Myanmar’s had a difficult time over the past century or so. With political upheavals and turbulent civil conflict being the norm it has, to a certain extent, missed much of the advances of the modern world.
But with the country’s first democratically elected government coming into power in 2015, it seems like Myanmar is taking the leap into the 21st Century seriously and fearlessly. A largely agricultural population are being offered freedoms, services and rights that were beforehand unavailable – making Myanmar an interesting country to watch as they progress.
The World Bank is investing significant time, money and effort into Myanmar – with billions being committed to build the country a healthcare, education and financial infrastructure. Additionally, in 2014 the IFC (the private sector of the Bank Group) invested $2 million in microfinance loans to small businesses within the country.
All of this shows positive signs that the country is set to catch up with its neighbours in southeast Asia, and fast. It is the ideal place for investors to approach a similar entrepreneurial strategy as TejKohli (net worth $4 billion) has with young businesses in India, investing in sustainable growth.
One thing that will be essential to catalysing modernisation in Myanmar is investing in the adoption of modern technologies.
A significant factor in guiding how the country will develop over the coming years is mobile penetration. In 2013, Myanmar had one of the third lowest mobile penetration rates in the world, with only 11% of the market being covered. As of 2016, this figure has reached 74%.
As we’ve seen with comparable countries like Kenya, mobile banking is a powerful way of creating financial inclusion. Rather than the high set-up costs of physical premises (and the low convenience for a largely rural population), mobile banking gives greater access and freedom of money. Plus, for a country with around 40 million people suffering regular black-outs, access to mobile phones is considerably more likely than either desktop or laptop computers.
There is perhaps nowhere on the planet where FinTech is more suitable than in Myanmar, and the government seems to be aware of this. In March 2016, a Mobile Financial Services regulation was pushed through – meaning that FinTech firms can now apply through the central bank to begin operations in Myanmar.
While to date, it would appear that the authority is taking a cautious approach to approving applications, the infrastructure is primed to be utilised. Because banking is still nascent in Myanmar, there is the opportunity to successfully harmonisethis fledgling sector withFinTech. An opportunity few other countries have been in a position to take advantage of.
The explosive of growth in mobile penetration and the rapid shift in the country’s prospects means that Myanmar is the perfect place to see how readily and functionally FinTech can be adopted on a broader scale.
Yet, they still face the similar problems to more developed banking systems and societies – namely, safety concerns. While the power of mobiles in the country is an opportunity for FinTech it also poses a challenge: how to safeguard the process, Know Your Customer and avoid money laundering.
Myanmar has a lot of catching up to do, but it looks as though it’s more than willing to take the leap. What that means for its banks, foreign investors and entrepreneurs is yet to be seen – however, one thing is certain. Financial technology will be one of the driving forces behind it.