Myanmar to allow foreign banks to begin some operations next year

Thu Dec 5, 2013 3:27am EST
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By Aung Hla Tun and Jared Ferrie

YANGON (Reuters) - Myanmar will allow some foreign banks to begin offering limited financial services next year, a senior central bank official said, as the Southeast Asian country slowly opens up its banking sector following a series of economic and political reforms.

Thirty-four international banks have representative offices in the country, but they have thus far been forbidden from opening branches or offering services other than advising clients. According to a decades-old plan, the government will eventually allow them to form joint ventures with local banks before allowing them to open independent branches.

The senior official said the central bank is now formulating a plan to speed up the process by letting a select number of foreign banks begin operating in 2014 in "certain areas of banking services", which he did not define.

"Since things have changed rapidly with the passage of time, we can't afford to stick to something laid down about 20 years ago if we really want to carry out meaningful reforms," he said, requesting anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to media.

The official said authorities have yet to decide how they would chose among the foreign banks with representative offices, which include Standard Chartered STANB.UL, Bangkok Bank (BBL.BK: Quote), Siam Commercial Bank (SCB.BK: Quote) and Australia and New Zealand Banking Group (ANZ.AX: Quote).

Foreign involvement would help reform the antiquated banking system in Myanmar, Asia's second-poorest country after Afghanistan, which has been looking to attract foreign investment since a quasi-civilian government took office in 2011 after half a century of military rule.

Foreign banks could also help jumpstart economic development by providing access to much-needed financing for corporate clients, according to Khwima Nthara, a senior country economist with the World Bank.

"I do not doubt the government appreciates the role that foreign banks can play in financing," he said.   Continued...

Employees count and pack money inside a bank in Yangon November 14, 2013. REUTERS/Minzayar