Being a developing economy, Myanmar has one of the most cash-based business economic systems in the entire world. Myanmar was late adopting plastic money, opening credit and debit cards in 1994. These services were primarily limited to private banks and later expanded into public banks. In 2003, a financial crisis in Myanmar prompted the banks to stop issuing credit cards.
But in 2010, as businesses opened again, Myanmar gradually opened digital payment systems. With guidance from the Central bank of Myanmar, Myanmar’s first payment system, Myanmar Payment Union, was launched and began its operations in 2012. It was a trailblazer, being the first of its kind in Myanmar, and enabled the move of payment system towards online payments.
The Myanmar Payment Union now has 30 banks and many more to come. Its main goal is to transfer Myanmar’s entire financial system online to reduce corruption, access to financial services, and payment convenience.
Financial Crisis of 2003
The banking run of 2003 was Myanmar’s most significant financial sector collapse. That led to a spiraling political crisis that stopped businesses altogether. In 2003, Asia Wealth Bank suffered a meltdown and a bank run. A bank run is when every bank account holder tries to withdraw their deposit at the same time. In such a situation, the bank runs out of cash and freezes all the accounts.
So, thousands of people, even millions, are shut out of their financial reserves, creating a liquidity problem. The crisis soon spreads to other banks, regardless of them being private or public sector banks. Myanmar had no client protection laws and regulations in the microfinance industry; this may have contributed to the crisis.
Asian Wealth Bank was one of the largest Myanmar banks, allegedly targeted by a US attorney general for nefarious money laundering activities. The bank was also targeted by the US Secretary of Treasury to target the bank to inspect its role in various money laundering cases. However, how much the US investigation is responsible for the financial crisis is still debated.
Nevertheless, the banking sector of Myanmar was transforming until the crisis came along. The crisis happened against the backdrop of the 1962 military coup. Until then, the government only controlled all the banks, and the private sector was not allowed to enter until 1990 when the economy was liberalized and the private banks began to get formed. State Peace and Development Council was formed in 1990, with over 30 banks until 2003. Private savings in private banks went from just 10% of the banking market to 66% by 2003. But only five banks were able to get control of the market: Asian Wealth Bank, Yoma Bank, Myanmar Oriental Bank, and Myanmar Mayflower bank.
With such a high concentration of wealth in just five banks, the country was fragile; it became even more apparent as the banks started failing in the mid of 2002. Many banks of these banks didn’t have the rights and licenses to hold account holders’ deposits and used a loophole in Myanmar’s Financial Institution Law to take deposits from ordinary people. They also told their investors and bank depositors with a monthly high-interest rate of 3-4%.
This method and business model were unanimously considered unsustainable and equivalent to a Ponzi scheme hellbent upon defrauding its customers. This led to massive shareholder blowback, and banks started funds necessary for essential liquidity. The informal banks started failing, and the problem started to pile up. This is considered one of the earliest triggers of the financial crisis that was to ensue. The allegations of the awful money laundering racket happening throughout the private banks worsened matters.
After the 2001 September attack on the Empire state building, the United States increased surveillance on Myanmar to track the money laundering going towards terrorism. The mounting pressure on the Myanmar government forced their hands to pass a law that would stop these activities dead in their tracks. But the law backfired and provoked high-profile accounts to close down. This created a massive panic.
The Timeline of the Crisis
By the time mid-2002 arrived, the crisis was underway. Informal banks were failing. On the 6th of February, fears of liquidity and subsequent banking collapse led to customers frantically withdrawing money from the bank. The first bank to collapse was the Asian Wealth bank which later led to other private banks. On February 10th, amid the crisis, the governor of the central bank of Myanmar ensured that the banking system was stable and people need not panic. But this was not enough to quell the frantic bank runs already at their peak.
