Banking and financial sectors need to harness the benefits of the digital revolution and adapt themselves to be relevant and in meeting the customer needs. This has been the central message of the two-day Myanmar Banking & Payments Conference in Yangon from 24-25th July 2017. In his opening key note address, Sean Turnell economic advisor to the government pointed out that the macro stability has been achieved to a greater degree during the past one year and reforms in banking and financial sector are on track to propel the economy. Pointing out that mobile banking law, easing the operations of micro finance institutions and commitment to adoption of Basel norms by the central bank are some of the positive features in the sector. Steps like limiting the borrowing of the government from the central bank, debt scrutiny, tax reforms and development of capital markets and bond markets are some of the notable developments that give an optimistic outlook for the future. Reforming the state owned banks is also on the agenda of the government to ensure that they are relevant to meet the growing demands of the people.
Items on the agenda for banking and financial sector reforms included development of inter bank markets, foreign equity participation and expanding services of the foreign banks. The overall approach of the government is to take step by step and cautious approach towards banking sector reforms. Some of the operational aspects like working hours of banks, creating online platforms for financial transfers would enhance efficiency in the system.
The two day MB&PC organized by Sphere conferences brought together an array of domain experts from the spheres of banking, digital technologies, security technologies and Fin-tech companies from across the region.
The digital vision for the coming years would be that “The emerging business models of the banks have to accommodate the customer, innovation and technology at the center of the action”. Towards this end, government’s role would be to create an enabling policy and regulatory environment. Banks need to innovate and create value for customer experience, and that involves understanding the context, location and behavior of the customers to develop products and services. Myanmar banking sector needs to adapt themselves to the on-going digital revolution in the country as Non-bank financial technology companies would emerge as strong players in the coming years. Would they be collaborators or competitors needs to be watched out for.
A Panel of bankers who reviewed the banking sector landscape regarding strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats identified the need for harnessing the benefits of digital technology for financial inclusion and expanding the services. The role of regulation and reform by the government and central bank is stressed as critical to achieving this.
In the portfolio of retail banking, physical access is a challenge which can be overcome through digital technologies like mobile banking. However, along with going digital and product diversification, banks need to invest in capacity building for meeting customer demands. Recognizing the fact that the learning curve of the local banks is steep and they are quickly adapting to the changing environment, it is pointed out that balanced and gradual reform is needed vis a vis expansion of foreign bank operations in Myanmar. Back-end infrastructure for the financial sector is also critical for enhancing efficiency and standards. Some of the forthcoming developments identified in the sector include credit bureau and improvements in the reporting systems.
The conference discussed further how to address challenges of financial inclusion, creating a secured environment for transactions, prospects of FinTech companies as collaborators/competitors to banks, new products like e-wallet/cards and the road ahead.