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CARDS & PAYMENTS | Cesar Tordesillas, Thailand
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ATMs, credit cards finally useful in Myanmar

Private banks in Myanmar have begun rolling out ATMs with more ambitious plans are in the works.

 

Myanmar's central bank is preparing to launch a new nationwide ATM network within two months and is in talks with Visa International’s Plus and MasterCard International’s Cirrus to introduce international banking within six months to a year, part of sweeping reforms in the former British colony, also known as Burma.

Myanmar’s banking system is among the world’s most antiquated, crippled by years of sanctions and disastrous socialist policies.

Moving funds abroad often requires help from ancient “hawala” underground money-transfer agents.

Over the past two months, however, private banks have introduced basic electronic banking – with limits. ATM machines, for instance, cannot be shared between rival banks, and many are offline. Although US and European sanctions have been suspended, local banks still cannot connect internationally.

“Our payment system is still quite simple. It’s mostly based on cash,” Maung Maung Win, one of two Central Bank of Myanmar deputy governors, said in an interview in the commercial capital Yangon.

“Even some of the big companies or our government departments like to use cash.”

Within two months, he said, a new department within the central bank, the Myanmar Payment Union, will introduce a new debit-card network allowing banks to share ATM machines and offer a wider array of services, among the biggest changes in the financial sector since the managed float of the kyat on April 2.

That will be followed by a second phase of international services by the middle of next year, or possibly as soon as six months, he added. The timing depends on the execution of Washington’s decision this month to suspend sanctions.

MasterCard is looking at opportunities in Myanmar, said Matthew Driver, division president for Southeast Asia at MasterCard Worldwide.

Some have started online bill payments and domestic remittances, adding to the thrill for card-holders.

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