By that day, the customer’s withdrawal reached its limit, and the banks were beginning to refuse account holders’ requests to withdraw their money. Few banks delayed deposits by February 18th, and others halted transactions entirely. On 12th February, Asian Wealth Bank, on the brink of complete collapse, asked the Myanmar government for 30 billion kyats or approximately $30 billion bailout fund. Yoma bank, on February 15th, suspended all services of credit cards opened in their bank.
By February 17th, the crisis was in full motion, with banks imposing more limits on withdrawal as days went by. By that date, all withdrawals were limited to five hundred thousand kyats, i.e., $500, and some banks restricted withdrawals even more. That limit got restricted to 200,000 kyats and 100,000 as the week progressed. On the 21st of February, Universal Bank prohibited anyone from withdrawing more than 50,000 kyats per week.
Large crowds began thronging the banks’ premises, hoping to get their cash but were turned away empty-handed. The crowds turned into protests and later turned into riots. Outside the Olympic Tower Branch of Asian Wealth bank, pandemonium broke out outside the premises, along with protests. The police had to be brought in and disperse the crowd, and the government had to ensure protection and security for the bank officials and workers.
On 20th February, all financial institutions and banks obliged their investors to pay 20-25% of the loans owed to the bank. That turned into another chaos, as multiple people began selling properties and assets at a loss. The 25% loan repayment was revised to 50%, and further chaos ensued.
By February 21st, the Central Bank of Myanmar announced a 25 billion kyat (approx $25 million) bailout to be shared between the three largest banks: Universal Bank, Asian Wealth Bank, and Yoma Bank. However, to the dismay of many, this bailout only represented and covered 3.5% of the banks’ total cash. To make matters worse, the doled money never reached the banks, and the collapse continued. Many investors pulled out, and multiple MNCs closed offices, some temporarily and permanently. The matter worsened when a Singaporean agency that was keeping an eye on the whole debacle leaked the news globally despite the media blackout.
The banking crash and the ensuing had devasting consequences on the economy and political standing of the country.
While typically a banking crisis coincides with a currency collapse, consumer spending stagnates due to lack of liquidity, and business grinds to a halt. The kyat collapsed as this crisis went on. However, the value increased to 900 kyats to the dollar, instead of 1100 kyats. Then, the currency appreciated 850 kyats to the dollar.
There is an explanation for this. As kyat is the dominant denomination in the Myanmarian market, the demand for the currency remained high, but the supply of the currency dwindled. Because of this, the currency recovered quickly and was valued even more.
As the bank runs ensued, the bank froze the accounts to counteract the liquidity, as African board fellows deliberated on the matter and its results had shown previously as well, overindebtedness rose. Consumer spending was stifled. The people were shut out of their bank accounts and could not spend on basic needs like rent, groceries, and utilities like electricity. On the 26th of February, the Central bank of Myanmar halted all withdrawals from all banks with executive actions, exacerbating an already chaotic situation spiraling out of control.
Although most people in Myanmar didn’t have bank accounts, businesses did and used these accounts to reimburse their payments. Most companies couldn’t pay their employees at this point. People working in production plants, factories, construction, or fishing had to be laid off or accept a pay cut. Overall, there was a dip in the per capita income. The crisis reverberated throughout the economic system. As the primary seller couldn’t pay the suppliers, the distributor, and the contract transporter, a supply chain crisis led to rampant inflation.
The liquidity crisis disrupted entire supply chains in some sectors, and business and production halted. Though some investors were allowed to make withdrawals to reimburse payment, others could not and suffered losses. While it is considered that savings are key to merchant payments in developing countries, Myanmar faced its worst economic crisis.
Digital payments have been proven to bring financial inclusion worldwide. So it was an economically sound decision for the emerging markets in Asia to get a payment platform to conduct their banking services and keep the economy growing. 2C2P is one such payment platform that seamlessly integrates multiple banking payment systems to carry out banking transactions without the need to go to a physical banking branch. According to its official website, the payment platform was formed to make payment more effortless and seamless.
