Monday, August 20, 2012

Visa says international ATM service in Burma months away

Monday, 20 August 2012 13:22 Mizzima News

Visa has started training Burmese local bank employers to use electronic payment systems to help modernize the economy, but it says the full introduction of ATM machines that can use international credit cards is months away because of poor infrastructure.

ATM machines in Rangoon. International credit cards cannot be used in Burma, but Visa is working with local bank staff to begin the service perhaps with six months. Photo:

Burma recently begun trying to introduce ATM machines to the country, but so far they can only serve a few customers who have accounts at selected local banks.

Common businesses are unable to accept international credit cards, and the country is undertaking a series of rapid economic reforms designed to bring the nation into the modern financial world.

The Wall Street Journal reported this weekend that Visa remains months away from establishing ATM machines or full-fledged electronic payments because of poor infrastructure and other barriers.

However, Visa has begun training workshops aimed at upgrading facilities over the next few months. It does not yet have plans to set up an office in the country, said the report.

The United States, the EU and other countries have lifted or eased sanctions against Burma after the new government took over last year and moved to implement political and economic reforms and release political prisoners.

Burma expects to receive a large number of visitors next year, when it hosts the Southeast Asian Games and a regional meeting of the World Economic Forum.

Last week, Mizzima reported that Burmese consumers would be able to use a Myanmar Payment Union (MPU) debit card in September to withdraw money at ATM machines of participating banks and to buy goods at some stores.

Several banks are already using the local debit cards on a trial-run basis, but the cards have not been widely available to consumers.

The Myanmar Payment Union allows ATM cardholders to use any machine, regardless of the bank, to withdraw money or pay for shopping at participating institutions.

However, users must have accounts at MPU-member banks; they can withdraw from 10,000 (US$ 11.44) to 5 million kyat ($5,717) per day.

Currently, sixteen banks participate in the MPU program, and later all private banks will participate in MPU, according to Pe Myint, an official at the Co-operative Bank Ltd. Burma now has 19 privately owned banks.

The move to a debit card system, and the use of international credit cards, is one of many innovations rippling through Burma’s financial system. Currently, international credit cards cannot be used in Burma.

Private banks began installing automated teller machines in the past few months, a major innovation in what has been a cash-based society for decades.

The central bank is preparing to launch a nationwide ATM network and is in talks with Visa International's Plus and MasterCard International's Cirrus to introduce international banking within six months to a year, officials said.

Burma’s banking system has been plagued by decades of financial isolation, imposed by western sanctions and disastrous socialist policies.

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