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RETAIL BANKING | Cesar Tordesillas, Thailand
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Thai banks eye bigger share of Myanmar market

Thai banks are hopeful that they would get a sizable share of business in Myanmar, as the latter liberalises its financial sector.

For Bangkok Bank, achieving bank-branch status is now the goal, said senior executive vice president Chansak Fuangfu.

No foreign bank has been able to obtain a full-branch licence in Myanmar, a country where 80 percent of the population does not have a bank account amid the virtual absence of any electronic-payment system. Most transactions in the cash-based country are entirely in the hands of local banks, led by the state-owned Myanmar Foreign Trade Bank.

Aside from Bangkok Bank, three banks from Thailand - Krung Thai Bank, Siam Commercial Bank and Kasikornbank - have received licences to operate representative offices.

As of July 31, Thailand, Singapore and Japan had four foreign banks each representing them, while there were two apiece from Indonesia, Bangladesh and India, and one from Vietnam.

"Banking on our 17-year presence here, once we get a branch licence we can facilitate all clients in Thailand and those referred by overseas branches," said Chansak.

Chansak said it would take a while for further deregulation and for foreign companies' entry, pending amendments to Myanmar's Foreign Investment Law.

One amended clause would allow 50:50 joint ventures in all sectors, including banking, but both BBL and SCB prefer to have branch licences.

Only recently did the central bank allow private banks to set their savings interest rates within a limited range. Previously, only two of the four state banks were involved in trade financing - Myanmar Foreign Trade Bank and Myanmar Investment and Commercial Bank. Now, some of the 11 private banks can offer remittance services and letters of credit.

Meanwhile, it was only last week that debit cards made their debut in Myanmar, allowing 17 local banks' clients to pay for goods at about a dozen businesses signed up to the scheme in Yangon, Mandalay and Nay Pyi Taw.

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