Since its founding, 2C2P has managed to aggregate multiple financial systems and banking enterprises, card companies, and other payment platforms with one access point. The network of banking institutions, lenders, and card companies varies from local to the big players of the international markets. The team already has a membership of 400 people and is headquartered in Singapore. The company operates across ten Asian and European markets.
2C2P accepts payment all over its operating markets. Merchants can offer customers a 2C2P payment plan in over 400,000 locations across multiple brands like IKEA and Lenovo. 2C2P operates across the airline industry, insurance industry, point of sale, retail, and other sectors. The company supports Discover, American Express, Visa, and Diner’s Club and is accepted across payment platforms like GPay, ApplePay, Boost, and WeChat pay.
- The payment platform provides installments payments in case you don’t want to pay the whole amount upfront.
- The payments in 2C2P can be automated, and regular payments are made without the hassle and fail.
- You can pay someone by generating links and sending them through messaging, social media, and email.
- You can store your debit or credit card in 2C2P so that you don’t have to re-enter your card details every time you pay.
- 2C2P supports foreign currency, meaning you can make payments abroad without processing fees. It allows transactions in local currencies instead of settlement currencies.
- 2C2P also empowers its customers to pay on point-of-sale merchants.
- It also handles split payments simultaneously.
South Asia only relied on cash for transactions and conducting business for an extended period. But now, the scenario has completely changed. With rapid economic development, people have taken to online payment far more frequently than before. Now, digital wallets and QR-scan payments are all the rage. The digital wallet will have over 250 million users in 2035, and the total amount transacted through the digital wallet to $48 billion from $12 billion, which is about 4 times increase.
According to multiple economic and financial journalists, there are numerous reasons why digital payments are increasing. The foremost reason this is happening is the high penetration of smartphones, particularly android phones. Increasing competition in the smartphone market and price decreases have propelled the use of online payment, digital wallets, and multiple payment platforms to enter the market. But as time progressed and people got exposed to the internet, the functionality became more accessible to the common masses. There were concerns regarding the future of online payments and smartphone penetration in this region.
Also, there has been increasing investment and significant changes in the digital infrastructure in South Asia, with governments investing heavily in creating digital facilities within the nation. China has been a leading player in this regard. Payment platforms like Alipay and WeChat Pay have embedded themselves in people’s lives and significantly contributed to the economy. This penetration of digital payments has inspired many countries to invest in their digital payment infrastructure. Investment in digital payment transactions has brought financial encryption, and security innovations, such as PIN and biometrics.
Nowadays, one-time passwords are sure-shot security measures. But with new technological advancements in hacking, that’s no longer a secure method. We need advancement in fingerprint sensors and facial recognition. Also, the pandemic has propelled the acceleration of the growth of online payment.
Digital payments have initiated the launch of industries, generating business and income opportunities. The digital payments and pervasiveness of smartphones have given rise to the gig economy. The gig economy has uplifted millions of people from emerging markets around the globe. It has given rise to global voice process outsourcing, of which South Asia has become indispensable.
It gave rise to the BNPL industry. Buy now, pay later cards became all the rage during and after the pandemic. Its main attraction was that it allowed customers to pay for a product and demand payback later. The cards demanded no interest rates. This offer was far more attractive to consumers than banks’ credit cards. This was mainly because bank credit cards had high interest rates of 25-40% per year. Another issue was the penetration of credit cards in South Asian countries like Vietnam is low, so these cards provide money on credit.
The digitization of finance has led authorities and economists to reimagine the study of financial inclusion. Buy now, pay later scheme cards falls on the expertise of 2C2P. As mentioned above, 2C2P ensures its user’s easy installments on payments that the payer cannot pay upfront. The company has partnership deals such as Atome and BillEase. Such deals and collaborations allow the companies to test their mettle in this industry, make appropriate decisions, and reach comprehensive payment plan methods.
