On November 15th, 2012, a few days before Barack Obama’s historical visit in Myanmar, bank card withdrawals became possible in Myanmar.
In a country where every transaction have always been done with cash (except a few checks for the wealthy), where banker is a physical job (imagine 50kg rice bags full of banknotes), where ATMs only appeared last year, where most businesses cook their books and under declare their revenue, this is news.
However, regardless of how convenient plastic is, Myanmar people should be cautious before selling their souls to banks. In France, my country, the State made bank accounts mandatory for paying salaries and forbade all cash transactions above 4,000 euros; after more than 40 years of that regime, normal citizens should not expect any privacy with their money, but corruption still exists at the top. Can Myanmar banks and State, regardless their eagerness to reform themselves, be trusted yet with all that information, even on the name of fighting corruption?
Myanmar people can also be easily tempted by the sirens of easy money and be in trouble to pay their debts back. There is also a risk of local economy being flooded with foreign currency, a problem that is not new: since Myanmar became the new Eldorado for foreign investors, prices of hotels nights and office space rental have been skyrocketing (to the point that both are now several times more expensive than in Bangkok). Normal people yet have to see their lives improve as result of that money.
I am waiting to see what will happen next. Maybe in a few months I will finally be able to use local banks to transfer Myanmar money to pay for my rent. Since I arrived in Yangon 18 months ago I had no Myanmar revenue, so I relied on friends and family bringing cash each time they visit me. At least that will be an improvement.