‘The Transformation Underway Is Real and It Is Rapid’

By Kyaw Hsu Mon 2 June 2014

RANGOON — Singapore-based United Oversea Bank (UOB) has had a representative in Burma since 1994, and is working with foreign investors entering the country.

Ian Wong, UOB managing director and head of international, answered The Irrawaddy’s questions by email, discussing foreign direct investment (FDI) trends and the upcoming licensing of foreign banks.

Question: How is UOB promoting FDI into Burma? What are some of the recent activities of UOB in the country?

Answer: UOB has an ongoing unwavering presence in Myanmar for 20 years, working closely with the local Myanmar Banks and Central Bank. In 2011, UOB established a Foreign Direct Investment Advisory Unit to help our existing and potential clients from our network of over 500 offices and branches across Southeast Asia, Greater China and beyond to invest in Myanmar. To date, we have helped more than 50 companies explore various business opportunities through our FDI Advisory services.

Our client research tells us that while Myanmar remains a key investment hotspot for companies looking for regional growth opportunities in Southeast Asia, their top concerns when expanding into Myanmar is limited bank financing options and the lack of insights around local laws and regulations. Our latest FDI symposium in Yangon held jointly with Myanmar Investment Commission, Myanmar’s Ministry of Commerce and International Enterprise Singapore in February this year attracted over 300 clients across our network.

The Bank’s deep expertise in structuring project loans in high growth sectors such as energy and oil and gas can also contribute to the development of Myanmar’s economy. We made a start on this when in February this year (2014), UOB signed a financing agreement in Naypyitaw with Singapore company, Asiatech Energy, to build Myanmar’s largest gas-fired power plant in Mon State. We have also partnered with US-based APR Energy, a global leader in power solutions, to support their construction of a 100 MW power plant in the Mandalay region of Myanmar. The APR Energy contract was the first power generation agreement signed by a US-based company with the government of Myanmar since the lifting of sanctions in 2013.

UOB’s commitment to Myanmar also extends to the local banking community. UOB was one of the first banks to establish a correspondent banking network with local Myanmar banks. The Bank has a long-term commitment to share best practices in international trade, risk mitigation and working capital solutions with the business community, regulators and local banks.

We will be holding a one-day seminar on 2 June 2014 during which we will share with our local bank counterparts in Myanmar our experience on the development of an Interbank Money Market and Treasury operations.

Q: The Central Bank of Myanmar (CBM) will soon be allowing foreign banks to open branches in Burma. What are your expectations of this move? What are the benefits for Singapore banks such as UOB of coming into the country?

A: UOB welcomes a banking license in Myanmar as it would allow us to serve our clients’ banking and financing needs as they invest and expand into Myanmar.

The economic and financial transformation underway is real and it is rapid. What is key now is for more investors, foreign governments and multinational organizations to help generate trade and investment opportunities that benefit the people and businesses of Myanmar. It is clear that UOB has stayed its course in the last 20 years in Myanmar and will certainly step-up its engagement and collaboration efforts responsibly with all local stakeholders as the country opens up its economy.

UOB is committed to building our businesses here in Myanmar for the long term and looks forward to fostering even closer ties in the years to come.

Q: What kind of foreign businesses do you expect to see entering Burma?

A: According to our experience, businesses that are looking to expand into Myanmar are in industries such as energy, oil and gas, telecommunications, manufacturing and construction.

As the economy expands, there are also opportunities for both foreign and domestic investors in areas such as real estate development, in particular accommodation, to address the shortage for visitors. At the same time, with the anticipated trend towards urbanization, the education, health-related and financial services sectors will attract investors to cater to the population’s increased spending in tandem with rising income.

Q: How do you think the entry of foreign banks into Burma will impact the domestic banking sector?

A: The International Monetary Fund believes that financial sector reforms in Myanmar will open doors to its trading partners, particularly those within the Southeast Asian region, and help Myanmar take advantage of the Asean Economic Community that will be established by 2015.

UOB is among the first foreign banks to open a representative office in Yangon in 1994 and was one of the first banks to establish a correspondent banking network with local Myanmar banks. UOB is also working with the Central Bank of Myanmar and the Myanmar Banks Association to provide training, workshops and study tours for local banks in the areas of trade and payment processing, trade finance and credit risk management. We believe that this cooperation will enhance further the service level of the banking sector in Myanmar.

With a branch license, UOB will be able to work together with local banks for certain onshore infrastructure projects, and share our knowledge on project financing and loan structuring. We see our role as complementary with domestic banks as foreign banks, with a limited branch network and restrictions on selected activities, will not be in direct competition with the local banks in Myanmar’s domestic retail market.