While Myanmar is taking significant steps towards enhancing the business ecosystem through extensive reforms, legislative policies and infrastructure development plans made by the current democratic government. These plans are in line with the government’s overarching strategy to promote business infrastructure and goal to accelerate the economic growth in the country.
All these aggressive reforms started in 2011 when the pro-democratic government took power and decisively aimed at making the country’s political process more democratic, economy more open, and market-oriented. In parallel to the economic reforms, the country has engaged with various sectors of business analysing the requirements for growth in that sector consecutively reducing restrictions on imports, cutting-down export taxes, and opened the country's market for boosting international trade & commerce.
Despite many priorities, the government is focusing strongly on infrastructure growth led by private sector permitting foreign-based companies to operate in Myanmar through joint-ventures and other legal business structures thereby accelerating infrastructural development in the nation. Several market-oriented reforms and efforts have shown promising results as Myanmar sustained average GDP growth of over seven per cent annually since 2011, with GDP per capita almost doubling over that period. This rapid growth along with business-friendly laws has attracted international entrepreneurs, business leader and companies to operate in Myanmar by leveraging the advantages it offers.
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With a large unbanked population, there are untapped potential enabling extensive growth opportunities for banks along with the increase in demand for better banking services and financial products. This has made the government work along with the Central Bank of Myanmar to redraw the banking regulations allowing international banks to offer banking services in the country.
Foreign banks in Myanmar are only permitted to open representative offices. To date, 30 international banks have established a Myanmar presence in anticipation of future legal and market liberalisation. According to the CBM, foreign banks will be allowed to enter Myanmar in three phases.
However, in recent years, numerous foreign banks have set their operations in Myanmar considering the opportunities and latest legislation that allow international players to start operations in the country with flexible partnership policies. Currently, there are nearly 13 foreign banks from India, China, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam with operating branches in Myanmar. The banking sector includes banking and financial services from state-owned banks, private banks and foreign banks.
The banking sector comprises the Central Bank of Myanmar (CBM) which was established according to the Central Bank of Myanmar Law in 1990, four other state-owned banks, and 19 domestic private banks. The Central Bank of Myanmar is the central authority for all the banking and financial operations in the country. The CBM creates regulations, approves licenses, enhance competitiveness among banks and maintains the monetary compliances in the country. In practice, most of the banks are state-owned by the CBM with major or minor share held by the government. In practice, the CBM has liberalised the financial organisations for competition, efficiency and integration into the regional financial system.
Among all the initiatives, the government's focus on banking has been mainly in the relaxation of restrictive regulations that have plagued the sector of a long period. The policy makers realised that a well-functioning financial sector plays a significant role in enabling the growth of the private sector in the country.
The Financial Institutions Law of Myanmar, passed in January 2016, represented a significant step towards modernising the sector. The law established governing regulations for both domestic and foreign financial institutions. It also attempted to level the playing field between private and state-owned banks and confirmed the CBM's regulatory powers over the banking sector. Currently, the CBM issued Regulation No 1/2019, allowing foreign banks and financial institutions to hold equity of up to 35% in local banks.
The new banking reforms have led to an emerging financial sector in Myanmar which is seeing a rising demand for newly emerging services and products regarding banking services, investments and loans. A vibrant financial community has formed in Myanmar after international players have started to set up their banking operations in the country, the banks have high hopes in the Myanmar economy as the country promises potential returns insignificant values.
However, Myanmar's capital markets are at a very early stage of financial reforms while the Myanmar authorities are embarking upon a series of legislative and regulatory reforms to transform the country's banking sector to support and finance the growth in the country. Majority of people of Myanmar do not have access to proper banking services; this creates a demand for better financial services that can be brought into the country. Notably, fast-tracking the finance sector requires implementing effective reforms and reducing banking regulation barriers for both domestic and international banks.