MasterCard has reached an agreement that will see it become the first international payments network to grant a licence to a bank in Myanmar, paving the way for issuance and acceptance of branded credit and debit cards in the country for the first time.
MasterCard Worldwide awarded the licence to Co-Operative Bank Limited, one of Myanmar’s 19 commercial banks, which has the largest cash machine estate in the country with a total of 24 machines out of an estimated total of 82 for all banks. Although the number is miniscule compared with most other Asian countries it nonetheless marks a sign of progress in Myanmar, as the sanctions and political impasse between army rulers and elected opposition groups begins to dissipate.
The country, which is emerging from isolation after years of military rule, has an antiquated banking system and largely cash economy with ATMs unknown until very recently. Those that have appeared in recent months are basic cash dispensers; restricted to customers of the bank that installs them. The new MasterCard plastic, which should be available in a few months' time, will be accepted by Co-Operative Bank ATMs and by retailers in the country as payment cards.
MasterCard is the first of the big international issuers to venture into the former Burma. However, its cards issued abroad will not immediately be acceptable there. Credit cards are of little use in Myanmar, rarely accepted anywhere, and a spokesperson for MasterCard said its initiative was part of the process of building up acceptance.
Issuing the licence is the first crucial step in the process of building up credit card acceptance in Myanmar, the spokesperson added. While Co-Operative Bank would ultimately determine the timing, “in our experience, the first MasterCard branded cards can be issued anywhere from three to 12 months after the licence has been issued.”