ANZ faces Myanmar bank hurdles

THE ANZ Banking Group is bidding for a banking licence in Myanmar but faces major challenges in doing so.

UP to 40 institutions are lining up to open offices in the country, even as the central bank is set to impose tough operational restrictions.

Myanmar is undergoing major economic reforms and liberalisation in the process of transition from a military towards a civilian government since 2011.

The economy had faced a long period of isolation due to global sanctions under the former military leaders, that left the finance and banking sector little advanced from when the armed forces first took power in the 1960s.

The entry of foreign banks is seen as a major driver to boost the economy and encourage much needed foreign direct investment.

Central bank deputy governor, Set Aung, says between five and 10 foreign banks will be issued with licences to open limited banking services from September.

A licensing panel is set to review applications by July 6, with consulting firm Roland Berger overseeing the process. The World Bank has recommended the foreign banks meet a minimum paid up capital of $US75 million ($A81.15 million).

ANZ has had a representative office in Myanmar since June 2013.

Local banks and politicians have sought to stall the reform process, which they see as a threat to their market share.

But their efforts have failed, with Myanmar President Thein Sein insisting the reforms go ahead.

Sean Turnell, a professor of economics at Macquarie University, says economic liberalisation has been slowed by the crony-capitalists and their strong hold on the economy.

“I really worry that if we don’t get liberalisation – and I just don’t see it if we look at the players who are there, the biggest banks are all part of other conglomerates – they are unbelievably opaque,” Turnell told AAP.

“It’s just really hard to see them as the ‘change agents’ that would get us into a more liberalised economy,” he said.

Foreign banks will face tough restrictions in offering services only in US dollars and not in the local currency, the kyat.

Myanmar remains one of the poorest countries in Asia. A UN Capital Development Fund and UN Development Program (UNDP) report estimated just 4.0 per cent of its population of 63 million has a savings bank account.

Most people rely on informal banking in a country with 43 per cent living on less than $A2.20 a day and around 80 per cent getting by on less than $A5.40 a day.

Source: Herald Sun

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