The Irrawaddy Business Roundup (Dec. 26, 2015)
By Simon Lewis 26 December 2015
Mobile Money Transfer Service Awaiting New Central Bank Rules: Report
A new mobile money transfer service is set to launch as soon as Burma’s Central Bank issues new regulations, according to a report this week on the website Deal Street Asia.
The service, Wave Money, is a joint venture between leader private telecommunications provider Telenor of Norway and Yoma Bank, one of the biggest financial institutions in the country and part of Burmese tycoon Serge Pun’s business empire.
Expectations are high for the beginning of mobile money services in Burma, where until last year mobile phone SIMs were only affordable to a few people. In other countries where few people use formal banking services, mobile money transfer services have been hugely popular for paying for services and transferring money to family members or friends.
Wave Money’s website is already live, boasting a service that will enable Telenor users—about 12 million people—to “transfer money anywhere anytime.”
“You can transfer money safely through your mobile phone or from one of your trusted neighborhood Wave Shop agents,” it says. “Wave Money offers you instant, safe and convenient way of sending and receiving money, bringing financial inclusion to all.”
But the launch of the service will depend on Central Bank approval, according to Deal Street Asia. Bank deputy governor Set Aung has said new regulations on mobile money are coming “very soon,” according to the website’s report.
Deal Street Asia reported that the service has already undergone testing and is ready to be launched.
The report included quotes from Wave Money CEO Brad Jones, who said simple mobile money transfers would be the first service offered “but we do see the potential future services including the airtime top-ups, bill payments, international remittance, salary disbursements.”
“By the end of March , we plan to have about 6000 wave agents. That would include Yangon and upper Myanmar,” Jones was quoted saying.
Ooredoo Agrees Joint Marketing with Messaging App Firm
London-listed company MySQUAR has entered into an agreement with Ooredoo that will see the Qatari mobile phone provider promote the firm’s Burmese-language social messaging application, according to an announcement.
MySQUAR said in a statement on its website that under the “cross-promotion partnership” Ooredoo “will build MySQUAR’s flagship product MyCHAT into its marketing strategy, using the app’s local strength to promote its own services.”
MySQUAR listed on the London Stock Exchange’s Alternative Investment Market in July, raising about $2.6 million.
“MySQUAR anticipates greater recognition and faster increases in its user engagement and acquisition, particularly as part of the promotion is that those who are users of MyCHAT and subscribers of Ooredoo at the same time, will be able to use the MyCHAT app free of internet charges, and the MyCHAT app will be downloadable via Ooredoo’s portal (zone.ooredoo.com.mm) without internet charges, allowing MyCHAT to engage with a large number users visiting Ooredoo’s app store,” the statement said.
Thai Firm Hints at Involvement in Industrial Estate for Dawei
Thai industrial estates owner Amata Corporation is looking at developing an industrial estate project inside Burma, according to comments made by a senior official at the group.
Bangkok-based English-language newspaper The Nation reported on Tuesday the comments, which indicate that the firm might get involved in the plans for an industrial development close to the town of Dawei in Tenasserim Division. The long-stalled plan to build a port and special economic zone has been given a boost recently by the involvement of the Japanese government as a source of funding.
Amata runs a major industrial zone at Chonburi, close to Bangkok, as well as an industrial park in nearby Rayong and another in Bien Hoa, Vietnam. The company was founded by Sino-Thai tycoon Vikrom Kromadit and is listed on the Stock Exchange of Thailand.
According to The Nation, the CEO of Amata’s Vietnam division, Somhathai Panichewa, said the firm wanted to increase its presence in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations region beyond Thailand’s borders.
“We are considering developing an industrial-estate project in a small town in Myanmar next to Kanchanaburi, west of Thailand,” Somhathai reportedly said. Kanchanaburi province borders on Tenasserim division, where a road is under construction to link Dawei to the Thai border.
“She added that the details of its plan should materialize in April after the political situation in Myanmar is stable,” the report said. “If it is feasible, the group will invest via another of its subsidiaries registered in Singapore.”
Japanese Firm to Build $15 million Concrete Factory in Rangoon
Japanese industrial conglomerate IHI Corporation is set to build a $15 million concrete factory in Rangoon, according to a report from Nikkei Asian Review.
The company—which makes ships, aircraft and cars, as well as building infrastructure like bridges and power stations—will partner with the Burmese Ministry of Construction for the project, the report said.
“The planned factory is to supply foundation piles for a Japanese-led port development in the Thilawa Special Economic Zone near Yangon,” Nikkei Asian Review reported. “Demand is anticipated in other settings as well, including for large buildings developed by the private sector.”
The report said IHI will contribute 60 percent of the cost of the project, on which work could begin in January.
“A start to operations is eyed for September or October, said Kyaw Linn, the ministry’s permanent secretary,” it said. “The midsize plant will be able to produce 77,000 tons of high-strength precast concrete annually.”
Best Western Opens Hotel in Mandalay
US-based firm Best Western Hotels and Resorts has opened a hotel in Mandalay, its third location in Burma after entering the country in 2013.
The company has already opened two hotels in Rangoon, and says it plans to expand further in the country.
International hoteliers have been expanding operations since the country’s political and economic reforms began, ushering in an era of higher tourist arrivals. Government officials have said that the country is on track to receive 5 million international visitors in 2015, although that includes business visitors and many day trippers who only visit Burma briefly in excursions across the Thai border.
A press release this month said the “modern midscale hotel” was located in central Mandalay, and includes a spa, swimming pool and a restaurant.
“Best Western was one of the first international hotel groups to enter Myanmar following its re-emergence on the international stage, and I am delighted to be able to leverage our first-mover advantage with yet another superb hotel in the country,” Best Western’s managing director of international operations for Asia, Olivier Berrivin, was quoted saying in the press release.
“With Myanmar’s recent elections having passed off peacefully and successfully, this charming and alluring country is set for another prolonged period of prosperity,” Berrivin added.