Private Banks Readying Visa Debit Cards for Locals

By Kyaw Hsu Mon 31 October 2013

RANGOON — Domestic private banks hope to issue “easy travel” Visa debit cards to local account holders by the end of year, industry sources told The Irrawaddy this week, in an effort to ease outbound travel for Burmese citizens.

Though foreign holders of prepaid cards issued by Visa, MasterCard and China UnionPay have been able to make payments with the cards in the local market since the end of last year, Burmese nationals have only recently been offered a similar convenience when travelling outside the country.

That service began on Oct. 1, when Co-Operative (CB) Bank became the first domestic lender to issue internationally accepted prepaid MasterCards to local account holders.

Now, rival Visa is getting in on the action in Burma.

Quoting Pe Myint, managing director of CB Bank, the local news outlet Mizzima reported that private banks are negotiating with Visa to issue such prepaid cards, with CB Bank expected to make them available before Burma hosts the Southeast Asian Games in December.

Zaw Lin Htut, senior manager of Kanbawza Bank, said his company is also preparing to launch international travel cards through Visa and MasterCard by the end of the year, though the lender does not aim to have the service on offer ahead of the SEA Games, which will take place from Dec. 11-22.

“We’re now planning to issue two internationally accepted cards, Visa and MasterCard. At the moment though, we still can’t issue such cards,” Zaw Lin Htut said, adding that the plan is pending required updates to local banking systems.

“The MPU’s [Myanmar Payment Union] debit cards will be available during the SEA Games for foreign users,” he said, referring to a separate project of the MPU, a grouping of 14 of Burma’s 19 private banks.

That project allows MPU member banks to issue mutually accepted debit cards, but those cards do not work overseas, a limitation that has been a source of frustration for Burmese migrant workers and travelers.

The Bangkok-based daily The Nation reported on Wednesday that in future, Burmese Visa cardholders will be able to load up to three currencies—the euro, and US and Singaporean dollars—onto the card to make overseas transactions anywhere Visa is accepted, which includes tens of millions of merchants.

Sett Aung, the deputy governor of Burma’s Central Bank, confirmed that internationally accepted travel cards issued by private banks in cooperation with Visa are on the way, following CB Bank’s pioneering foray with the cards under the MasterCard logo.

The deputy governor said the government would continue working to allow foreign and local banks to eventually issue credit cards in the local market, but he added that the eventual issuance of those cards would include restrictions and guidelines in line with internationally accepted standards.

According to the Central Bank, there are 19 private banks and 18 foreign representative banks operating in Burma’s banking industry.