KBZ to Step Up Asean Presence

By Kyaw Hsu Mon 16 June 2016

RANGOON — Burmese conglomerate Kanbawza Bank (KBZ) Ltd, part of the KBZ Group of Companies, has unveiled plans to expand its banking business in the Asean region, after it was granted a license earlier this week to open a representative office in Singapore.

This is the second country into which KBZ is expanding, following its first representative office which opened its doors in Thailand in May.

The KBZ Group released a statement Thursday saying that deputy managing director of KBZ bank, Zaw Lin Aung, will be the office’s Chief Representative Officer. The statement also said that this move marks the next step towards KBZ’s goal of becoming Burma’s foremost commercial banking presence in the Southeast Asian region and internationally.

“The flow of investment [into Burma] from Singapore now exceeds that of China, and much of the investment from other regions in the world pass indirectly through Singapore,” Zaw Lin Aung said in the statement. “Having a KBZ team on the ground assisting these businesses with market entry ensures that capital passes through KBZ Bank and supports its position as Burma’s leading financial institution.”

Through the new representative office, KBZ will offer services including market research, liaising between the two countries’ private sectors and serving as a source of information on issues like regulatory requirements for doing business in Burma and Singapore.

Aye Aye Maw, a Burmese software engineer living in Singapore, was interested in knowing whether KBZ will offer remittance services for Burmese citizens.

“Here we have to use informal channels to send money to our family, but we always feel that we can be cheated by those money transfer services,” she said. “So if KBZ can provide this service, we can save money here and our family can withdraw it easily, which will be good for those of us working abroad.”

Zaw Lin Aung said KBZ is currently in the process of applying for the license that would permit it to transact remittances. “We expect to be able to do that some time this year,” he said.

Since late 2015, KBZ has been working alongside the Monetary Authority of Singapore to establish its presence in the prosperous city-state. That process required KBZ to provide proof of strong financial information and creditworthiness, and entailed many meetings with the Monetary Authority to demonstrate transparency, professionalism and capability, KBZ said.

KBZ expects that as the economic relationship between Singapore and Burma grows closer, the banking and financial sector role will play an important role in building ties between the two countries.

Singapore topped the ranks of foreign investors in Burma with US$4.3 billion in foreign direct investment (FDI), according to data from the Myanmar Investment Commission, accounting for more than half of the $8.1 billion total FDI. The sectors that were the major recipients of investment were oil and gas, manufacturing, telecommunications, real estate and hospitality.

Earlier this month, Burma and Singapore announced that a visa-free service will be available for travel between the countries starting on Dec. 1. Coupled with Singapore’s significant flow of investment into Burma, this may serve to further facilitate trade and business conducted between the two nations.

A major site of cooperation has been Rangoon’s Thilawa Special Economic Zone, where Singapore has put in nearly $300 million, making it the leading investor in the project among 14 countries.

One of the largest private commercial banks in Burma, KBZ Bank was established in 1994 in the Shan State capital, Taunggyi. Its parent company, KBZ Group of Companies, is also engaged in aviation, running its own domestic airline, Air KBZ, and holding a majority stake in Myanmar Airways International.