Investors, bankers, entrepreneurs, consultants, delegates and businessmen—all flock to conquer a stake in the world’s final financial frontier. Buzzing with excitement, 250 guests from 10 countries gathered on July 16 at the inaugural Myanmar Banking and Finance conference at the Trader’s Hotel in Yangon, here to learn of Myanmar’s banking and financial reforms, foreign exchange regulations, and investment opportunities.
With two years of exponential growth and development, the country has seen international sanctions lifted and opened up to foreign investments—which has provided a sense of hope throughout the country. Myanmar is on the high-speed express train, leaving spectators continually speculating the final destination. Every industry appears to possess a vision of modernizing and quickly catching up from its four decades of isolation and stringent junta regime, but much work still needs to be done. It remains unclear whether the gold rush to Myanmar is a fool’s errand.
Although Myanmar’s banking sector is nearly non-existent, the CEO of the Myanmar Payment Union reported with optimism: “There are over 200 ATMs in Myanmar, and there are many more to come.” For countries with developed banking systems, having only 200 ATMs is unimaginable, and this statement alone illustrates the extent to which Myanmar’s economy is cash based as well as the banking sector’s untapped potential.
There are currently two contrasting images of Myanmar: one of rapid modernization and one of immense underdevelopment, and both are true. Principal Consultant of Yoma Bank, Hal G. Bosher, presenting in a panel on the hopes for Myanmar, stated, “If you just look at these six blocks [in downtown Yangon], you see that Myanmar is at the cusp of development [but] for the vast majority of the country simply having a bank account is a feat.”
Other bankers expressed similar sentiments. Senior Executive of Global Capital Markets Errol Glenton Flynn is a businessman who is not new to Myanmar, and his recommendation to new investors is to practise due diligence and proceed with caution.
But the overall message at the conference was positive. Deputy Director General Head of Central Bank of Myanmar Daw Naw Eh Hpaw candidly stated, “Myanmar has a long way to go to fully integrate with the rest of the world and bring the benefits of this integration to its citizens, but it has began the journey towards a brighter future… Our country needs lots of foreign investment particularly in infrastructure and technology.”
With promised exponential growth, bankers and financers are finding it hard to resist a slice of the pie that is the new land of opportunity of Myanmar, but it is unclear how sweet the pie will taste in a year’s time.