times as many cash-counting machines as there were computers.

Our guide told us that, since there was no concept of mortgages, people would routinely buy houses with cash; sometimes it would take a truck to carry the notes.

That day, a senior managing director told us: in a few years, it won’t be like this.

The person best equipped to tell us if he was right is Nang Kham Noung, also known by her western name Marlene. Aged 29, she is the deputy chief executive of KBZ Bank and has spearheaded its digital transformation agenda.

In the two years since its launch, the KBZPay digital wallet that falls under Marlene’s jurisdiction has passed six million users – 10% of the national population and, by KBZ’s calculation, 20% of the addressable population of Myanmar today.