MasterCard on Thursday said it had signed a deal with a Myanmar bank that it hopes will pave the way for electronic payments, in an impoverished country where most transactions are made in cash.
A licence deal with Myanmar’s Cooperative Bank lays the groundwork for its cards to be issued and accepted in the country, the company said, a move that follows the easing of United States financial restrictions to reward reforms.
The inability to pay for goods or withdraw cash with credit cards is a symptom of years of tough international sanctions against the former military dictatorship, which gave way to a quasi-civilian regime last year.
People are currently obliged to carry all their money in wads of cash – a particular challenge for tourists and foreign businesses – with even upmarket hotels only sporadically able to offer credit-card payments.
MasterCard said in a statement that the move towards a credit-card network in the country would have a “huge impact on tourism and travel” and would be “crucial in helping Myanmar connect to the global economy”.
The firm also said it would help bring more of Myanmar’s population – estimated at over 50 million – into the financial system.
Georgette Tan, of MasterCard Worldwide in Singapore, said the entire process of getting cards issued and accepted in Myanmar “would take some months”, adding that the move showed the firm’s commitment to entering the country.
She added that there were around 80 ATMs in Myanmar – which are not currently connected to international banking – and the Cooperative Bank accounts for about 30 percent of those.
The US announced the easing of restrictions on the financial sector following Myanmar’s landmark April by-elections in which democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi won a seat in parliament.