Burma’s Central Bank Awards 9 Foreign Lenders Operating Licenses

By Kyaw Hsu Mon 1 October 2014

RANGOON — The Central Bank of Myanmar on Wednesday announced that nine foreign banks have been awarded licenses to operate in Burma, with Japanese lenders winning a full third of the license bids.

Among 25 contending foreign banks, all nine of the license winners are based in the Asia Pacific, including the world’s largest bank, Beijing-based Industrial & Commercial Bank of China, ANZ Bank from Australia and three Japanese lenders.

Attempts by The Irrawaddy to contact Central Bank Deputy Governor Set Aung for comment on Wednesday were unsuccessful. The Central Bank of Myanmar announced on Tuesday that it would hold a press conference in Naypyidaw on Wednesday night.

More than 40 foreign banks have opened representative offices in Burma since 1994, but offering financial services to clients in Burma had been prohibited. Among the banks with representative offices, 25 foreign lenders had applied to the Central Bank’s Foreign Bank Licensing Committee in July.

While the licenses represent a major win for the awardees, who will be allowed to make a pioneering entry into one of the world’s last untapped financial markets, the scope of their activities in Burma will be limited, at least at first.

In late June, Set Aung told Parliament that the government would not initially allow foreign firms to compete in the retail banking sector with local lenders, and would also only be allowed to operate a single branch.

“Retail banking for foreign banks will not be allowed, that’s why local banks do not need to worry as they enter the local banking market,” Set Aung told lawmakers at the time.

Among the winners, four banks are also from member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean). They are Thailand-based Bangkok Bank, Malayan Bank Berhad (Maybank) of Malaysia, and United Overseas Bank (UOB) and Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation (OCBC) Bank, both of Singapore.

The three Japanese lenders—Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi, Sumitomo Bank and Mizuho Bank—round out the list of license winners.