There are more international payments by volume and by value. The rate at which innovation and technological advances occur may put added pressure on companies that cannot innovate rapidly because of budgetary constraints. The markets are also shifting rules, regulations, and regulatory shifts, making it challenging to navigate the market. Also, emerging payment platforms like AmazonPay or Alibaba are putting the already established company on edge for their hypercompetitive facilities.
Despite international calamities like the pandemic and Russian Ukrainian War, international digital payments are supposed to grow and accelerate economic growth. The statistics show encouraging numbers, with the global average international payment per capita up 0.7 from 0.5. The global average of international payments is around 1.8 percent. But this isn’t equally distributed. The global average for Latin America is 0.7, and Western Europe’s is 5.50.
However, this cross-border payment has slowed its growth for a few years. Global tensions rising with the Russo-Ukrainian war, the threat of terrorism, and cyber security issues have all contributed to this slowdown. Marvelously though, the global economy is resilient enough to accelerate the rise of international payments.
Certain factors fuel this growth.
- China’s urban quadrupled from 2012 to 2020, and their domestic consumption is expected to grow seven times. Retail remittances are one of the reasons for this growth, where people have been migrating towards larger and industrially advanced urban areas, such as the phenomenon China experienced during the latter half of the 20th century and the early half of the 21st century. The growth of the affluent class will lead to cross-border international payments regarding education or imported goods—also, financial inclusion and immigration in Europe disrupt identity norms. As people from other sides of the world travel to Europe, they will increase international trade by buying consumer goods from their home country. This increase in international payment will need a whole infrastructure and will look towards digital solutions.
- The surge of the E-commerce industry has accelerated the growth of international payments. As it is, 20-25% of the global e-commerce industrial complex is already internationally traded. Since the south Asian markets experience a booming economy, the B2B and C2B have increased with better connectivity, cybersecurity, and trust in the banking system. The reduction of bureaucratic red tape has fueled the international trade market. Gig economies have also flamed the growth of international trade, and the maximum growth has been noticed, especially in the case of Amazon, eBay, Expedia, and Airbnb.
- The growth of SMEs has significantly contributed to the rise in global and international payments. The rise of SMEs has been a cautionary tale to India’s financial inclusion push. Though scale will always pose an obstacle, the rise of e-commerce will push their products abroad where they wouldn’t have gone. Payment platforms like SWIFT GPI and Mastercards B2B hub have innovated to provide flexible options.
- For large corporations, the increasing demand for high-quality specializations and brands of internationalized consumer goods has increased the volume of international trade despite the obvious trade barriers.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1. What are the mobile financial services in Myanmar?
Myanmar Payment Union is the only payment service that’s available in Myanmar. The service was launched in 2012. This is Myanmar’s first payment platform online after the business resumed in 2010.
Q2. What is the core banking system in Myanmar?
The core banking system in Myanmar used to be run by the government and then privatized to increase competition. The banking system of Myanmar comprises four large banks, Asian Wealth Bank, Yoma Bank, Myanmar Oriental Bank, and Myanmar Mayflower bank, which control most of the financial markets.
Q3. Which system is used in electronic cash payment?
2C2P is one of South Asia’s most prominent platforms for electronic payments. From its founding, 2C2P has consolidated all payment platforms and offers convenience in pay. They also offer international payments and installment schemes.
Myanmar has taken quite a drastic step in launching its payment platform in the country, which has seen one crisis after another. After the banking crisis of 2003, the country was perpetuating the cycle of constant economic turmoil, but launching an inclusive payment platform will bring them economic stability.
Not only them, but all south Asian nations have also progressed toward digitization of payment and trade. Online trade payment helps breed financial inclusion and propels economic growth and wealth creation. It also decreases wealth and income inequality by a wide margin.
- Jonas Taylor is a financial expert and experienced writer with a focus on finance news, accounting software, and related topics. He has a talent for explaining complex financial concepts in an accessible way and has published high-quality content in various publications. He is dedicated to delivering valuable information to readers, staying up-to-date with financial news and trends, and sharing his expertise with others.