Burma

Customers Flock to Withdraw Cash From Myanmar Military-Owned Banks

By The Irrawaddy 16 February 2021

YANGON—A large number of people rushed to the Myanmar military-owned Myawaddy Bank in Yangon to withdraw cash on Tuesday morning after anti-coup protesters called for a boycott of military-related businesses.

On Monday, military-owned banks in Yangon opened for only half a day after hundreds of people thronged to withdraw money from their bank accounts as the civil disobedience movement (CDM) gathered strength across the country.

A bank employee at a Yangon branch of Myawaddy Bank on WarTan Street informed customers queuing for services on Tuesday that the bank would service 200 customers a day and that withdrawals were limited to 5 million kyats (about US$3,550) per person. He said customers who were not among the first 200 could return to queue at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday morning.

Over the weekend, there were calls on social media urging private banks to join the CDM and suspend their operations as of Monday, amid rumors that people would withdraw all their money from any bank that remained open.

The Yangon Region Administrative Council reportedly planned to provide security for banks and help them maintain their operations, but many banking staff joined the CDM on Monday, forcing private banks to close. The private banks’ branches remained closed Tuesday, except for ATM services.

Myawaddy Bank, one of the two banks operated by Myanmar’s military, opened in the commercial capital, Yangon, on Monday. But after its branches experienced unusually large numbers of customers withdrawing money, they closed around noon, citing the risk of COVID-19.

Customers wait for service at a Yangon branch of Myawaddy Bank on Feb. 16. / The Irrawaddy

“We opened the bank today [Monday], but closed at around 11 a.m. because there were many people taking out money from their bank accounts. We’ll open the bank tomorrow,” a Myawaddy Bank official based at the bank’s headquarters in Yangon told The Irrawaddy on Monday.

An employee of private lender KBZ Bank in Yangon said banks had to close because their employees were out in the streets protesting against the military coup.

“All of our bank branches are closed [on Monday]. We have put a notice on the bank’s website saying that the banks would be closed and money can be withdrawn at ATMs,” he told The Irrawaddy.

Myanmar’s military has deployed security at branches of the Central Bank of Myanmar as well as  state-owned Myanma Economic Bank (MEB) since Monday. They reportedly took money from the banks. Employees of MEB, which plays a vital role in managing payroll and pensions for active and retired civil servants, have also joined the CDM.

An official of Myanmar Citizens Bank wrote on his Facebook page asking account holders not to worry about their deposits, saying banks have never gone bankrupt in the country. It is safer to keep the money in banks than keeping it oneself, he said, urging the public not to believe rumors.

A senior officer from a private bank said private banks are prepared to provide ATM and mobile banking services as long as there is internet access.

Private banks have however not announced when they are likely to resume operations, and neither the Myanmar Banks Association nor the Central Bank of Myanmar has issued an instruction regarding the operation of private banks.

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