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Myanmar's banks at a cash and credit crossroad

The investment case for Myanmar is well known: the resources, the population and the convenient neighbours. What about the reality of banking on the ground? Banks may be growing fast, but they face challenges ranging from an absence of mortgages to changing rules and a national obsession with cash.

Myanmar money-600



It is a busy day in the Kamayut branch of KBZ Bank in Yangon. Beneath a photograph of the bank’s chairman receiving an award for being the country’s biggest taxpayer, a woman in a green facemask is handing over several bricks of banknotes to a customer. 

Cash is everywhere, stacked in piles and spilling from rice sacks. There are bales of cash, bound in thin white plastic string, and there are at least three times as many cash-counting machines as there are computers (with an extra counting machine on the customer side, so clients can re-count the counting). Some 150 people work in this branch – at least two thirds of them are counting cash.

There is a sign on the branch wall, though, in rounded Burmese script, within which a few untranslatable words stick out in English: internet banking, email address, ibanking registration. This is the future, a nation turning digital among a myriad other changes in economy, culture and lifestyle. 

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