Banks Wait for Central Bank to Give Go-Ahead to International Cards
By Kyaw Hsu Mon 19 September 2013
RANGOON — Two of Burma’s leading private banks want to begin issuing debit cards that can be used all over the world, but are waiting for the green light to do so from Central Bank, bankers said.
Both the Cooperative Bank (CB Bank) and the Asian Green Development (AGD) Bank have teamed up with United States-based bank card companies so that account holders in Burma will be able to withdraw their money elsewhere for the first time.
CB Bank—which is expected to be first to issue internationally accepted cards—is working with Mastercard on an “Easy Travel” prepaid card, which has already been tested at banks in Thailand, Singapore, China and the UK, according to Managing Director Pe Myint.
“We’re ready to distribute these cards, but the Central Bank has still not given us the green light to issue them,” he said.
“We’re waiting for that. I can say we can issue them as soon as possible after green light by the Central bank.”
The cards will be available to people holding an account at any CB Bank branch in Burma. “The account in Burma must be opened with Kyat,” he said.
CB Bank—which is owned by presidential advisor Khin Maung Aye—has also agreed to work with VISA, and will begin developing another new bank card when the Mastercard version is allowed to launch, Pe Myint said.
Ye Min Oo, managing director of AGD Bank, said the bank has a similar plan to issue internationally accepted bank cards, but was also waiting for the Central Bank’s approval.
“First we have to wait the permission by the Central Bank. We at AGD bank have also agreed with Mastercard to issue a kind of debit card, like an ‘AGD-Mastercard’ or ‘AGD-VISA.’ But we will wait and see,” he said.
It is unclear why the Central Bank, which is hesitant to discuss its activities, is delaying the issuing. Industry sources suggested the delay may be related to the appointment of a new board at the Central Bank in August, which saw former bank governor Kyaw Kyaw Maung reappointed to the role.
The international cards are a separate project to the Myanmar Payment Union (MPU), a grouping of 14 of Burma’s 19 private banks that allows the banks to issue mutually accepted debit cards. Those cards do not work overseas, frustrating migrant workers and travelers.
Mastercard and VISA began dealing with Burma’s banks last year as the United States lifted some sanctions, but some MPU-member banks are still subject to economic sanctions due to their links to the Burma’s military.