Myanmar’s move to open up its economy to outside investment has seen the formerly cash-based country hurtle towards alternative payment adoption.
Like many developing countries, the nation formerly known as Burma is home to a significant unbanked population that is accustomed to stashing savings under the bed in the form of gold and physical cash.
Rather than follow the footsteps of Western nations by increasingly banking access, moving on to card payments and then progressing to more cutting edge technologies, many people in Myanmar appear to be skipping the middle sections altogether, looking to mobile payment technology rather than push for bank accounts.
This is supported by a huge push from well-established foreign telecoms such as Ooredoo and Telenor, which have invested $1bn each to bring 3G provisions up to scratch across the country. As a condition of their license agreements, these have been tasked by the government with some ambitious targets: 70% of the population is to have access to 3G by the end of the year, and 97% by 2020.
Internet access, especially via smartphones, is also soaring, with many companies looking to exploit opportunities provided by social media platforms and other e-commerce giants.
“We’re looking at a flourishing community of Facebook-hosted stores, which have no unified way of accepting payments yet and are thus effectively just brochures as of now,” Bimal Shah, Chief Executive Officer of Leo Tech Services, which runs mobile wallet provider MYWALLET, told Enterprise Innovation.
“However, what’s interesting is that predictions made by our in-country partners are coming true – as networks expand and mobile phone ownership (once held back by tight government control of SIM cards) increases, people will embrace Android-based smartphones, eliminating an entire generation of SMS and WAP-based technology.”
He added: “We believe there is enormous potential for the rapid acceleration of non-cash payments in Myanmar, creating an economy unlike any other ecosystem. As such, it is also our intention to tap on such potential by opening these technologies up for collaborations with banks, vendors and even competing payment systems in the country.”
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