The state of Myanmar’s cash dependency


Short of 2 years since the launch of the first ATM in Myanmar and just 6 months since the installation of the first ATM to accept international cards, Myanmar is still heavily cash based, holding back its economic growth.

NPR paints a good picture of Myanmar's payments landscape and banking system as a whole:

Nan Htwe Nye works at an elementary school in Yangon, Myanmar. She started trying to use ATM machines a few months ago, and things haven’t been going so well.

The machines are often broken, she says. “But,” she adds, “we hope it will better in the future.” This is, more or less, the story of ATMs — and of banking in general — in Myanmar.

She’s visiting the headquarters of CB Bank, at the first ATM in the country that was connected to banks all around the world.

The lobby of the bank is packed with people, many of whom have brought cash from their businesses in giant rice bags. One of the managers here, Zaw Myo Oo, says the customers all want to see the transaction on paper.

Another room is all money counting machines, with cash piled in the corners like old newspapers. Burly guys lift bags onto their shoulders.

Swe Win, who works as a translator and journalist in Myanmar, keeps most of his money — roughly $1,800 in Singaporean and U.S. Dollars — in a diary. He carries it in his backpack wherever he goes.

That’s because he doesn’t trust Myanmar’s banking system. He’d rather keep his cash with him at all times than to put it into a bank account here. (He does have a bank account in Singapore).

People in Myanmar still don't trust banks, preferring to see their transactions on paper or to carry their cash with them rather than deposit it into a bank account. Not surprising, given the history of how the junta managed the banking system. During the era of dictatorship, runs on the bank were frequent occurrences and corruption rampant.

Given that the people's distrust of the banking system has deep roots, the move away from cash dependency may be a long and slow journey. How can trust of banks and non-cash payments be increased? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.


NPR [1]  NPR [2]


  1. Narendar Subramanyam

    High cash in circulation is among the biggest bane in inclusive economic development adding to costs, inefficiencies, governance & transparency issues. With the world moving several notches ahead in eCommerce and eGov, countries like can leapfrog into the digital commerce by adopting a few determined & simple steps.
    A government mandate is a necessary start to move all government revenues from cash to non-cash, automatically forcing the citizens & businesses to align in order to avail government services, permits, approvals & clearances. This will need to be supported by large scale education exercise to instill confidence in people on non-cash and the banking system. The central bank & banking sector at large will have to put in place strong frameworks & infrastructure to support the government’s move and do their bit in educating customers.
    We at Bahwan CyberTek offer National Payment Systems that enable the entire ecosystem and embrace all forms of digital payments. Our flagship payments platform Cuecent ePay powers the national payment systems for several countries across US, ME & Africa and APAC.

    I am the Executive Vice President and global payments head at Bahwan CyberTek.

    1. Alyssa

      Your comments are well timed Narendar, especially as we’re in the process of putting together a conference program on this very topic at Total Payments Asia, which will be held in Bangkok. If you’re looking to grow your presence in Indochina, do let us know and we could have a conversation on how you could be involved in the event somehow.

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