Visa Card Eyes Local Partners Post-sanctions

By May Lay 24 September 2012

Visa is preparing to introduce its credit card payment system to Burma by early 2013 by partnering
with a select number of local banks which are no longer barred under US
sanctions, said Visa Director of Corporate Relations Gary Hamilton-Walker.

“We can cooperate only with banks with owners who are not included on the sanctions blacklist. ATM machines will be placed nationwide to use Visa cards. In some places where there are not ATMs, we will set up point of sale terminals for customers’ ease,” he told a press conference in Rangoon on Friday.

Many leading Burmese tycoons have links with the former junta government—such as Ayeyarwady Bank owner Zaw Zaw and Asia Green Development Bank owner Tay Za—and so are named on the US blacklist despite running popular businesses with branches nationwide.

However, observers believe that the Obama administration may be ready to scrap remaining trade restrictions in response to the ongoing reform process initiated by President Thein Sein.

Hamilton-Walker said that Burma’s huge population and tourism potential are the main factors prompting Visa to enter the country. However, more than 98 percent Burmese people currently rely exclusively on cash and so locals will have to be educated regarding the social and economic benefits of electronic payment systems.

“Ten years ago, Visa cards were in operation though French banks. We will hopefully operate Visa cards in Burma during the next six months. Later we will extend to use mobile phone payment and a smart phone network payment system also,” he added. “If US sanctions lift, we can work closely and operate in Burma very soon.”

There are only a small number of ATM machines across the country at the present time, with most run by banks which are owned by tycoons on the US blacklist.

“We know from experience that there will be an urgent requirement to provide a basic ATM network and point of sale terminals for international visitors arriving in Myanmar for business and pleasure—and that is where we will focus first,” said Peter Maher, Visa Group country manager for Southeast Asia and Australasia.

“As Burma builds its financial infrastructure, Visa will work hand-in-hand with the local market to provide its global knowledge and technology and bring safe and convenient payment to all.”

Electronic payments will provide important support for Burma’s business and tourism development as well as enable economic empowerment and inclusion for the millions of unbanked in the country, he added.

Visa has already met with related financial institutions in Burma to gain permission to operate its payment system.